Rio, with book, music, and lyrics by Mitch Magonet and Joey Miller, is the story of twelve year-old Pipio who is searching for his mother amidst the colorful and cruel streets of Rio. Inspired by tragic true events in Brazil, Rio is a rich story of survival and identity, set against a vibrant cultural backdrop. Below, Mitch shares a little more about their journey in writing Rio and getting to NYMF:
Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?
Mitch Magonet: Rio is a musical about celebrating life and finding hope even in the darkest of times and places.
Me: I read a little bit about where the inspiration for Rio came from, and it seems to be tied to some really powerful stories and a personal connection to the place. Can you tell us a little bit more about the show’s conception?
Mitch: As writers, Joey and I have always been attracted to characters who have an inner need to find their history and who are relentless in their search to find themselves – characters who have inner rhythms, where music plays an important part of their lives. The rhythms of Brazil was a natural place to start. Fascinated by the intricate music and characters of Rio, Joey and I began an eight year journey of discovery about this violent, yet beautiful city. After learning about the tragedy of the ‘Candelaria Massacre’ where many homeless street-kids were brutally murdered at the church by the police, we felt that there was an important story to be told. Within six months, we composed a crop of exhilarating songs that explored this fragile and powerful world.
But it wasn't so much that 70 children were shot and 8 died on those church steps. That was tragic enough. But several years later, that 39 of the 62 survivors were killed either by police and street-life was just incomprehensible to our North American sensibilities. How could a country let this happen to their future - again. As a father of 2 young girls, I could never imagine even one of my children going one day without clean running water, an education or a hug from their parent, and yet, this is what these street-kids live without everyday. This is their imprisonment. And yet, no prison can keep them from their music. To be able to dig up hope and joy from the mudslide of their daily existence with music and Carnival was so deeply inspiring that we knew if it could move us, it would move any audience.
Me: How did you and Joey become collaborators, and what is your writing process, given your distance from one another in where you’re currently based?
Mitch: Knowing each other through relatives, Joey and I realized we had such similar tastes in music, theater, film etc. So it was a very easy fit. While we were both living in Toronto, we were searching for a project that would combine both my pop music sensibilities and his background as a percussionist. What started out as a ‘test’ project to see if we could even work together, turned into a complete labor of love. We had no set rules. Sometimes we would choose a character and write songs using his or her unique and distinctive musical rhythms and language. Then we would meet and help shape each others’ songs but always being tough critics on each other. We tried sitting in a room together and working on a song but it just didn’t work for us. So now that we’re living in different cities, we work through a million emails mp3s and phone calls. Once in a while we travel to each other’s city and play what we have. We established this method that worked best for us.
Me: How did you approach translating Brazil as a place into music and onto the stage?
Mitch: We started with a universal story - one that would work no matter where it took place. We always knew that it would be impossible to recreate the actual Carnival in Rio. That must be seen and experienced. We take a lens, and against the background of Carnival we tell the story of a twelve year old boy who never stops believing that he will find his birth mother. He is an innocent child, who with the pure faith of a child, changes the life of a young girl who has almost given up believing in herself.
Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?
Mitch: Seeing the audience respond emotionally to a musical that we have been nourishing and caring for all these years is the best reward we could ask for. We’re excited to share the journey through our music and story, and to have an audience experience those travels with us. We hope this story impacts them as it does us and that the audience will love this production as much as we do. The gift of seeing an audience respond to your work is invaluable, and through the Festival we know that other musical theater writers appreciate the incredible opportunities this process offers.