For librettist Alfred Uhry, it takes passion to write a musical.  To emphasize this, he points to a particularly passionless time in his theater career:  working on a musical about the life of Al Capone with his Robber Bridegroom composer, Robert Waldman.  "The show was in Miami," he remembers, "and I was shaving.  I looked in the mirror and had an epiphany, with soap on my face.  I didn't give a damn about Al Capone one way or the other.  I wrote this thing and it was no good, so I quit."

Certainly someone that Uhry does care about is Leo Frank, the New York Jew who was convicted of killing 13-year-old Mary Phagan and is now considered an innocent man.  (He was officially pardoned in 1984.)  Uhry says the story "stirred his guts" and the setting--Uhry's hometown of Atlanta--fits right in with Uhry's earlier successes, Driving Miss Daisy and The Last Night of Ballyhoo (which will become a TV movie next year, under Bruce Beresford's direction).  But Uhry's personal connection to the story goes even deeper.  In fact, his grandmother knew Frank and his wife, Lucille, and steered Uhry to use the popular non-fiction account of the trial, Night Fell on Georgia, as the basis for his work.  "She said it was authentic to the case," he says.  Director Hal Prince pushed Uhry to go with the idea after it was casually mentioned while the two men were meeting about a musical on the life of Sammy Davis, Jr.  "Hal immediately realized it was a good idea," he says.  "He said, 'It demands to be a musical.'"

The man chosen to put the music to the musical is newcomer Jason Robert Brown, who has proven to be a fertile writing partner for Uhry.  "I'm older than Jason's father," he says with a laugh, "but that never, ever was an issue.  I would write these long monologues and Jason would go off and make them these stirring songs, adding to what I gave him."  Uhry says that he's sure they will work together again.  "What's so great about Jason," Uhry says, "is that he writes in the period of the show, but it all has a beat.  He's a rock-and-roll kid."

But the best thing about his new collaborator?  "Jason's music doesn't sound like Sondheim!"  Uhry says.  "And he doesn't want to, which is great.  Jason sounds like Jason."

--Paul Wontorek