Despite what you may have read, The Right Girl is not a musical about Harvey Weinstein. Then again, having been created by one of the first women to speak out against the rapist, it’s not not a musical about Harvey Weinstein.
Had Broadway not gone dark with the coronavirus pandemic last March, audiences might already be deciding for themselves how much Weinstein there is in the musical’s villain, and how much is Cosby or Lauer or any of the dozen or so famous men melded into the fictional predator The Right Girl calls Paul. If the big-name creative team behind the production has its way, audiences will still get that chance, either in a future vaccine-protected Broadway theater or on a home screen set to a favorite streaming platform. Either way, The Right Girl could become one of the first major works of commercial entertainment – certainly the first big musical – to emerge directly from the #MeToo movement.
Created by Louisette Geiss, who publicly accused Weinstein of thwarting her screenwriting career after she rebuffed his crude sexual advances, and cowritten and produced by Howard Kagan, the wealthy Broadway producer who attempted, unsuccessfully, to purchase The Weinstein Company’s film and television assets after the fall of the entity’s disgraced cofounder, The Right Girl has attracted the involvement of two of the most successful people in the theater and music industries: Five-time Tony Award-winning stage director and choreographer Susan Stroman and Oscar-nominated, Grammy- and Emmy-winning songwriter Diane Warren.
The team came together during a moment of unparalleled reckoning in the entertainment industries only to collide head-on with the most dire threat to the arts and commerce in generations. Where The Right Girl goes from here is, in many ways, uncharted.
The official synopsis: Is she The Right Girl? Eleanor Stark’s entire life has been leading up to this moment: her first day as Chief Creative Officer of the legendary movie studio, Ambrosia Productions. As Eleanor rises to the top of her game working side by side for years with the industry’s most respected men, we learn that one of them has been abusing women all along. What role does Eleanor play in the story of Hollywood’s most fiercely guarded secret?
Deadline conducted interviews with Geiss, Kagan, Stroman and Warren. The conversations have been edited, condensed and pieced together for length, clarity and chronology.
The Right Girl team:
- Louisette Geiss, a former actress who had roles in, among others, TV’s Angel, Two and a Half Men and The King of Queens, went public in 2017 with her claim that Harvey Weinstein invited her to his hotel office while at the Sundance Film Festival to discuss a script she’d written. When they were alone, Weinstein disrobed and began masturbating. Geiss fled the room, and soon left the business.
- Howard Kagan, a former partner at Harbinger Capital Partners, pivoted from investment banking to Broadway producing more than a decade ago. He and his wife Janet have been involved in such noteworthy stage productions as Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, On the Town, a revival of Pippin and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. In 2018, Kagan’s Inclusion Media submitted a $315 million bid to acquire assets of The Weinstein Company. The bid was not accepted.
- Susan Stroman is one of Broadway’s leading directors and choreographers, a five-time Tony Award winner including a Best Director of a Musical trophy for the blockbuster The Producers. Other notable stage credits include Crazy for You, Contact, and The Scottsboro Boys. She is a 2014 inductee in the American Theater Hall of Fame in New York City.
- Diane Warren is a multiple Grammy- and Emmy-winning songwriter. Among her 11 Oscar-nominated songs are “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Armageddon, “Til It Happens to You” (with Lady Gaga) from The Hunting Ground, “Stand Up for Something” (with Common) from Marshall, “I’ll Fight” from RBG and “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough. Her album Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions Vol. 1 will be released in Spring 2021, and will feature performances by John Legend, Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige and Darius Rucker, among others.
LOUISETTE GEISS: “Marie” is the closest to me. She’s a girl who is abused by a predator, then gets out of the movie business and goes into real estate. I mean, I actually work in title insurance but nobody knows what title insurance is so I knew better than to put that in the show.
After you go through these experiences you want to do something. There were many years when I tried to get other women to help me do something but everybody was so fearful. I was one of the first ones to go public with Gloria Allred and put my face on it, and that was because I was just so sick of hearing that we couldn’t do anything. If you can’t do anything then you lay in bed and you think, well, crap, now that I haven’t stopped him who else is he doing this to? It puts the responsibility on the victims after they’ve already been victimized.
After I came forward against Harvey, I got to come in contact with many of the other survivors. I had zero clue that Harvey had taken advantage or harassed or raped so many women. I became part of this email chain of women and was hearing their stories on a daily basis. In all truth, it was getting me down a lot. That kind of stuff really weighs on you. I just thought to myself that I’ve got to personally create something different out of this sadness or else it’s going to take me down with it. So I let them all know I had this idea to do a show interweaving a lot of our stories. They all said that’s a great idea, but then it was kind of left there.
