Milwaukeeans Will Create Broadway Show

Pulitzer-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar and 'La La Land' composer Justin Hurwitz will collaborate.

By - Feb 16th, 2023 12:46 pm
Ayad Akhtar. Photo from the Milwaukee Rep.

Ayad Akhtar. Photo from the Milwaukee Rep.

More than 10 years apart they both went to high school in the Milwaukee area and now they are colliding on Broadway for the 2024 season.

The Milwaukee connections are somewhat different for writer Ayad Akhtar, 52, and composer Justin Hurwitz, now in his thirties. Both have won national awards for their work. Now trade publications reveal they are a big part of a high-powered team creating a new stage version of La La Land, the 2016 film (reviewed by Urban Milwaukee) for which Hurwitz won two Oscars (best original score and best song) while Akhtar has had to settle for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and best seller lists for novels.

Justin Hurwitz. (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Justin Hurwitz. (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Hurwitz went to Nicolet High School before meeting up at Harvard with Damien Chazelle, the director who collaborated with Hurwitz on La La Land and before that the movie Whiplash, and he is again receiving an Oscar musical score nomination for Chazelle’s newest film, Babylon.

Akhtar went to high school in Brookfield and has been busy since writing noteworthy plays and novels. The Milwaukee Rep remains in a long-term deal with Akhtar to collaborate on all his plays, having already done four.

In 2017 in a collaboration of three regional companies, the Rep produced Akhtar’s play Disgraced, which Urban Milwaukee called the “best directed and acted” show of the season at the Quadracci Theater, “fulfilling its 2013 Pulitzer reputation” under Guthrie Theatre director Marcela Lorca.

In 2019, after a Broadway outing, Akhtar tinkered with another of his plays under Rep artistic director Mark Clements. The fresh staging of Junk was hailed by Urban Milwaukee as “the most important and engrossing drama of the (2019) season” charging through “the junk bond shenanigans of America’s 1980s with the confidence of a thriller.”

Not only have two other Akhtar plays been staged by the Rep – The Invisible Hand and The Who & The What – but the Rep is currently collaborating with Akhtar to turn his 2012 prize winning novel, American Dervish, into a play. It imagines a Pakistani American growing up in a Midwest city much like Milwaukee. Akhtar also serves as a Milwaukee Rep board trustee.

For the Broadway bound La La Land Akhtar is lead writer on the show’s book while Hurwitz in reuniting with his La La Land lyricists, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, to create all the music. Their song “City of Dreams” won the best song Oscar for 2016. The Broadway bound production bristles with top credentials, with funding by Lionsgate and direction by Bartlett Sher, who has won multiple Tonys for directing Oslo, the recent revival of My Fair Lady and Aaron Sorkin’s version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blogs here and here.

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