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Why Did Two Hall & Oates Musicals Mysteriously Fall Apart?

In the mid-2000s, Bob Garrett was invited backstage at a Daryl Hall and John Oates concert in Southern California. Garrett, whose credits include working on Broadway shows like The Color Purple and Sing! and writing songs recorded by Tina Turner, Heart and others, remembers how he and his creative partner at the time, Christian Taylor, were greeted. “Daryl said, ‘We’ve been waiting for you,’” Garrett recalls. “They really wanted to do a Broadway show.”

That meeting would be the first of many steps in what has become a decade-plus Pop Quixote-like quest: To produce a stage musical using the songs of Hall & Oates. On the surface, the idea is the ultimate no-brainer. Songs by the Go-Go’s and hair-metal gods (Rock of Ages) have been the basis for shows on the Great White Way. Next up is a show featuring the catalog of Huey Lewis, and a Pat Benatar musical is in the works. And let’s not forget the Back to the Future show currently raking it in on Broadway, complete with those Lewis hits like “The Power of Love.” Plus, the Hall & Oates discography includes more than a dozen beloved classics. “There’s just so many hits,” says Chris D’Arienzo, who wrote Rock of Ages. “When you think about it, it’s kind of insane.” 

But after nearly 20 years, bringing a Hall & Oates musical to the stage — which involved experienced theatrical pros as well as a few name actors — continues to elude anyone who’s dared try. At least twice, plans came close to fruition but ultimately fell apart. The saga says something about Broadway’s early snobbery toward pop and Hall & Oates — and a bit about the internal dynamic between the two, currently playing itself out in court over Oates’ proposed sale of shares in their joint business ventures. (Representatives for Hall and Oates and Primary Wave, the music publishing firm that acquired what it called a “significant interest” in their song catalog in 2007, did not respond to requests for comment.)

Shortly before meeting the duo, Garrett and Taylor (then writing for the TV series Lost and Six Feet Under) had started working together, and Taylor’s love of Hall & Oates music, says Garrett, led them to approach the duo with the idea of a musical. A bio-show, along the likes of Jersey Boys or Ain’t Too Proud, didn’t seem of interest to the singers. “Going into their past is not something they were enthusiastic about,” Garrett recalls.

However, Hall & Oates signed off on one of the pitches: a musical built around a fictional college reunion of an Eighties graduating class, like The Big Chill. A subplot would involve a romantic triangle between three of the classmates and the child born from one of those relationships. Other characters would include, Garrett says, “the hippie who became the corporate guy” and a reunion of a college couple, both divorced. Says Garrett, “The idea was how life can turn around for us.”

Garrett and Taylor were able to secure the rights to Hall & Oates’ catalog and began working on the show they would have called Modern Love, after Hall & Oates’ 1984 hit “Method of Modern Love.” It would open with the now ubiquitous “You Make My Dreams Come True” and include two dozen songs, including “Sara Smile” as a duet featuring two ex-lovers. Garrett and Taylor also included a few deep cuts, like “Forever for You,” from Hall & Oates’ 2003 album Do It for Love. “They were very excited about using songs like that,” Garrett says. “They thought they never got their due.”

According to Garrett, the Hall & Oates team put in $35,000 to workshop the script. But several issues kept sidelining the project, starting with finding a producer with money to back it. “Christian and I both thought, ‘Who’s not going to buy this?’” Garrett says. “Hall & Oates is phenomenal music, written by these two brilliant guys. How could people not understand it’s a very commercial property? But for some reason it was not of interest to the theater community.”

Another factor may have been the 2008 crash, since the show was being developed just before and after the financial crisis. Garrett also sensed the duo grew impatient during the two years the show was in development. “People who aren’t involved in theater don’t understand it’s not an overnight thing or a quick process,” he says. “They thought that investing $35,000 would guarantee them a move to Broadway. They wanted rewards right away, and it doesn’t work that way. The Color Purple had six workshops.”

Whatever the cause, Modern Love was shelved. But another concept would surface five years later. Around the time Hall & Oates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, D’Arienzo flashed on the idea of a Hall & Oates musical after his friends in the music-comedy duo Tenacious D (Jack Black and Kyle Gass) had tried to recruit Hall & Oates for cameos in one of their videos. Given the cold shoulder that Rock of Ages initially received from the Broadway world, which looked on a show of hair-metal songs with upper-crust suspicion, D’Arienzo felt he had a way into a story for his project. “I found parallels in what Hall & Oates were up against and the lack of appropriate critical appreciation for what they do,” he says. “And so I thought, ‘What if this is the story of people trying to put on a show and using my experience of putting on a jukebox musical on Broadway and have it be this exploration of where commerce and art collide?’”