HOWARD KAGAN: I was looking for a way to make sure that if I ended up acquiring [the Miramax] assets that I would be able to work with those assets in the Hollywood establishment. I partnered with the women who were advocating for some financial restitution for their alleged abuse – at the time it was alleged – and Louisette was the head of the committee of those women.
GEISS: I had met Howard Kagan through the Unsecured Creditor Committee because I was the chairwoman, and I had to be looped in on his offer. In doing so, I got to hear that he wanted to create a victims portion of the company. Not a fund, by the way – he wanted to create a part of the company that was kind of a first look deal for the survivors, if he was to take over TWC. I admired that because at the end of the day, many of us didn’t want to get out of the business. We just didn’t want to be harassed and abused at our workplace.
KAGAN: What we had discussed was that she and a lot of the women who had been blackballed from the industry would be given a production subsidiary, like a pot of money to collaborate with one another and with me to produce work under the new company’s masthead and essentially to be able to reenter the business. Some of them were actors. Some of them were directors. Louisette was a screenwriter and an actress.
GEISS: Howard asked me to write up what I thought the show might look like, and I did. Unfortunately, he did not win the bid for The Weinstein Company and that was that. A couple of months later – it took me that long to get the courage up – I reached out to his lawyer and said I have this idea for a show and could I talk to Howard Kagan personally?
KAGAN: When I ended up not acquiring the company because I lost the auction, Louisette called me shortly after that and said she hoped we could try to do those projects together anyway, and I said sure. My ears are open
GEISS: There are a few beauties to getting older – you just really don’t give two Fs anymore. You take the bull by the horns. It just so happened that Howard was coming into Los Angeles shortly after we spoke. We sat down at a lunch and I explained my idea of looping in these women, kind of weaving in their stories. I thought it should look like something along the lines of The Vagina Monologues, because I had done that show.
KAGAN: Louisette had suggested that we do something like The Vagina Monologues, but to me it really resonated more like A Chorus Line in terms of telling stories through song and dance. So I recruited Susan Stroman, and she agreed.
SUSAN STROMAN: When Howard called me and told me about Louisette and the whole story, my first reaction was, Is this a musical? And Howard said, Look who I’m talking to – you did the Scottsboro Boys as a musical! So, you know, he was right.
KAGAN: What Louisette was describing, the stories these women were telling, was about how dreams were dashed, how they had these budding careers that were shut down by these men, and how they dealt with processing the trauma over the years and the guilt they had for not acting sooner to prevent other women from falling. The frustration and shame they had for not being able to avoid becoming victims, the way it affected their relationships with their spouses and their families. It was the most emotional stuff I had really ever heard. To me, it just screamed out that this should be a musical.
GEISS: I mean, Cabaret is Nazi Germany, for God sakes.
STROMAN: Louisette gathered about 10 or 12 women who had either been sexually assaulted or raped by five very powerful men that we all know, and these women told us their stories and allowed us to record them so we could transcribe them. I was totally moved, and realized there was no turning back.
GEISS: About a month after Howard brought in Susan Stroman I said to him, you know who would be perfect for the music? Diane Warren. I work in real estate now, and one of my clients said Diane had bought a place in Malibu, and it was like that epiphany moment. A solid month later I was at a women’s summit in Los Angeles and she was there and performed “Until It Happens to You.” It was that kismet moment where you’re like, just go. So I ran up to her and told her about my idea, and she really liked that I was trying to loop in all these women and give something back to them as well. She said, Here’s my phone number.
DIANE WARREN: Sharon Waxman has this women’s summit event every year, a really awesome event. And I was there that year, and I performed I think it was “I’ll Fight,” the RBG song. Louisette came up to me afterwards and started talking about this idea for a musical she had. She asked for my number to talk at a later date. You know, a lot of people that talk to you about stuff like that and nothing ever happens, but she did end up calling me. I’d never done a musical before. I just thought, I hope it’s not too serious and preachy. Who’s gonna wanna see that?
GEISS: The day that Diane met the group of women in her office, she played us a song she’d written – she had heard the transcripts from our earlier New York meeting with the women. It became the finale song for our show, and it’s called “You Fucked with The Wrong Girl.” If you know Diane, she loves a good F word.
WARREN: That’s a new one I wrote that I really love. “You Fucked With The Wrong Girl.” I envisioned that as the big song. And of course, “Until It Happens To You” is in there, which makes sense because that song kind of really helped explode the Me Too movement. Music is a powerful tool.
