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We’re gonna need a bigger stage: Inside the making of the wild new ‘Jaws’ musical

By Adam Pockross

When we found out a couple of weeks ago that our beloved Jaws is getting not just a 2020 stage production, but one with a musical bite, well, first we got very excited. And second, we got very curious.

For how exactly does one go about turning the story of the behind-the-scenes madness on Steven Speilberg’s Jaws set into a full-on musical? Sure, there was drama galore back in 1974 as the wunderkind director battled the forces of movie-making nature, particularly in regard to the star of the film, portrayed by a broken-down robotic shark named Bruce — but how does that translate to singing and dancing?

To find out, we turned to Donna Feore, director and choreographer behind the upcoming world premiere musical Bruce — a co-production between New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse and Seattle Rep from Bandstand creators Richard Oberacker (music, book and lyrics) and Robert Taylor (book and lyrics) — which sets that murky Jaws BTS drama to show-stopping tunes. And while global entertainment might currently be at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic (and with Broadway, in particular, remaining dark for now), that certainly shouldn't stop us from looking forward to the fun offerings that await us at the end of the tunnel.  

“The creators, Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, found in this true story all the elements that are often cited as ideal for a musical: a hero or heroine has a dream, they set out to make that dream come true, and they are changed for the better, and perhaps so is the world around them,” Feore tells SYFY WIRE. “Bruce is a wonderful journey of overcoming obstacles great and small with hard work and imagination.”

Roy Scheider in Jaws

Which all sounds inspiring and entertaining and right up our alley, but what about Mr. Spielberg’s alley?

“I don’t know if Spielberg has given his blessing, though I believe he’s been made aware of the project. I hope that he would be touched by the power of the portrayal,” says Feore. “He accomplished remarkable things under very difficult conditions. He’s our hero. What’s not to like?”

Jaws, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss

Nothing comes to mind, of course. But perhaps there is a question of timeliness. Alas, the universal themes of the Universal film, and the struggles that went into making it, are timeless.

Bruce speaks to what happens when you face challenges that make everything you thought was solid suddenly fluid,” says Feore. “How do you carry on and not lose hope? The powers of imagination and ingenuity are pressed into service to make something out of nothing. The message of triumph over adversity resonates with all of us no matter how grand or humble our challenges.”

All of which is symbolized by the difficulty that Spielberg and company had taming the titular robotic shark in question, or in some cases, not taming him, and letting our imaginations take over. Feore’s production will rely on something similar to bring their shark out of the depths.

Steven Spielberg Jaws

“As for bringing the shark itself to the stage, we will be taking a page right out of Mr. Spielberg’s playbook. We will use some theatrical magic for sure, but we’ll also be counting on the imaginative power of our audience,” says Feore.

With so much to look forward to in the production (and you know, just being able to leave the house), folks will likely be heading to the theater when the play makes its world debut at Seattle Rep in November 2020, before swimming over to New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in the summer of 2021. And you can get good and prepped for all the Jaws minutiae with the just-announced special 4K edition celebrating the film’s 45th anniversary, available June 2, 2020.