March 13, 2023

MSM Musical Theatre presents the world premiere of Paperboy March 24 to 26

The highly anticipated musical Paperboy is based on Vince Vawter’s acclaimed, award-winning autobiographical novel, which has sold more than a quarter million copies worldwide in 17 languages.

Director Don Stephenson gives us a preview of what audiences can expect.


Set in 1950s Memphis, Paperboy tells the true story of an 11-year-old boy who stutters and how his life is transformed one summer when he takes over a friend’s paper route.

The music for Paperboy is by Jim Wann, a Tony and Drama Desk nominee for his score for Pump Boys and Dinettes, along with co-composer and orchestrator David Shenton. Lyrics are by Jim Wann with a book by Broadway veteran Emily Loesser and acclaimed Broadway actor and director Don Stephenson (who also directs), with the novel’s author Vince VawterMiles Plant is music director, and Liza Gennaro, MSM Dean of Musical Theatre, is choreographer. Ms. Loesser and Mr. Stephenson are members of the MSM Musical Theatre faculty, and Mr. Stephenson directed MSM’s acclaimed 2019 production of Cabaret.

Director Don Stephenson

Tell us about this production — how did it originate?

Don: The production of Paperboy at Manhattan School of Music is a world premiere. The novel it’s based on of the same title has been translated into 17 languages — and this 18th translation into the language of musical theatre may be its most universal.

Over the past two years, Paperboy has had three developmental workshops in the MSM Musical Theatre Lab Series which was created to offer students the opportunity to work on musicals-in-development and give musical theatre artists a no-pressure environment where they can develop new work. The Lab Series allowed us to hear the script and the score and make revisions. This has been invaluable to the writers and has simultaneously offered the students experience in learning how a new show is developed.

MSM is developing a reputation as a “go to” place for new musicals and an incubator for creative teams to work on their shows.

A reading of Paperboy in an MSM Musical Theatre Lab workshop

WATCH VIDEO PREVIEW! Click on red arrow to see video

What is Paperboy about? What important themes does it deal with?

Don: Paperboy, the musical, is based on the acclaimed award-winning novel by Vince Vawter. Set in 1950s Memphis, it is the true story of the author’s experience growing up with a debilitating stutter. Many people who stutter are able to sing fluently. The story of Paperboy called out to be realized as a musical.

The main character in Paperboy struggles with stuttering, however the overall theme of the production is about communication. Humans have struggled to communicate with each other ever since the beginning of time. It is the universal pursuit. The show asks the questions: How do we talk to each other? What other ways can we talk if not with our voices?  What alternate ways can we reach out our hands to each other? How can we understand each other using different methods of communication? We all go through our days talking or texting or emailing; we are all trying to be understood and communicate our wants, desires, and deepest selves.

The musical Paperboy is having its world premiere in Neidorff-Karpati Hall at Manhattan School of Music

What have been the challenges of bringing a story like this to life from the pages of a book?

Don: The challenges of bringing a novel like this to the stage are many.  How can the audience be allowed into a character’s thoughts? How can the audience be taken to all of the difference locations that are so easily navigated in a book? Do the events of the novel adapt well to a stage?

Our goal is to have the audience experience the same emotional journey as the reader does while reading the book. We envisioned smooth and fluid transitions, moving from location to location, with the songs illustrating the emotional journeys of the characters. Just as your imagination makes a book come alive while reading, our show’s music makes the story come alive and boosts its emotional impact.


MSM Dean of Musical Theatre Liza Gennaro runs the MSM Musical Theatre Lab Series and is the choreographer for this new production.

Tell us about the music in the production

Don: The music springs from the setting of the story, which is 1950s Memphis. The score is a wonderful mix of Memphis Blues and Rock and Roll, with a splash of Broadway, so it reflects time and place. The staging can be described as cinematic and fluid. In the same way a dream can shift from place to place, the staging moves quickly and without interruption. The story is a memory of true events and in this way, it can be fragmented, jagged, beautiful, and surreal. It unspools like a ball of twine.

The creative team has been working closely with MSM students on this project for a while. What can you tell us about the talent here?

Don: The talented students at MSM have lifted the show onto their shoulders from the first workshop to the final realized production. The students’ ability to act with pathos and humor, to sing with gusto and emotion, to dance with abandon and precision is everything that is needed in doing a musical and has made the process smooth and easy.

Why should people come and see this show?

Don: People should come see this production because it is a great story. It takes you on a fantastic adventure. It shows the audience how life can be transformed when you least expect it, and it does all of this while being funny and honest and featuring great music.

We hope people will still be talking about the show after it is over and thinking about the summer adventures they have had in their own lives.

“MSM is developing a reputation as a ‘go to’ place for new musicals and an incubator for creative teams to work on their shows.”

Director of Paperboy

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