GEISS: “Until It Happens To You” is almost like it was written for this musical. The character Marie sings it when she’s trying to explain that you can’t just get over this. It’s my story as well. A lot of people in the business at some point say to you, Well, can’t you just get over it? I mean it happened a while ago. You just need to move on. And you’re like, Yeah, until it happens to you.
STROMAN: Fred Ebb, the lyricist for The Scottsboro Boys, had said to me about that show that if we don’t make it entertaining no one will listen, and he was right. When we sing, when we dance, people will pay attention to the story more than if they see a news story on television. Live theatre will always resonate more.
GEISS: Our lead character is named Eleanor. She’s worked her way up through the ranks in the business, and eventually is winning her own Oscars, kind of becoming on the same level, if you will, as a Harvey or a Cosby. She’s rising to that level when she meets Marie, the character most similar to myself.
KAGAN: Eleanor is not someone who has ever been subjected to harassment, so she’s like the person in the audience who’s just seeing for the first time that this is going on. That was our way in. The structure of the story was there.
GEISS: The predator is named Paul. After Eleanor meets Marie briefly at the beginning she then goes to work for Paul, who is very into himself. For the reading we cast an actor who’s more along the lines of a Matt Lauer. You don’t have to be visually displeasing to be a predator. You can do these heinous acts and still be this good-looking guy.
Paul starts to indoctrinate Eleanor into his world. Eleanor’s star is rising and she has an assistant named Kaili, who is based on…I mean I’ve met many people who’ve worked for either Harvey or other predators who’ve told me their stories. I myself have been an assistant many times, and there are lines people would say to me that end up in the script, like, “If I ask for 10 chickens and a water hose you better bring it to me.” Someone said that to me, and I was 18 years old. There is no no.
As the show progresses, Marie comes forward to Eleanor and explains what happened to her, and that there’s a reporter and, much like the beginnings of the Weinstein case, this big birthing of all these stories is about to happen. She asks Eleanor to help corroborate her story. And Kaili, as the assistant and being a smart female, has saved a lot of evidence, from phone calls to receipts. She turns it over to Eleanor, who takes it to the board, but the board wants to silence her. She ends up going to court and even the court doesn’t do the right thing. What I learned from the judicial system is that it is not as shiny as you hoped it would be, and it’s very archaic.
The show is about how these three women have to come together, the right girls at the right time to make a difference and take down a behemoth. What does that take? What strength does that take to really make a difference, to stop these predators?
STROMAN: We set the show in Hollywood because Hollywood is just coming to terms with powerful people using their power incorrectly to take advantage of younger, hungrier people, and to focus on people who entertain as part of their lives just seemed a better place for us to tell a story. But we know this is happening to waitresses and nurses, too.
KAGAN: People have said, Oh, it’s Harvey Weinstein, but that’s not who it is. In fact, for the readings we had the actor Tony Yazbeck in the role, and of course he looks nothing like Harvey Weinstein. We heard from so many women about how many of their abusers were these very sophisticated, attractive young men. Our character is a composite of about 12 different men.
GEISS: This isn’t about Harvey Weinstein – not that he doesn’t always love everything to be about him, even now that he’s incarcerated. But it isn’t just him, which is why I wanted to loop in so many women who had experiences with everyone from Hoffman to Toback to Russell Simmons and R. Kelly, and it was really important to me to get a Cosby survivor. So I want to be clear that despite some reports this isn’t just about “the Weinstein accuser,” which is crazy to me anyway because he’s already incarcerated. “Accuser?”
KAGAN: We wanted to do two things at the same time: tell a fictional story that would allow people to be entertained so that they would sit and listen, and use the actual words that these real women were speaking to us. We have royalty agreements with two dozen contributors, kind of like how A Chorus Line was put together. A Chorus Line had a bunch of chorus members sitting down and talking to Michael Bennett and he recorded them, and that’s what we did.
GEISS: There’s a certain machinery that goes with doing a musical. You have to have X amount of fun songs to X amount of songs that maybe can dig deeper. We have some songs in our show that are light and romantic and fun. There are definitely funny parts because there’s no way we as survivors would have survived if we didn’t find some humor in our lives.
We had a staged reading February 25, 2020, at Diane Warren’s office in LA as a kind of precursor to putting it up on its feet at a regional theater. The day before, the New York jury convicted Weinstein. So here we are, people are flying in from New York, Broadway singers flying in, LA actors coming, and I’m on the steps of the courthouse in LA doing a big speech about the conviction. It was pretty nuts.
