Jodi Picoult’s YA Book With Daughter Will Open As Off-Broadway Musical

There’s the mother-daughter bond, and then there’s your mom moving into a college dorm with you.

One of the first workshops in the musical ‘Between The Lines’ saw international bestselling author Jodi Picoult living temporarily in a seniors’ residence at Vassar College, where her daughter Samantha van Leer was a student.

Picoult and van Leer co-wrote the YA novel “Between The Lines,” which they helped adapt into the musical.

“I remember she was like, ‘Wow, that’s living the dream. Going to college with your mom,'” Picoult (“My Sister’s Keeper,” “Nineteen Minutes”) said with a laugh.

Samantha van Leer and Jodi Picoult

Fortunately, this summer at New York Stage and Film (an incubator for artists and their work) paid off. About six years later, the musical will soon make its off-Broadway debut.

And the couple are set to move in together again.

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“I think for my mom and I, it’s a really nice and fun opportunity to get back together,” van Leer said. “We wrote the sequel, ‘Off The Page,’ when I was in college, and now we have lives far apart. We live across the country. So getting over together and having a reason to live together in an Airbnb for a month brings back memories and everything, and it’s an opportunity for us to collaborate and work together again years later.”

‘Between the lines’

Performances of “Between The Lines” begin Tuesday, June 14 at the Tony Kiser Theater in Manhattan.

The musical features a book by Timothy Allen McDonald, with music and lyrics by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson. It is choreographed by Paul McGill and directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Jeff Calhoun.

"Between the lines: a new musical" is based on the book by Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha van Leer.

“Between The Lines” tells the story of Delilah, an outsider in a new school who seeks solace in the pages of her favorite book, when the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur.

The message of the book and the musical is “live the story you want, if it’s not the story you’re in,” Picoult said.

Picoult and van Leer said adapting the story into a musical gave them the opportunity to rewrite parts of their story.

“I feel like when you write a book and it gets published, that’s what it is. It’s there and it stays that way forever,” van Leer said. “But with this musical, we have an incredible book writer and an incredible creative team and the opportunity to put a little more into the story, to decide ‘what do we want our focal point to be?’ “What do we want the message to get across?” ‘What do we want our performance to look like?’ “What do we want our cast, our story, and the world we’re building to physically look like and perhaps reflect a more modern world, a more realistic world, different from where we were writing ten years ago?”

Some of the changes include a bit of character aging, social media integration and online bullying issues, and ensuring the show features a diverse cast. They rewrote one of the characters as non-binary, working with non-binary voices to authentically create the character.

Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

“One of the things we learned early on is that saying you’re non-binary means different things to different people,” Picoult said. “So we were really trying to go through a lot of different kinds of experiences so that a lot of different people would find what we felt was organic for our character.”

Picoult and van Leer said they were thrilled to bring this performance to the world.

“I think it’s something that a lot of teenagers in particular can relate to, and it’s not something that we’ve seen a lot on stage,” Picoult said.

hear the music

Picoult has written shows for teen community theater and leads a group in New Hampshire, where she lives.

She said the idea of ​​turning “Between The Lines” into a musical came about because the story demanded more.

“To me, there was something about the story that sang,” she said. “I just felt like it wasn’t quite over, like I could hear more. I could hear music behind it.”

Providing this music was Samsel and Anderson.

“I’m so thrilled to provide a vehicle for Samsel/Anderson’s theatrical debut as songwriters,” Picoult said. “They’re ridiculous. They’re so talented. We call them ‘The Mythics’ because the odds of finding an all-female team are about as likely as finding two unicorns together.”

Since signing to “Between The Lines,” Samsel and Anderson have written the score for Disney’s short “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” and served as songwriters for Apple TV+’s “Central Park.”

McDonald and Picoult also clicked, and now have an adaptation of “The Book Thief” out in the UK in the fall, also with music and lyrics by Samsel and Anderson.

McDonald and Picoult also collaborated on the streaming musical “Breathe,” based on stories about COVID-19, which aired last summer.

Create together

Bringing others into the world of their book was made easier by the fact that the couple wrote it side-by-side, van Leer said.

“Writing with someone else doesn’t happen often, especially in the world of fiction,” she said. “I know when we started writing the books together, my mom always said it was really nice to have someone else in the room, that it wasn’t so lonely. was such a great opportunity for both of us, both as mother and daughter and as writers.

“And now we have even more people in the room. We were very lucky that our creative team welcomed us and really allowed us to be active participants in this process and not just look aside when someone takes the relay. our story.”

Thinking back to writing their novels together, van Leer smiles as his mother recounts her thoughts, shouting as she’s wrapped in a duvet on the floor. Not typing fast enough for her mother’s liking, her contributions often came from that huddled position with Picoult at the keyboard.

“It was very different when we were writing the books considering I was a teenager living under my mom’s roof. So it’s a very unique collaboration because my mom has collaborated with other authors, and I don’t don’t think she could tell them to go to their room,” she laughs.

Although they had disagreements, they understood that the “best idea wins”, which they say is a guideline in their work with the musical’s creative team.

And the bouncing of ideas on each other continues, despite van Leer ditching the quilt and threatening to be sent to her room.

The couple can’t wait to share the show with the world.

“It’s just a place of joy. It’s funny and heartbreaking,” Picoult said. “A lot of people have asked me… ‘Is this similar to what you write as a novelist?’ The truth is, I think a lot of the stuff I write takes you on a top-down journey, and you’ll feel the same when you watch the show You might laugh a little more than most of my solo novels. And I’m really excited to share it with the public.”

The cast includes Arielle Jacobs (“Aladdin”, “Wicked”) as Delilah, Jake David Smith (“Frozen”) as Prince Oliver/Edgar, Vicki Lewis (“Anastasia”, “Damn Yankees”) as Mrs. Winx/Jessamyn Jacobs /Mrs. Brown/Kyrie, Hillary Fisher (off-Broadway’s “Cyrano”) as Allie/Princess Seraphima, Will Burton (“Kiss Me, Kate”) as Frump/Ryan, Jerusha Cavazos (“The Prom”) as Janice/Marina, John Rapson (“Les Miserables”) as Dr Ducharme/Rapskulio, Wren Rivera (“Jagged Little Pill”) as Jules/Ondine, Sean Stack as Martin/Troll/Dad/Delivery Person, and Julia Murney (“Wicked “) as Grace/Queen Maureen, joined by stunt doubles Heather Ayers, Dan Hoy, Martin Landry and Aubrey Matalon.

Performances of “Between The Lines” begin Tuesday, June 14 at the Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St. Tickets are on sale through October 2.

Live chats with Picoult are scheduled for June 28 at 7 p.m., June 29 at 2 p.m., June 30 at 7 p.m., July 2 at 2 p.m., July 22 at 8 p.m. and July 23 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

For tickets and more information, visit betweenthelinesmusical.com.

Ilana Keller is an award-winning journalist and lifelong New Jersey resident who loves Broadway and really bad puns. She shines a light on arts advocacy and education, theater fundraisers and more in her “Sightlines” column. Connect with us on Twitter: @ilanakeller; [email protected]