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Dicks: The Musical is somehow even more wild than its name implies, making A24’s first musical feel like a big swing for the production company. It’s a gamble that audiences will likely be glad A24 took; what began roughly a decade ago as a musical performed in a cramped Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Manhattan has morphed into a film that aims for the heart as much as humor. The movie was written by Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp–also its stars and the creators of the UCB musical–and directed by Larry Charles (Borat).
Jackson and Sharp were also the songwriters behind Dicks: The Musical, though they had help. Songwriter and composer Karl Saint Lucy has worked with the pair since their UCB days and returns for the film along with Marius de Vries, an Oscar-winning composer whose previous work includes CODA, Kick-Ass, and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Together, the film’s songwriters have crafted catchy and hilarious pieces for the film’s cast, which includes Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, and Megan Thee Stallion.
Related: The 20 Best Musicals Of All Time
Karl Saint Lucy and Marius de Vries spoke with Screen Rant about their work on Dicks: The Musical, working with Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally, and more. Note: This interview was conducted during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the film covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions. This interview has also been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Karl Saint Lucy And Marius De Vries On Dicks: The Musical
Screen Rant: Karl, I believe you did the stage version of this back at UCB in New York. I’m sure it had to be expanded, but how much changed once more people started getting involved and you had to start thinking about putting it on screen?
Karl Saint Lucy: Oh, I mean, just about everything. There’s very little from that show that exists in the same form than it did. One of the things that I thought was going to be a challenge when they made it into full-length show is that it was a 30-minute UCB show–all of those shows are, like, 30 minutes long–so a lot of those jokes and the comedy had to do with the fact that they’re changing wigs and everything is happening so quickly. So, initially I didn’t think it was going to work, because I was like, “Oh my God, the center of the comedy of the show is the fact that it’s so time limited.” But they worked on it with Larry for a really long time, and I think they did a great job.
Marius, how did you find your way here?
Marius de Vries: I was introduced to Josh and Aaron something like seven years ago by our lead producer Kori at Chernin, and at that point the movie was up and in development at 20th Century Fox, back when it was 20th Century Fox, which gave me some pause. I wondered, as things came to fruition, whether someone at Fox might notice that it’s not something that they perhaps would want representing the Fox brand. I just had a suspicion that that might be the case. And then, of course Disney came along, and my suspicions were redoubled and indeed right, because we lost that connection. But thank God we did, because we found a new parent in A24 who were nothing but supportive and just allowed us to cause the maximum amount of mayhem without interfering. So hats off to them for their courage and patience in that regard.
There was a period where the whole thing was asleep, and we didn’t have a director. Then, they found Larry, recontacted me, I picked up the thread, and then we just rolled our sleeves up and started making it. It was a long and twisty journey, but I knew from that first meeting I had in Silver Lake with the twins seven years ago [that] there was something really special here, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to see it through.
How did the collaboration work between the two of you and the two of them? Did they do all the lyrics and did you two do the orchestrations?
Karl Saint Lucy: The lyrics are by the boys. I wrote the melodies and harmonies of the songs. I did most of the orchestration of the songs. Marius, of course, was the music producer for all the songs, and was a hugely influential part of the songwriting process as we did that, and helped to punch up the orchestrations and everything once we were in post-production. Then the score, really, is a marriage of our work. A lot of it is thematic, so it pulls materials from the songs, and Marius did a lot of that work, and I did some of it as well.
So, when you hear the underscoring, it might be 32 bars of Marius and then 16 bars of Karl, and then something that we worked on together. I think the music for this really is a great marriage of what both Marius and I brought to this. And, of course, when you’re writing a song, you’re sometimes making some tweaks to the lyrics and stuff, so there were a few moments where either Marius or I proposed to the boys that maybe there should be a lyric changed. But by and large, they were the lyricists, I was the songwriter, and Marius and I were both the composer.
Marius de Vries: What’s kind of interesting about the process that I discovered as we got into developing new material for the show is that Josh and Aaron [would] kind of put a phone on the table and sing an acapella version of the song. In many respects, it’s actually pretty close to how it turned out, so I think you’d agree, Karl, that it’s not a traditional “sitting around the piano” song composition process. It’s more of a relay.
Karl Saint Lucy: Exactly. And they always know how the songs are going to stand [and] they know how they’re going to move, so having that information coming into the songwriting process was hugely important.
How much were the vocals done on set versus in the studio? Because I would’ve guessed in the studio and then there was an outtake, I think, of Megan Mullally on the set belting something out.
Marius de Vries: I’d hesitate to put a percentage on it because I haven’t dug through it and worked that out, but a lot of it was recorded live. Most of the twin stuff was live on set. A lot of Megan was live on set, and a fair amount of Nathan was. Megan [Thee Stallion] was lip-synced. I’m a big fan, without getting fetishistic about it, of recording on set, because you get a kind of verisimilitude that is very difficult to achieve with pre-records. I was pleased that, even in an extremely condensed 20-day shoot, we were given the opportunity to slow things down and do what you need to do to get good live takes, and that we were able to use a fair amount of them.
