Jennifer Kranz on Developing New Musical The King’s Wife
Emmy and Tony-nominated and Drama Desk-winning producer Jennifer Kranz has always valued the importance of women’s stories in media and has dedicated her prolific career to seeking out projects that propel women into the spotlight in an industry that often favors the perspective of men. Aside from her profound achievements in television production, Kranz has also been an integral part of several Tony-nominated projects most notably The Prom, a glass-ceiling shattering musical about love and acceptance. Now, Kranz is working with twice Grammy-nominated songwriter Jamie Floyd and award-winning playwright Mêlisa Annis to develop The King’s Wife. The new musical follows the historical figures Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, the first two wives of Henry VII and former queens of England, both suffered tragically due to their not having produced a male heir.
The show focuses on the friendship that might have been if the two were allowed to thrive and prosper in such a society. Though The King’s Wife is still in its early stages, the team has put together an Instagram account that shares some of the songs that many have already felt a visceral connection to. Such a story needs to be pioneered by a committed team of strong, compassionate, talented female writers, and according to Kranz, Floyd and Annis are just the women for the job. Though an official date has not been set for the show’s premiere, Kranz and the team are working tirelessly to capture the parts of history that have long been left undiscussed to illustrate a tragic yet beautiful story for the ages.
Q. The King’s Wife is the story of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, the first two wives of Henry VIII, and the friendship that might have existed between them. How did the idea for this powerful story come about?
It came about many years ago actually. Probably in 2013 when I was a busy television executive and didn’t really have time to do anything about it. But I am such a fan of so many women of this genre, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, that sort of thing. And I said “no one has ever made that sort of thing into a serious musical narrative” so that’s sort of how the idea came about. I researched them a bit and then I did more research with the writer of the musical Mêlisa Annis and we found that there were so many similarities between these two women. They were almost the same person, in a way, in their intellectual pursuits, their love of learning, their interest in human rights, and their leadership qualities. So the thing about the two of them is that they kind of get a raw deal in the history books.
What they really talk about is that both of these women were “incapable mothers”. Catherine of Aragon’s job really as queen was not to do all of the interesting things that she did and lead troops and this and that but it was to have a male heir and she didn’t do that. She had Mary and a number of other children that died. Anne Boleyn, the same thing, she wasn’t able to have a male heir so they whipped up some charges against her and at a very young age she had her head cut off. It’s not a very happy story and when you really break it down it’s about the really poor treatment of women and the subjugation of women and what happens when we don’t let great women rise in the world. You’ll see in the musical how the world suffers because we don’t let these women step forward and assume leadership roles in the society that they’re in.
We did our first workshop of the musical, it’s still in a very early stage but we put it up on its feet with actors and scripts in hands, at the wonderful Playwright’s Horizons. They were very kind to us and gave us the time and space to work on it and what the artist came away with was there were a couple male characters that felt redundant and other key learning. They pulled out a couple of the male characters to really make this female forward.
Q. This show features a book by Mêlisa Annis and music and lyrics by Jamie Floyd. What was it like working with these two extraordinarily talented people?
They are extraordinarily talented! You know they’re really wonderful to work with. On paper, it doesn’t look like they’d match up. As a producer, you really have to be able to see that these are artists that are going to be able to yield something together because they hadn’t worked together before and now they’re like sisters. I’d read a lot of scripts that Melisa had written and there were people that had more experience than her in writing musicals. I read a lot of different people before I approached Mêlisa about it but her voice is just so unique and brilliant. She’s originally from the UK, she’s Welsh, so she understands the culture of the UK. She has this ability to write in this beautifully elevated style but also in a way that’s really funny and contemporary so I really just think she’s such a rare talent and the same goes for Jamie.
Jamie is a twice Grammy-nominated Nashville songwriter and also a really talented performer. A few years ago, I told a good friend of mine from LA who’s a music supervisor in the television industry, that I was looking for someone who doesn’t sound like a musical theater writer and she said “let me forward you this one person, Jamie. She would be great.” And she really nailed it because Mêlisa, and I had been working at it for about a year, and a half at that point before we really felt that we were ready to add a composer into the mix and we heard Jamie’s stuff and I said “I really think this is the person” and Mêlisa agreed so it’s really worked out. They’re doing beautiful work.
Q. You’ve released some of the music on your Instagram and many fans have expressed adoration, especially for the heart-wrenchingly powerful “I Know You”. What is it like to hear such positive early reactions?
I mean it’s exactly what you want when you’re creating a musical. I know the value of establishing fanbases early on from my 20+ years in television. Putting up the Instagram was a way to test the waters a bit and it was sort of the reaction we were hoping for. As a producer, it’s exactly what you want. I’m really pleased to say that I wasn’t surprised. Jamie’s music is so beautiful. We went down to Nashville and she has this great group of loyal friends and musicians down there who helped us put together some demos. It was a really special time. The demo you hear is what we recorded before the pandemic. Ultimately we’ll record some new stuff and put that out, too.“I Know You” is this really powerful song that came about from this one scene in the musical. I won’t say too much about it but Catherine and Anne have found each other and are sort of getting to know each other. Originally, it was Anne singing the song but now we think it’s going to be another person in the mix – one of Catherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting.
