The Sound of the ’60s: An Interview with A Walk on the Moon Composer and Lyricist Paul Scott Goodman

By Elspeth Sweatman

From his early days growing up in a Jewish family in Glasgow, Scotland, composer and lyricist Paul Scott Goodman dreamed of combining his two passions: musical theater and rock ’n’ roll. After playing in punk bands in Glasgow and London, Goodman moved to New York City in 1984 to make his dream a reality. Drawing inspiration from pop pianist Elton John, punk rocker Johnny Rotten, and Broadway stalwarts Jerry Block (Fiddler on the Roof) and Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, A Little Night Music), Goodman fused these genres to create a sound uniquely his own. Now, Goodman is melding his rock ’n’ roll, singer-songwriter sound with his Jewish roots for A.C.T.’s Walk on the Moon. We caught up with Goodman to get a behind-the-scenes look at a song’s journey from its first chords to the Geary stage.

Composer and lyricist Paul Scott Goodman. Courtesy Paul Scott Goodman.
Why did you want to get involved with this project?

Sometimes you just hear of an idea and you automatically go, “Yes, that would be a good musical.” It doesn’t happen too often, but the minute somebody pitched this idea, I could see it. In a lot of musicals, people just burst into song for no reason, but in this story, there is music in the air, there’s Woodstock. It seemed natural for these characters to sing.

The music of 1969—especially the iconic Woodstock Music & Art Fair—is so well-known. How do you go about composing music for a musical set in this era?

I didn’t want it to be a total rip-off of ’60s music. I wanted to tip my hat to the ’60s—include some riffs or orchestrations that suggested the music and sounds of that decade—without out-and-out copying it. There’s a Carole King riff in there, some Jefferson Airplane, James Taylor. Some [Jimi] Hendrix, especially once we transition from acoustic to electric guitars. There’s also quite a bit of Bob Dylan in the beats and grooves of the music and in the lyrics. The way he used words, the way words tumbled out of his mouth, there are bits in the show that remind me of him. But these aren’t pre-thought out. I discover them as I write.

Composer Paul Scott Goodman and book writer Pamela Gray at the first rehearsal of A.C.T.'s 2018 production of A Walk on the Moon.
Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
What’s the journey of a song’s creation in a new musical?

Journey is the right word. [Laughs] Usually for me, the song will start with either a guitar riff or just a title. Or maybe it’s a rhyme. I think about the character and the situation. Sometimes it comes out really quickly and other times it’s taken me three or four years to complete a song. After I’ve got something, I’ll play it for the music director, Greg Kenna, and we’ll get it in some kind of shape. Once the sheet music’s written down, then we’ll give it to our orchestrator, Michael Starobin [Tony Award–winning orchestrator of Assassins and Next to Normal]. He goes away and does his own orchestrations to go with my songs. He’s planning on having an orchestra with a cello, violin, two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. It’s gonna be good.

A Walk on the Moon begins at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater June 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the music in Moon? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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