KAGAN: We had just done a successful table read in LA at Diane Warren’s studio. It was an investor-tryout kind of a thing. Most of the cast was the same as the one we’d had in New York and we knew we were ready. It was really great. We worked on it for the next eight or ten weeks as the pandemic was sort of beginning to happen. We were scheduled to have a workshop with all the choreography and finish the piece in New York in April so that we could do our out-of-town run in the Fall of ’20, and then go to Broadway in the Spring of ’21. When we postponed our April workshop because of the pandemic, we were all thinking, Oh, this will be over by June.
GEISS: A pandemic. I was like, Are you kidding me?
STROMAN: When you’re working on a musical, you do a reading and then you do a workshop and then you take it either Off Broadway or out of town, and so we were on the way to doing a workshop when everything closed down.
Rather than put our process on hold until this apocalypse is over, it seemed a good idea to keep going forward so when we do get on the other side we will have worked on the musical and be ready to do it live. So we decided to go forward and work on it on Zoom. That is very difficult to do for singing but we worked on tracks and then sent the tracks to the actors, the actors sang to the tracks then sent them back. It was quite the technology feat for all of us theater folks.
KAGAN: By the time May came along it was clear this was not going to get done anytime soon. So we thought about just putting out pencils down, but Susan and I really thought that the material was so timely, and frankly when we did these sessions with these women one of the things they all said was that they would always be promised that people would tell their stories or that a journalist would write a story and then it wouldn’t happen. Somebody would shut it down, somebody would get to them and just shut the story down. So they wanted us to promise that we would not just put this in a drawer, that we would really get this up on stage.
We ended up recording essentially a full orchestra and then mixing it so that when we did the work with the actors they would have music tracks that were actually like the real orchestra. We rehearsed over Zoom and then we taught them how to film themselves and record their audio in their own apartments. And then they sent us all the material, the video and the audio, and we edited it and mixed it together. By June we were really happy with how it turned out.
GEISS:: We all did it within our own homes. Chasing a three- and five-year-old while trying to pay attention was not the easiest. Everybody stepped up to the plate. We did what we had to do.
KAGAN: The main thing we wanted to accomplish with the screening at Barrington Stage was to get the kind of audience feedback that you’d normally get at a first preview, to see what works and start fixing what you think doesn’t work. We were able to gather in person with an audience and so we heard laughter and we knew when people were crying, we knew when they applauded. That’s just really impossible to do without an audience in the room. You can’t send someone a link. It’s not the same.
STROMAN: We showed them this Zoom reading that we did. We didn’t have choreography in it because we couldn’t do that, but it certainly helped helped Diane finish out the score and helped us with the dialogue. We now have ideas for how to make it even better for our next journey.
WARREN: I was prepared to be cynical. Like, Let’s see what happens here. But I was blown away, and that was without Susan Stroman’s choreography, the dancing and all. She’s an amazing director, so you can imagine what it will be when she adds the dancing and it all comes to life.
KAGAN: Our next step is to just keep all of this moving. We are hopefully going to put out a concept album right after the first of the year as a way to get this out into the world and get even more feedback on what we have. Les Miz, Jesus Christ Superstar and other shows as well over the years started as concept albums.
And we think the next step would be to put the show up in a bubble, a safe place, a fully produced version next summer so that we can create a live capture. We can choose the venue and design the staging and the sets and the costumes and the choreography so that it’s literally designed to be captured on film. Then we would have to talk about how we distribute the live capture.
And this would not replace doing a live production at some point, whenever we can. I don’t think that putting it out as a streaming product cannibalizes the live theater ticket revenue later at all. In fact, I think it makes it something people want to see live. The idea, again, is to just get this out into the world.
I’m talking to investors right now about getting involved. We had some investors come in after the reading at Diane Warren’s studio. We continue to have those conversations with folks just to build our capitalization.
STROMAN: Ultimately, of course, Broadway. If you are a creator who creates for the theatre, you cannot just wait for this pandemic to be over. Your brain will explode. You’ve got to create, and it’ll take more than a pandemic to stop those juices from flowing. You have to keep going forward.
GEISS: It’s very important to get these women’s voices heard, mine included. We know now is the time to keep pushing this envelope. If we’re going to make a real difference I think waiting is not going to help anybody.
WARREN: I’ll tell you something. It’s pretty impressive what they’ve done and what they’re doing, even in this time of pandemic when everything is shut down and even that’s not stopping them. What they’re doing with this musical is like a metaphor for what all those brave women were doing. You just can’t stop.