Louisa, a parakeet deemed too small for the big Broadway stage, refuses to give up on her dream of becoming a star like Iguana Menzel, Patti LuPony, Cheetah Rivera, and Otter McDonald in Alex Timbers’ new children’s book Broadway Bird, releasing May 24 from Macmillan. Can't get enough of Timbers' Broadway puns? Check our some more here.
Timbers, the Tony-winning director of Moulin Rouge! The Musical!, Beetlejuice, American Utopia, and more, brings his love of Broadway and his lifelong love of birds together with a story about perseverance and defying limitations for young readers and theatregoers.
Timbers sat down with Playbill to discuss how the book began, how his parents introduced him to Broadway, and how being a Broadway director helped prepare him for writing a children’s book.
Where did the idea for this book begin?
Alex Timbers: I've been thinking since I was a little kid about what draws us to making theatre as theatre makers. I always think back to those moments in high school, sitting in the wings watching your friends perform as you're about to go on. It’s really about a sense of community, so I really love the metaphor of finding one's flock. I feel that's what a lot of theatre people find in each other, and theatre fans find in each other. The idea of this bird who's trying to find her own flock seems really exciting.
How did Broadway Bird develop into its bright and finished form?
A couple of years ago, when we were in Boston during technical rehearsals for Moulin Rouge!, there's a lot of downtime. And so, I started to think “what are animal metaphors for Broadway?” And that was kind of the launching pad. It felt to me that a quintessential part of New York life is the pigeons and the starlings everywhere. So, it felt like a bird coming to the city was kind of a natural character, a natural protagonist.
You dedicate the book to your parents and to Nana. Can you share a memory of how your parents introduced you to Broadway?
I grew up in New York City, in Manhattan, believe it or not. And growing up, we raised parakeets and finches, so birds have always been a part of my life. I’ve loved them since I was a little kid in the same way that theater has always been a part of my life. My first show was Cats at the Winter Garden. I remember seeing, at a young age, Shōgun at the Marquis where Beetlejuice is now. The thing that really changed everything for me was my mother bought me a ticket to a show that I didn't want to go to, just because I didn't know anything about it, called Tommy. Seeing that at the St. James transformed my vision of what theatre could be. This production of Tommy felt like it was in dialogue with popular culture—it looked and sounded like the music videos that I loved on TV. And all those experiences wouldn't have happened if I didn't have parents who nurtured and encouraged attending the arts and attending theatre.
Did you find any similarities between working on this book and working on Broadway?
There was a relationship between theatre directing and making the book that was kind of interesting, like working on the pacing of the book, because each page turn is a bit like a curtain reveal, you know? And in musicals, you have a theme, something that's running through the whole show; and hopefully, every song reverberates off that and every character exists somehow on a thematic axis, reflecting that theme. It's interesting because the economy of a of a storybook is so tight, it needs to be similarly rigorous where you're seeing it reverberating from every page—every character, every line somehow relates to that.
What are some of your goals for what the book will do?
I was trying to figure out how to describe what we do. It felt like an entry for young people to step inside the world of theatre. But, I also wanted to make something fun for adults with puns and references.
I think some of the things that are most magical about theatre people, and this is probably across every part of the industry, is the power of perseverance. We obviously saw that a lot during the pandemic, the kind of tenacity shown by people and performers. But, it’s also not being limited by how people see you, and want to define you. I think that theatre is making great strides in that, and will continue to, hopefully. I'm hoping that Louisa reflects that as well.