Were there musicals that you two used as reference, either in songwriting or orchestrating? One of my favorite things about this is how sweet the music sounds paired with these insane lyrics.
Marius de Vries: I wasn’t aware of any specific references. In fact, we were just talking about how we believe that one of the strengths of this is that, in spite of [the fact that] we’re going for comedy as much as we can in the songs, there’s almost nothing that’s to do with parody and referentiality. The songs live on their own. Also, there’s a great sincerity to the performance and the composition of the songs that helps support the fact that they’re also undermining themselves all the time, referring to themselves, and poking fun at themselves. There’s such a strong emotional core to the songwriting that I think that’s what makes the show so involving.
Karl Saint Lucy: To Marius’s point, we were not referential to anything, but if you wanted to talk about shows that I think do some of the things that we do, or have some of the same sensibility, I’m thinking of the Full Monty with the score by David Yazbek. This is a show that’s very funny but has some really earnest and emotional moments. I don’t know that my work sounds like David Yazbek, but certainly I was drawing from those songs. And Seth McFarlane’s work, I think was really in my ear a lot for this as well.
Marius de Vries: I think if I had a North Star, it would’ve been the Rocky Horror Show. Not in terms of its content at all, but just in terms of its impact and its sensibility.
Karl Saint Lucy: And Reefer Madness, the musical, too. It’s funny, I watched Reefer Madness for the first time in a few years the other day, and they also have a scene where oysters and spaghetti are being served at the same time, which I thought was so funny.
I want to ask about some specific songs because, first off, Megan Thee Stallion’s song is so great. I think that’s going to be one that people talk about, for sure. Do you know if she was involved with the writing of it at all? Did she have ideas or was she just down to do whatever?
Marius de Vries: We had to turn that number around insanely fast because Megan was cast at quite a late stage, and the material that we had prepared for that moment was in no way suitable for Megan Thee Stallion to perform. We had to give her something. We knew that she’d bring her own thing to it, but this was barely days before we started shooting, and we only had one day of rehearsal with her and two days on set. We had to take something which was basically kind of a old-fashioned showtune and give it some sort of DNA that she’d be able to connect to.
We stopped working on everything else, scrambled together a very quick demo, and with profuse apologies, sent it to her and said, “This really isn’t what you’re used to, but see what you can do with this,” and she was a champion. She turned it around in a day, sent us back a more or less finished vocal, came in and rehearsed it. The choreographers had to put it up in about 12 hours. 36 hours later we were shooting it. I’m not sure that we all believed that it was actually going to happen as we were doing that, but the gods were smiling on us. Bowen was smiling on us.
The next thing I was going to ask was about “Desperate for your Love”, and just generally just getting Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally to do the things that they do in this. How were they? Did they take any convincing?
Marius de Vries: Nathan would turn out to work every morning and say, “This is the greatest mistake of my professional career.” And it was only last night that he finally admitted that it wasn’t.
Karl Saint Lucy: I told him on set that this movie was going to be his apotheosis.
Marius de Vries: They were both incredibly game, and I think they knew walking into it that the only way to get through this and make it work was to embrace the extremity. So they knew they had to do that, but it can’t have been comfortable for them at times.
Karl Saint Lucy: It was really interesting to watch the different ways that they approach this. Nathan, very Stanislavski, needs to understand where the character is coming from psychologically. There was this whole thing about [how] he wanted his character to be a famous archeologist, so we gave him a pith helmet, et cetera. And then Megan Mullally… she just plays. It’s so fun to watch the fact that they have such a different way of doing this work, but somehow it works together. I think that that’s part of the secret sauce that makes them such a special part of this.
Really quickly about the archeologist [thing] that you mentioned, was that just something he wanted to have in his mind to kind of shape the character? Not in the script, not part of the thing, just for him to have?
Karl Saint Lucy: Well, he wanted it in the script.
Marius de Vries: The hat. He wanted the hat in the script, specifically. He was given the hat, and he pulled it off. I mean, Megan surprised us; she turned out with that extraordinary accent without really having forewarned us at all. Of course, one of the first things we did was to test singing. There was a lot of very frantic discussion about, “Oh, this is an unusual turn of events to the character,” but she’d clearly done an immense amount of wise preparation in building that character. She bought it fairly fully formed, and it worked brilliantly.
From the moment she opened her mouth, I was like, “How is this going to work in a song?” And it was incredible. You both are in this movie, I believe, [as well]. How did that come about? Did you ask for it?