It’s a song about getting back up on your feet after something bad happens. Mêlisa and Jamie are so good at communicating with each other. At the time, Jamie asked “what are we trying to say here?” and Mêlisa said, “the character is trying to say “you can do this, I know you”, and Jamie’s wheels started turning. She’s such a fast writer – both she and Mêlisa are. Within a couple of days she came back with “I Know You” and we were like Wow! That’s so beautiful! It’s crazy because we get requests all the time for the sheet music from people wanting to use it as an audition song. People just really seem to love it and it really speaks to them because it’s about helping a person in need and helping someone get back on their feet.
Q. A lot of the songs are beautiful ballads with some contemporary elements, how does this separate The King’s Wife from other shows that are implementing more of a pop sound into their soundtrack?
I think that’s actually the biggest differentiator. We’re huge fans of Six. That’s sort of a different thing, it’s a pop concert and it’s genius. The King’s Wife is a very linear narrative. There’s a script to it, there’s dialogue in it, there’s multiple characters but it really centers around Anne and Catherine and shows these extraordinary possibilities of these great minds together if they actually had the ability to be together for a time. There are incredible ballads. I mean that’s Jamie’s thing. She’s taken like a fish to water in terms of musical theater writing but she does come from the pop and country world. She’s able to take what we need in terms of the emotion and really put it into songs. Usually, in a musical, there’s sort of one incredible ballad like “Memory” from Cats or “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd but in this case, just because of Jamie’s sheer nature of being an incredible ballad writer there’s like three big show-stopping ballads. So, yeah, the music is the biggest differentiator, I think. Jamie has also conceptualized really great motifs that happen throughout the musical too. I think those are the ways that it’s differentiated. This is also a very dark show. Something more akin to a Spring Awakening or Hadestown rather than something poppy and fun.
Q. Shows centering around historical events seem to be a trend in musical theater right now with hit shows like Hamilton and Six. How important is it to retell history through a musical lens?
I think it’s really fun to retell history through a musical lens but I think it’s really important to retell history through a woman’s lens. For many years history has been told through the perspective of men. I’m also a huge Hamilton fan. It’s a work of genius. It’s told from the perspective of men of course but there are also strong, powerful women in the show. It’s really nice to tell a story from a woman’s perspective. Again, what we know about Catherine and Anne is they had these jobs and they couldn’t have male children and you don’t really get the nuances of who they were as people. As Mêlisa said in a previous interview, Anne is painted as this vixen and she really wasn’t. We don’t even know if that’s true because she wasn’t telling her own story. We don’t know her experience. And Catherine is painted, again using Mêlisa’s words as an “incapable mother” and she was so much more than that. The perspectives people have because of what’s been written in the books isn’t necessarily the full picture because women didn’t get to write their own stories back then. So, I think that’s why there’s this fascination with stories from hundreds of years ago because women were literally not writing their own stories for the most part.
Q. Can you share any behind-the-scenes workshop stories?
The thing was that we were really dodging Covid. It was just a nail-biter. We had to change the workshop date about five times due to Covid. We had various people in and out due to Covid. You’re worried about “well, is the music director gonna get covid, is the director gonna get covid?” So there’s all these sort of white-knuckling things that you have to hang on and cross your fingers about. That was the biggest behind-the-scenes thing, other than that we had a great time. Playwright’s Horizons was very generous with what they gave. With Page 73, they premiered A Strange Loop, the Pulitzer prize-winning Michael R. Jackson musical. They have great taste and they’re very kind and they offer great feedback so it was just a pleasure to be in that space.
Q. You’ve been involved with multiple Tony award-nominated projects and worked on countless other musical theater-related productions including Netflix’s The Prom. How have these projects and experiences shaped your career?
I had worked on a couple of projects with my producing partner Abigail Solomon at her company Rosalind Productions and we were producers on The Prom which was up for best musical. There was another show we did – ThreeTall Women, which was an incredible play and that was nominated for a Tony award. How has it impacted me? It’s wonderful! It’s really great. My job as a producer and especially for Rosalind Productions is to find interesting stuff that’s hopefully going to be financially successful, satisfying to work on, and artistically successful and that’s where the awards come in.
It’s my job to constantly help develop interesting stuff that’s gonna make waves and make an impact. The nice thing about Rosalind Productions and my own personal thing as a producer is that we’re all about getting women’s stories out there. It’s really incredibly satisfying to work for a company where that is their sole mission. We’re never gonna produce a show about a girl searching for a guy or a romantic partner. We’re searching for more substantive narratives even though those narratives might be fun.
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