ROOM on Broadway
ROOM on Broadway

Why the Bestselling Novelist of ROOM Loves the Broadway-Bound Stage Version More

You can tell the story of ROOM holds up because it’s found success as a best-selling novel, an Oscar-winning film, and, most recently, an award-winning play featuring original music.

Emma Donoghue wrote all three: the 2010 novel, the 2015 movie, and the play that had a well-received Toronto run last year. Her favorite way to experience the story of ROOM? The stage production that arrives on Broadway in March.

“I have to say, the theater version of ROOM moves me most,” shares the novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. “It takes you to new heights of emotion.”

With a cast led by Adrienne Warren, the Tony-winning star of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical, and Ain’t Too Proud Tony nominee Ephraim Sykes, ROOM strikes an unexpectedly uplifting balance between dark and light. The plot follows a woman called Ma and her young son, Jack, as they endure a traumatic period of captivity, and then take their first steps on a long path toward healing.

At first glance, this sometimes-harrowing tale might seem a surprising choice for a theatrical adaptation — especially one that features characters who break out in song. But look closer and the story of Room turns out to be a natural fit for the stage.

“It’s actually an incredibly theatrical scenario,” Donoghue says. “Two people in a room making stuff up in order to transcend the misery of their circumstances. It sounds more like theater than anything else.”

While Donoghue always knew ROOM could be a play, she never imagined incorporating original songs. That idea came from Cora Bissett, the songwriter and director of this convention-defying musical play.

“I never would have thought of adding music myself, but something in the songs takes you to places of emotional intensity that’s so much greater than if I just reread the novel or watched the film,” Donoghue says.

“I also love the way show focuses the story on Ma in particular,” she adds. “Because the mother has these songs in the play, and because dramatically she’s the adult who’s onstage every minute, I think ROOM really becomes Ma’s triumphant story.”

Audiences who have read the book or seen the film will notice another innovation in the stage version. ROOM would ask a lot of any child actor playing Jack, so in order to take some of the load off the show’s youngest cast member, the role is split between a child and an adult character known as SuperJack (played on Broadway by Sykes), who is Jack’s inner superhero.

“That has turned out to be a really rich element of the theater production,” Donoghue explains. “The interaction between the kid who plays Jack and the actor playing SuperJack is a very profound one. We all have our most confident inner self who doesn’t manage to inhabit us all the time, and I love seeing the interaction between those two onstage and the way that SuperJack can be this powerful, graceful figure.”

Donoghue has been a lifelong theater fan who started writing plays even before she began to pen the novels for which she’s best known. She couldn’t be more thrilled to bring ROOM to New York.

“In many ways, my experiences in theater have been the most pleasurable of my whole career,” she says. “When I was told we were taking ROOM to Broadway, it was just fireworks going off in my head.”

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