Sometimes you do everything you can do to be an organized person. Then the universe has other plans.
Take, for instance, Stephen Flaherty, the composer behind such Broadway musicals as Ragtime, Once on This Island and Seussical the Musical.
He and his writing partner, Lynn Ahrens, made plans about two years ago to create and appear in a short-run revue of their work for San Mateo’s Broadway by the Bay. Executive director Greg Phillips had the great idea to bring the composers out west, and he proposed dates far in the future: Nov. 8 through 11, 2007.
Well, that day has arrived, and wouldn’t you know it? Ahrens and Flaherty opened a new musical at New York’s Lincoln Center only three nights ago. The Glorious Ones, about an itinerant Italian acting troupe, received some lovely reviews, and though they could be forgiven for canceling because of calendar clashes, Ahrens and Flaherty were on a plane Wednesday with the plan of spending today in technical rehearsals and opening tonight.
Ahrens & Flaherty: Words & Music runs through Sunday at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center and features the composers discussing their work as well as Broadway performers (and husband-and-wife duo) Marin Mazzie (taking a break from Spamalot) and Jason Daniely (taking a break from Curtains) offering their golden pipes to sing the duo’s songs. Flaherty will also be the evening’s accompanist.
On the phone from his New York home before heading west, Flaherty, 47, says he remembers early in his career when he would accompany singers.
“Since we’ve been rehearsing the show, I kind of forgot how much work it is to play for singers — you have to work your whole body. It’s fun and challenging,” he says.
The biggest challenge of all, though, has been deciding what to perform in the 90-minute show. In addition to the Ahrens-Flaherty hits, there have also been the non-hits with glorious scores: A Man of No Importance and Dessa Rose chief among them.
“Of course there are so many songs we’ve written that we love,” Flaherty says. “We’re the parents of those songs, and though we don’t want to play favorites, you’ve got 90 minutes. You have to make difficult choices.”
Flaherty says all the shows will be represented, including the new one, which features what he describes as “my most European score yet — it’s very romantic and lyrical with elements of down-and-dirty, rough-hewn humor.”
Because this is the first time he and Ahrens have done anything like this, Flaherty says the song list may change throughout the five performances.
One song that may pop up is “Something Beautiful” from a work-in-progress called Legacy. Another new one, “Anything I Got,” may also pop up in San Mateo before it lands in a revival of the duo’s My Favorite Year.
That’s what you get from a duo that has been working together for nearly 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down: a mix of old and new.
“This has been really emotional,” Flaherty says. “I met Lynn in the first month I moved to New York, and at the time, I was writing both music and lyrics. But then within six months of meeting Lynn, we were writing together.”
Poring over their songbook, Flaherty says each song is a distinct representation of who he and Ahrens were at the time.
“I look at a song from one of our first projects, Lucky Stiff, and think it just sounds like 1988,” Flaherty says. “Then I hear some of the `Ragtime’ songs and think about how we had to write four songs as an audition for the producer. That was our big break. I knew we could write that score, and that audition process was terrific and led us in a whole different direction.”
The follow-up to Ragtime was Seussical, a musical mash-up of Dr. Seuss stories. Flaherty says the sweet, family friendly show was a direct reaction to the serious tone of Ragtime.
“In Ragtime, our leading man got shot and killed every night,” he says. “We wanted to return to our silly roots.”
A Man of No Importance, which is set in Dublin, is also something of a reaction to Ragtime.
“I had a running joke while working on Ragtime that every time I wrote a song for an Irish character, the song got cut,” Flaherty says. “I started thinking maybe I should do something Irish-themed.”
Of course the Broadway stars will be singing — you can pretty much bet Mazzie will reprise the stirring “Back to Before,” which she introduced in Ragtime — but the composers will also be chiming in.
“Lynn will sing more than I will — she sings better than I do,” Flaherty says. “The whole point of the evening is to feel casual. It’s not a concert so much as a show about writing songs. It’s really about what it would be like if you were in my or Lynn’s living room while we’re creating songs.”
Ahrens & Flaherty: Words & Music is at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday (Nov. 8 & 9); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 10); 2 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 11) at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo. Tickets are $17-$42. Call 650-579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.