Close friends and my publishing associates know that a musical based on PAPERBOY has been in the works for some time. No public announcements have been made because, frankly, there was nothing to announce officially, even though much work has gone on during the past year

While we still have hurdles to overcome, I do want to share an exciting rung in the tall ladder we are climbing as we prepare to bring the musical to the stage.

On March 11-12 in Asheville, NC, the Asheville Community Theatre in tandem with the North Carolina Stage Company will conduct a “table reading,” the first step in bringing a musical to life. Actors from the companies will “read” the different characters in the show.

Jim Wann, the man behind the PAPERBOY music, will play and sing the more than a dozen songs he has written to help put the dialogue and story in context.

If you don’t know Jim Wann, I invite you to look at his website here. He is most widely known as the creator of the Broadway musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” which was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Musical in 1982. He and the original cast just completed a reprise of the show (SOLDOUT!) last year in New York. The musical continues to be performed widely across the country.

However, he’s more than a “pump boy.” He also is founding member of The Coastal Cohorts, a threesome that performs in venues up and down the East Coast. Their main offering is “King Mackerel and the Blues Are Running,” a songs-and-stories valentine to the Coast that’s been going on for decades.

Jim and I are convinced that the PAPERBOY story is “ripe pickings” for a musical, where we can explore different facets of the story in unique ways.

For instance, the deaf boy in the story named “Paul” has turned into pretty “Paula” in the musical. The paperboy doesn’t stutter when he sings (almost universal with those of us who do stutter) and Paula can express herself vocally when she sings. She also “signs” her songs, which makes for beautiful choreography. Hence, Jim’s amazing song: “Dancing With Our Hands.”

The musical also gives insight into the character of Mrs. Worthington, who I feel was misunderstood in the book by some readers. Mrs. Worthington sings the soulful ballads: “Lay That News Gently at My Door” and “North of Lonely.” I’m glad I’m getting another shot at Mrs. Worthington.

One of the underlying themes in PAPERBOY the novel is the importance of communication, and PAPERBOY the musical allows us to explore this theme in new and, I believe, entertaining ways. I don’t want to give away too much, but I guarantee you that once you hear Jim’s songs, you will be humming them over and over.

Jim, born and reared in Chattanooga, now lives on Tybee Island, GA, and in New York’s Hudson River Valley. He has become a good friend during this collaborative process. I think we make a good team. He has taught me much about musical theater and I’ve taught him a lot about stuttering.

May we break a leg.

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