Paperboy: The New Musical?
That’s the working title for a musical now in development based on former Memphian Vince Vawter’s 2013 novel, Paperboy. Jim Wann, composer/lyricist, author and star of the 1982 Tony-nominated Pump Boys and Dinettes, is doing the music.
The semi-autobiographical novel is about an 11-year-old boy named “Little Man” (Vawter), who throws a paper route in Memphis one summer in 1959. The novel recounts the adventures of the boy, who stutters, and the characters he meets on his Midtown route.
Vawter, 72, who threw the old Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper as a teenager, went on to become news editor of that paper. He was managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and publisher and president of the Evansville Courier & Press.
Paperboy was a Newbery Medal Honor book in 2014. Vawter's current novel is Copyboy.
Vawter says the whole musical idea began about two years ago after he asked John Verlenden, a friend who went to school with him at Southwestern (now Rhodes College), what he thought about Paperboy becoming a stage play. “He said it ought to be a musical,” Vawter says. “You need to talk to my friend Jim Wann.”
“So, I contacted him,” Vawter says. “Sent him the book. And I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. And then these damn songs started coming. And they blew me away. I don’t know much about that stuff, but he did what he calls ‘song sketches.’ Plays them on his guitar, writes the lyrics.”
Wann sent the songs as mp3s. “It’s just him and his guitar.”
Among the songs were “Paperboy Song,” “The Typewriter Song,” “Streets of our Neighborhood,” and “Lay That News Gently at my Door.”
They’re all “songs you wind up humming,” Vawter says.
Wann, 70, who lives near Hudson, New York, says he “was just entranced” by Paperboy after he read it. “Like so many people.”
He described Little Man as “a wonderfully brave character. And that impressed me so much. His bravery. His struggles to find a way to overcome his feelings about his stuttering. I guess he would have loved to wake up one morning and have it not be there at all, but he had to come to terms with it somehow.”
Wann, who is from Chattanooga, and Vawter share similarities about their Southern upbringing. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll write a few songs and see what Vince thinks of it.’”
Describing “Streets of our Neighborhood,” Wann says, “I just loved the sounds of these streets: Vinton, Melrose, Harbert, Union. It was a way of introducing Little Man into the world of delivering papers into the neighborhood.
“All of the music in all of my shows has a Southern roots connection. It always comes in some form of Southern roots music, whether gospel, folk, blues, rhythm and blues. And I felt like this being set in 1959, would be a good fit for that.”
When will the musical be finished? “We are still a good distance from achieving our goals for this story as a stage musical,” Wann says.
And, he says, “I feel, even though we have a full draft at this point, it’s still very sketchy and I think we’ve only just started figuring out how to let the other characters live and breath on their own. The other parts of the story are so rich and the characters are so interesting. I still think we have a way to go with really expressing Little Man’s feelings of loneliness and isolation and his bravery in going out into the world and making new friends, however awkwardly.”
Getting to know Vawter was the icing on the cake, Wann says. “We’ve worked together on and off for a couple of years now. I really enjoy his company. And all the things he tells me. It’s a real friendship between us now. And that’s a huge plus.”