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Although it’s a book that’s sold 20 million copies in 30 languages in the last 57 years, Danya Taymor had never encountered it.

“I read the musical before I read the book,” said the director of THE OUTSIDERS.

This admission was revealed last week when deft Broadway World contributor Richie Ridge hosted four 2023-2024 Tony nominees –including Taymor – in a panel discussion on the new musical that’s happily ensconced at the Jacobs Theatre.

While Taymor was reading Adam Rapp and Justin Levine’s libretto, she also had admiration for the lyrics by Jamestown Revival – the umbrella term used by Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance.

(Levine had had a hand in them, too.)

Taymor was equally impressed when she heard the music. So did the Tony committee, which gave the songwriters a Best Score nomination – just one of a dozen that the show has received.

(The original Broadway cast album is now available for streaming or download; the compact disc arrives on June 28.)

After Taymor read the script, she finally did get around to S.E. Hinton’s landmark 1967 novel. So engrossed was she by it that she “read it in one sitting.”

The other three participants on this panel had had a much different history with the property; all had read Hinton’s classic in their early years.

Brody Grant, a Best Actor in a Musical nominee for his Ponyboy Curtis, said that after his family moved from Georgia to Michigan, he felt like an outsider. It may have been one reason why, in his freshman year of high school, his mother gave him the book.

Grant reported that he immediately related to Ponyboy’s “feeling alone” and identified with “the part of him that he can’t share as he’s slowly learning to be an adult.”

Ponyboy wasn’t the only one of Hinton’s creations to resonate with Grant. “All people feel deeply inside, and these characters got to show that.”

Joshua Boone, Tony-nominated for his Dallas Winston, came to know the novel even earlier in life than Grant did. “I was in the seventh grade, and The Outsiders was the first novel that I ever read. I was glued to it,” he said, still showing the enthusiasm he felt those decades ago. This African American actor was surprised, even shocked, to read “that white people treated white people the same way that white people treated black people.”

Boone also suggested that attending three different middle schools as a tween certainly made him feel like an outsider. “I failed at conforming,” he said with a smile that suggests he’s somewhat conquered the problem but has retained the good aspects of being a maverick.

We also heard from Sky Lakota-Lynch, whose portrayal of Johnny Cade puts him in Tony competition with Boone (although you wouldn’t have known it from the friendly way that they related to each other).

Lakota-Lynch said that while growing up, he knew many classmates and neighbors that resembled the warring ones in the novel. “And,” he said sadly, “a lot of those kids aren’t with us anymore.” Lakota-Lynch, who had played Jared during the run of DEAR EVAN HANSEN, spurred plenty of nods from the audience after he said, “But it’s normal not to have a normal childhood.”

Boone agreed. “In my life, I’ve known so many Dallys,” he said soberly, referring to the once imprisoned loyal friend. “I hope this show will make people will go out and treat Dallys better.”

He also gave credit to Grant, because “Brody is the reason I’m up here. He told me about the show and thought I could be the one for the role.” Taymor agreed once Boone had auditioned, and Rapp’s prediction was that he’d be “the best Dally ever.”

Speaking of auditions, these attendees at the Robin Williams Center (across from Studio 54) were much amused by each performer’s take on walking into a room and doing what he could to convince the powers-that-be that he was the best choice for the role.

Grant said that no matter how an audition goes, he remembers what basketball legend Kobe Bryant said that “failure isn’t really real, and you can’t let it define you. If you choose to keep going, failure will happen, and failure will pass.”

Boone felt much the same. “I love auditioning because it’s my opportunity to show what I can do,” he said proudly. And Lakota-Lynch observed that he sees auditioning “as a type of dating.”

In the case of THE OUTSIDERS, Lakota-Lynch’s first date led to a lasting relationship. Taymor was frank in admitting that she had a completely different type in mind for Johnny, but after she saw Lakota-Lynch, she said to herself, “No, that’s his role.”

Taymor also felt validated when she went to Tulsa, where the story takes place, to meet with S.E. Hinton, now 75 years old. That may surprise many who recall that her novel was released in 1967. Yes –
Hinton began writing THE OUTSIDERS when she was 15 and saw it published when she was a mere 18.

“Susie was wonderful,” said Taymor, “especially when she said that she did not want us to just put the movie onstage.” Indeed, Taymor didn’t.

Mention was also made of the two Tony-nominated choreographers billed as Rick Kuperman and Jeff Kuperman. “They’re brothers, born 13 months apart,” said Taymor. “When they disagreed on something, I was the tie-breaker,” she added with a smile.

Lakota-Lynch praised Taymor for not being the type of director who demanded that he deliver a line or lyric in a certain way. He flatly stated that some directors have done just that, which has made him say to himself “Am I good, or am I doing someone else’s show?”

Taymor understood his point. “I want these actors and the ensemble to feel that they own this show.”

That’s fine, but audiences may become so involved with THE OUTSIDERS that they’ll feel a sense of ownership, too. As Ridge said, the show has a great deal to say about “friendship, family, belonging, and the lot-of-good there is in the world.”

And right now, there’s a lot of good on Broadway for insiders and outsiders, too.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.