When the young composer-lyricist Douglas Cohen first secured the musical rights to the novel No Way to Treat a Lady by William Goldman—the acclaimed author of The Princess Bride and Marathon Man—he hoped it would be his big break, the first step on a gilt path to artistic triumph and commercial success in the form of a hit Broadway musical.
What happened after that, while memorable, was anything but.
How to Survive a Killer Musical chronicles Cohen's decade-long quest to bring that musical to the stage—writing, re-writing, and shepherding it across the US and Europe amidst all manner of adversity and plain rotten luck. It's a fascinating portrait of passion, persistence, and resilience—a coming-of-age story populated with famous mentors and formidable adversaries, told with refreshing honesty and humor.
On Cohen's journey, we meet an unforgettable, vividly rendered cast of characters, including: an Oscar-winning screenwriter who invites Cohen to his personal screening room for a marathon midnight writing session; a Tony Award-winning director making his comeback after a horrific accident renders him a quadriplegic; and a celebrated, volatile British director who inspires a fruitful collaboration in London, only to later leave carnage in his wake. Catastrophes abound, including the near-fatal stabbing of a female lead in rehearsal and an onstage accident incapacitating another leading lady—leaving only the author to go on in her place!
Whether you’re a fan of musicals or just someone who’s trying to bring a passion project into the world, this tale of fortitude in the face of obstacles, personalities, and egos will make for an eye-opening and frequently hilarious journey.
Douglas J. Cohen is a composer, lyricist, and librettist who is the recipient of two Richard Rodgers Awards (No Way to Treat a Lady, The Gig), a Jonathan Larson Grant (Barnstormer), Drama Desk and Drama League nominations (Children's Letters to God, Don't Stay Safe), and the Fred Ebb Award and Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award for his body of work. His musicals have been produced Off-Broadway (Manhattan Theatre Club, The York Theatre Company, The Cell Theatre, Prospect Theater Company), as well as regionally (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Signature Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Barrington Stage Company), and internationally. The studio album of his score for The Big Time (book by Douglas Carter Beane) is scheduled for a 2023 release. As a vocal coach, Doug has taught privately and at the Neighborhood Playhouse and Jacob’s Pillow. DouglasJCohen.com
"A fascinating look at the hidden reefs lying below the surface waters of musicals and how to ride over most of them. A treat for anyone interested in theater."—Library Journal (starred review)
"A phenomenal book ... Anyone going into the business must read this book."—Peter Filichia, Broadway Radio
“This is a story of dreams and hard work and persistence. It is a story about what success usually looks like. And most of all, it is a glorious reminder that the destination is never as rewarding as the journey. I am thrilled to have been part of this journey. I am even more thrilled that Doug has found this fabulous way of inviting you along.”—Jason Alexander, Tony and Emmy Award–winning actor (Seinfeld, Jerome Robbins Broadway, Pretty Woman)
“In How to Survive a Killer Musical, Cohen gives a wonderful first-hand account of the roller coaster ride that is developing a brand-new musical. With great humor and vivid characterizations of some of the most important writers, directors, and actors of the last half century, the reader gets a front seat view to the remarkable triumphs and dramatic vicissitudes of show business.”—Alex Timbers, Tony Award–winning director (Here Lies Love, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Beetlejuice, and Peter and the Starcatcher)
“Doug Cohen’s How to Survive a Killer Musical is a surprising page turner, an exhilarating, cautionary tale of a young creator’s path to production. It’s all here: thrills, disasters, betrayals, and ultimately . . . wisdom. This is a poignant primer for anyone daring to try.”—Tony Gilroy, Academy Award nominated writer/director; Executive Producer/Showrunner of Andor, the Star Wars prequel for Disney+
“I don’t care if you’ve never seen a Broadway play, this tale of almost making it in the big leagues of musical theater will have you turning the pages. Full of self-deprecating humor, unforgettable characters, and heartbreaking twists of fate, How to Survive a Killer Musical is a delight.”—Nathaniel Philbrick, bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Travels with George
“This fascinating tale about how to get a musical produced, from page to stage, is made even more fascinating because of the writer’s candor, wit, and passionate desire to give his musical a life against all odds. It’s always a little miracle to me when that happens. And when you have such a good writer telling the tale, it’s irresistible reading.”—Donna McKechnie, Tony Award–winning actress (A Chorus Line, Company, Sweet Charity)
"For anyone who wonders what it is truly like to create a musical and navigate its perilous seas, read Doug Cohen’s heart-busting and heart-breaking book. Like Samuel Pepys, Doug’s journals lay out the truth: the triumphs, the failures, the compromises, sometimes happening on the same day. A love letter to the theater, his family, and us."—Jeanine Tesori, Tony Award–winning composer (Fun Home, Kimberly Akimbo, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Caroline, or Change)
"A vivid, honest, educational, and often hilarious recounting of the author’s adventure adapting a novel by William Goldman to the stage."—John Kander, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award–winning composer (Chicago, Cabaret, New York, New York)