Maury Yeston bounces into the Four Seasons Hotel lobby in Beverly Hills. He's just come from the Oscar nominees lunch and is positively glowing. The winner of multiple Tony® awards says with a laugh, "The Tony events aren't as fancy as the Oscars! We'll have to work on that!"
Yeston is nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar for "Take It All" from the film Nine. He originally penned Nine as a Broadway musical, which debuted in 1982 and earned him the Tony for best musical and score. Based on Federico Fellini's film 8 1/2, Nine is up for four Oscars, including a Best Supporting Actress nod for Penelope Cruz.
"Adaptations," he explains, "is making something new in a different way. Fellini gave me permission for 8 1/2. The question is, 'What are you adding?' I'm certainly not Fellini, but fiction can be inspired."
Unlike many writers who can be precious and defiant about screen adaptations, Yeston took a very different approach to the film version of Nine.
"I told [director] Rob Marshall to make believe I was dead," Yeston says with a laugh. "Most musicals are written by dead people anyway! I didn't want to be in the way of Rob's vision."
Perhaps it was Yeston's immediate spirit and years of working collaboratively on Broadway, but Marshall soon called Yeston and asked him to be a part of the process. As a result, Yeston penned three new songs for Nine.
When asked if it was difficult to write for a musical he had conceived so long ago, Yeston shakes his head no. "A writer is always a writer," he says. "I was excited to revisit the story and grow it differently."
Nine is an interesting montage of a world of stereotyped women seen through the eyes of an egotistical man. "[The main character] Guido sees women as judges, goddesses, mistresses, muses, temptresses, wives, mothers, whores. And by the end, he's willing to grow up and change."
While he is best known as a composer and lyricist for Broadway musicals including Titanic, Grand Hotel, Phantom and upcoming shows Death Takes a Holiday and Hans Christian Andersen, Yeston has also enjoyed a career as a teacher and musicologist. He was associate professor and director of undergraduate music studies at Yale for eight years and is currently the director of the BMI Music Theatre Workshop in New York. "For me, there are two great things in life: teaching and creating," he says. "I have truly found self-discovery through others by passing it on. Teach what you have learned. It's what connects us."
The 82nd annual Academy Awards® will be held March 7.