Marius de Vries: One of the things I’ve started doing at this later stage in my career is insisting on having a cameo in pretty much everything I do, because it keeps things a little bit fresh. So, this is by no means my first small role in a big musical, but I don’t know how to explain it other than I kept pestering Larry, saying, “You’ve got to put me in somewhere.” Then a scene came up and they were short of a maître d’, and I got a call at five-thirty saying, “Can you be on set at seven-thirty?” and so there I was. But I think Karl has a much more significant and important visual role in the film than I do, so perhaps the question is better addressed to him.
Karl Saint Lucy: It was a lot of fun. I got to be the martini shot that day, so we spent the whole day throwing spaghetti around the set, and then watching the prop cleaners put the spaghetti back on the plate and throw it around again. The whole place just smelled awful, you know, with the lights and everything. It was, like, the last 20 minutes of shooting for that day. Larry was just shouting direction at me, and it was so much fun. Then, afterwards, he came up to me and he was like, “Was that okay? Are you all right?” and I was like, “Oh my God, please shout at me as much as you want.” It was incredibly fun. I know they wanted to originally put me in a tux, and I’m so glad that they let me wear a kaftan instead.
Was there anything that didn’t make it into the movie that was too much?
Karl Saint Lucy: In Megan’s song, there used to be a moment where she was playing a fish harmonica and air drums, and we worked very hard to work the fish harmonica into the song, and that did not make it, sadly.
Marius de Vries: Yeah, Megan had a drum solo. I kind of miss that. One day the world will see it. That’s when the movie went from being an 88-minute movie to an 87-minute movie.
I feel there is a theremin at one point in the score. Did I make that up?
Karl Saint Lucy: It’s an ondes Martenot, which is similar to a theremin, but it’s a keyboard instrument that was very, like Messiaen used it a lot in his Turangalîla-Symphonie. We got the VST (virtual instrument). Originally, the p**sy was supposed to be horrific, so we had this huge cue that was a reference to Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien where the ondes Martenot had a really prominent role, but we ended up having to cut that when the p**sy ended up being very cute.
So that instrument came in as a thematic instrument for that?
Karl Saint Lucy: For the p**sy, yeah.
Marius de Vries: That was the p**sy instrument. And then the ondes Martenot, apart from Messiaen, the most recent expert or virtuoso on the ondes Martenot is Johnny Greenwood who used-
Do you two each have favorite songs that you were able to work on for this?
Marius de Vries: I think, for me, the real standout is “Lonely”.
Karl Saint Lucy: Yeah, me too.
Marius de Vries: It’s kind of the most extreme example of the way that the sincerity and the songwriting is juxtaposed with the ludicrousness of the situation, and I think it pushes that device about as far as it can go.
Karl Saint Lucy: And I was kind of lifted out of being alone in my apartment through the pandemic to do this, and I think a lot of people on set were sort of feeling lonely. On the day that we got to see that shot, I mean, Megan Mullally’s performance was–we were all just weeping. For me, that felt like a real coup. Not only were we getting everyone on set to laugh and sing the songs, but we were also getting them to cry because of, like you said, the sincerity of her performance in that. And Nathan’s.
Marius de Vries: When we did our first set of piano demos just after the pandemic–just at the beginning of pre-production–and sent them to Larry, first of all, amazingly, he liked them all, so we were off to a strong start. I put the “Lonely” song, and he said, “I immediately wept. Then, I went outside for a walk, and I came back and played it again, and I wept again.” So we knew that we had a tear jerker on our hands.
Something that I loved so much about this is [that] I felt like there were takes where the actors were just laughing at the end of the take, [that were] left in the movie. To me, it just speaks to this thing where this movie’s insane, and it’s so raunchy, but it’s so sweet and has so much heart at the same time. To me, I think that’s why it works so well. Is that something that you all talked about, had discussions about, and made an effort to preserve as you were putting this together?
Marius de Vries: I think there’s something about the fact that it was lifted conceptually from that initial 30-minute rowdy comedic stage show and [us] wanting to keep a sense of liveness about it and a sense of theatricality to it across all departments. That breaking phenomenon that you’re talking about, I think, is to do with that. And you’re right, I think it pulls you into the joint endeavor of just having a wonderful time and enjoying the humor together that is part of the inclusiveness of it. I don’t know, Karl, you can probably speak to that better than I can.
Karl Saint Lucy: I also just want to say that Nathan Lane is also really largely responsible for that, because as we were in development, he kept reminding us, “Yes, let’s go for the jokes, but let’s also go for the heart. There has to be a heart to this.” I think that that already existed in the show, but it was incredibly helpful to have Nathan reminding us of that periodically throughout the process.
About Dicks: The Musical
dicks cast poster
Two self-obsessed businessmen (writers Aaron Jackson & Josh Sharp) discover they’re long-lost identical twins and come together to plot the reunion of their eccentric divorced parents, in this riotously funny and depraved musical from comedy icon Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Borat) also starring Megan Thee Stallion, Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, and Bowen Yang as God.
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Dicks: The Musical arrives in select theaters on October 6 before its nationwide release on October 20.
Source: Screen Rant Plus