The Outsiders
The Outsiders

Meet the Musicians Bringing S.E. Hinton’s Iconic Novel The Outsiders to Broadway

Once you’ve met the charismatic characters in S.E. Hinton’s classic young-adult novel The Outsiders, you never forget them. From the orphaned 14-year-old narrator, Ponyboy, and his older brothers, Darrel and Sodapop, to their friends Dally and Johnny, this tight-knit gang of “greasers” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is as compelling today as when Hinton created them almost 60 years ago at the astonishing age of 15. No wonder a trio of celebrated musicians eagerly joined forces to transform The Outsiders — which has sold more than 15 million copies since 1967 — into one of the most anticipated Broadway musicals of the season. Songwriters Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance (of the band Jamestown Revival) and Justin Levine (a Tony Award winner for his Moulin Rouge! The Musical orchestrations) recently gave Broadway Direct a preview of this electrifying new show, which will begin previews on March 16  at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

The Outsiders makes a great musical for a lot of reasons,” Levine begins. “First, because it is so emotional. It’s a coming-of-age story about boys who don’t know how to handle and communicate their emotions, and musicals provide a perfect opportunity to do that.” Agrees Chance, “It’s such a relatable story of kids who are dealing with the world the best they can, who put on tough personas but who need love. You’re endeared to every one of these characters.”

Based on Hinton’s novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film adaptation, The Outsiders covers an event-packed couple of weeks in the lives of the greasers and their rivals “the Socs,” a vicious gang of rich kids from the other side of Tulsa. Amid the show’s life-and-death confrontations, Clay, Chance, and Levine have crafted a beautiful score in which each song seems perfectly suited to the person singing it. “We wanted to give every character a unique sound,” Clay confirms, “in an amalgamation of styles. It’s rooted in American songwriting, everything from sixties rockabilly to soaring ballads, with kind of a Southern slant. Rather than being confined by a genre, our true north was capturing the voices of the characters. When their emotions are too intense to verbalize, they start to sing.”

The Jamestown Revival duo signed on to The Outsiders after submitting the song “Stay Gold,” a catchphrase based on Ponyboy’s fondness for the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” With little knowledge of musical theater — Clay had never seen a musical, and Chance had only seen Wicked — they gladly partnered with Levine, whose credits as a composer, orchestrator, arranger, and musical supervisor include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and, most recently, Here Lies Love.

“We’ve got two Texans and a Long Island native, the most unlikely pair but the most adoring trio,” Clay jokes of himself, Chance, and Levine. Add in Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Rapp (who wrote the show’s book in collaboration with Levine), director Danya Taymor, and choreographers Rick and Jeff Kuperman, and the creative team is an exciting mix of theatrical veterans and Broadway fresh faces. “The alchemy of this group really does affect the texture and DNA of the show in a way that feels right,” Levine says, adding with a laugh, “We’ve found a way to channel these folks, so if I’m Ponyboy and Jon is Darrel and Zach is Soda, then Adam is Dally. The entire process has been an act of love.”

That creative alchemy blossomed with the enthusiastic support of Hinton, now 75 and still living in Tulsa. “Susie has been so generous and gracious,” says Levine, who confessed to feeling nervous before Hinton saw the show in its acclaimed pre-Broadway run at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. “It’s a big responsibility to shepherd the crown jewel of an artist to the stage, but Susie was very clear that she wanted us to have our own take on it.” Indeed, the musical exists as unique, accessible work and not a copy of the novel or movie, with songs referencing not only the Robert Frost poem but also Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and various ways of feeling “on the outside looking in,” as the ballad “Tulsa ’67” puts it.

“Susie, whether she intended to or not, left a lot of clues and nuggets that lend themselves to song,” Chance says of Hinton’s semiautobiographical text. “‘Stay gold’ is an iconic phrase from the book and movie, and there are so many others that we were able to latch onto to tell the story.” It helps that all three men read and loved The Outsiders as teens. “I’m from New York and grew up differently than Jon and Zach did,” notes Levine, “and yet my relationship with the novel was one of feeling very connected to characters who had a completely different life experience from me. I found Ponyboy’s anxiety and his yearning so relatable. There’s something rich and universal about seeing these brothers get on with their lives in the absence of their parents. When people see the show, I hope they feel a sense of community and connection.”

After an eight-year development process prolonged by the pandemic, the collaborators can’t wait to see The Outsiders come to life on a Broadway stage. “It’s a show for everybody,” says Levine, “one that brings us back to a point in our lives when we have nothing but tomorrows ahead of us.” Clay and Chance, friends and songwriting partners since they were 14, are especially thrilled to unveil a new chapter in their partnership. “We’re pinching ourselves,” Chance says with a laugh. “As newcomers, we are excited and humbled to have this opportunity.” Adds Clay, “This show is like jumping on a boxcar train, destination unknown. We dove headfirst into a world we didn’t know, and we can’t wait to share what we made.”

The Original Broadway Cast Recording of The Outsiders is forthcoming from Sony Masterworks Broadway in 2024. Click here to listen to the first track, “Great Expectations,” featuring Brody Grant, who will play Ponyboy in The Outsiders on Broadway.

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