D’Arienzo conceived of the especially quirky idea of a show within a show, essentially a meta-musical. Titled Maneater, the musical would be about the making of a fictional musical based on Nabokov’s Lolita that would include Hall & Oates songs. The story would track the creators of the fake musical as they tried to secure the rights to both properties. Act Two, D’Arienzo says, would have been a “classic French farce” in which the proposed meta-musical almost falls apart. “It was purposely meant to be absurd and silly,” he says, “but then letting the music shine.”

For D’Arienzo, Hall & Oates music was ideal for any type of show. “I thought I had all these tentpole moments that can be supported by big, fun, exuberant numbers and lovely ballads that can carry the emotion,” he says. “A lot of their songs are about the girl who got away, that kind of feeling. But the lyrics are poetic in a way that’s ambiguous. ‘The woman is wild, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a Jaguar’ [from ‘Maneater’] could mean anything. So that gave us a little malleability far as what we could do with them. Someone once pitched me on a Ramones musical. I love the Ramones, but every song kind of sounds the same.”  

Like Garrett and Taylor, D’Arienzo secured the use of the group’s publishing catalog, ultimately picking nearly 30 songs for his script. As with Modern LoveManeater would also include a few non-hits, like “Had I Known You Better Then,” a ballad from Abandoned Luncheonette, and “Crazy Eyes,” from Bigger Than the Both of Us.

In a testament to how beloved Hall & Oates’ music remains, actors like Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, and Norbert Leo Butz participated in early workshops. “I’m very cynical about bio-musicals,” says Butz, the actor, singer, and Tony winner. “But this was a sendup of the whole idea of jukebox musicals — tongue planted firmly in cheek, hilariously funny. In the vein of Rock of Ages, it wasn’t pandering. And with this fucking incredible song catalog. The thing that was brilliant was that Daryl and John were supposed to actually appear at the end, in a hologram, giving their blessing. Everyone was in on the joke.” As a longtime Hall & Oates fan, Butz was particularly stoked to sing “She’s Gone” in a rooftop breakup scene.

At the workshop in which he participated, Butz says the cast “had a friggin’ ball; it was so much fun.” Afterwards, at least one established Broadway director told Butz he would be happy to work on it. But as with Modern LoveManeater ran into problems, starting with raising cash. “In my mind, I was like, ‘Hall & Oates, game over,’’ D’Arienzo says. “I thought it was going to be a layup to get producers to do it. And I found just the opposite. A lot of people didn’t quite understand the brilliance of that catalog. I had lots of producers say, ‘Hall & Oates?’ I was shocked.”

After five years of on-again, off-again tinkering with the show, D’Arienzo says he received a letter from a lawyer for the duo informing him that they were moving on, for unspecified reasons. The elongated process could have factored in; D’Arienzo also says Hall wasn’t keen on the idea of combining his songs into medleys, as can happen in musicals. D’Arienzo had a feeling that one gag he thought was harmless — the fake Hall & Oates are portrayed living together in a ski chalet — might have offended them. “Putting in what I thought was just a completely silly joke may have sabotaged the whole project,” he says. “I’m not sure. I never really got an answer.” 

D’Arienzo’s theory could be true, since Hall & Oates have always seemed especially sensitive about their image and blanch at even the slightest suggestion that they’re being mocked. Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2020 about yacht rock, Kenny Loggins said he’d suggested a yacht-themed episode of Live From Daryl’s House, Hall’s jam-with-friends music show, with Loggins and Michael McDonald as guests. “The name ‘yacht rock’ doesn’t bother me, but Daryl hates it,” Loggins said. “I wanted to address it head on and do a show with Michael and me and Daryl. Daryl didn’t want to look at it at all. He didn’t want to dignify it.”

Beyond their difficulties finding a financial backer, both Garrett and D’Arienzo also caught wind of the unusual dynamic between Hall and Oates. Both saw the group live a few times during their mutual projects and came away disenchanted. “They didn’t look at each other and never even talked to each other,” Garrett recalls. “I don’t think the audience noticed or cared. But I could not understand it.” Although he says Hall and Oates both showed up for a workshop reading of he and Taylor’s attempted musical, Garrett could also sense the tension between the two. “They would speak individually and not together,” he says, “and not confer with each other.”

D’Arienzo felt the same during his few interactions with them and at the concerts he attended. “I saw their show three times, and it was great,” he says. “They played amazing. But they didn’t seem like they were having fun on stage. It definitely felt like a business relationship.”

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In another telling moment, D’Arienzo says he when he submitted his script, members of their team expressed enthusiasm — including half of the duo. “I remember getting a message from John Oates that was, ‘I love this so much, but I’m not going to say anything, because if I say I love it, Daryl will hate it.’” 

Although Garrett and D’Arienzo remain mystified by the experience, they’re hopeful that someday, someway, a show featuring Hall & Oates songs will emerge. Especially in light of the group’s current legal battles, Garrett hopes it could fulfill one of the missions for his DOA project. “It was hard to watch those people who are brilliant together not be best friends,” he says. “That was my hope for this job: We’d rescue the relationship!”

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