An Evolving Friendship: An Interview with Robin Schiff and Barry Kemp

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

“The Blonde Leading the Blonde.”

This was the original tagline of the 1997 blockbuster film on which the musical Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is based. Since its premiere 20 years ago, countless fans and audience members (regardless of generation, gender or hair color) have inevitably asked themselves which of the two iconic blondes they identify with more.

Are you a Romy or are you a Michele?

When this question is posed to the bookwriter of the film and the musical, Robin Schiff, her immediate answer isn’t surprising.

“I’m both!” Schiff exclaims with a laugh. It is delightfully surprising when she begins to introduce a Freudian analysis of her two well-known characters. “They’re such naked representations of…” Schiff pauses momentarily. “Now, is it ego… or id?”

Robin Schiff with Barry Kemp

Barry Kemp, who produced the film and is a producer on the musical, can’t help but interrupt his friend and longtime colleague.

“Robin just gave you a great example of why she’s both,” he says. “Romy and Michele would say something exactly like that. Which is it, ego or id? They would use the terms, but they wouldn’t know which one was which.”

Schiff adds, “Romy and Michele like to sit indoors on a sunny day and watch a movie with a best friend. I like to do that. But they are so matter of fact about their thoughts and their desires—they’re almost like kids in that regard—they’re guileless. That is id, actually.”

Romy and Michele represents just one bullet point on an astounding list of Hollywood writing, producing and directing credits accumulated by Schiff and Kemp over the years. Yet the characters also represent a phenomenon that continues to amaze both their creator and their early proponent, especially when reflecting upon the origin of the two friends.

“They were like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Ladies Room,” Schiff explains. Her aptly titled play—which takes place in the ladies room of a Mexican restaurant called the Green Enchilada—first introduced the two loveable misfits in 1988.

“They were recognizable,” Schiff continues. “Their life started because I could hear them. And it’s the only experience that I’ve had of that—where I just heard these two characters talking in my imagination and decided to put them in different situations. And from their first entrance, they got laughter and applause—more or less as typical girls who you might encounter at a club…But they’ve evolved so much since then.”

Producer Barry Kemp, Bookwriter Robin Schiff and Composer and Lyricist Gwendolyn Sanford

Kemp adds, “One of the jokes in the original piece, and how [Robin] originally conceived of the two characters in [Ladies Room]—was that they were almost the same person. Each thought that the other one was the funniest person. They always laughed at each other—when no one else around them was laughing—and the two ladies were almost a single character. When [Robin] did the movie, she started finding what made them different. When we got to the musical—those differences became clearer—and more emotional. Not only are they different, they each have an Achilles heel that [Robin] has discovered. Now, they both have a vulnerability that they did not have in either the play or the movie.”

“We really looked to the essence of who Romy was,” explains Schiff. “She is a very insecure person who wanted to fit in. And it became clear that this wasn’t important to Michele. Michele wants to go to the reunion for fun. She goes along with all this other stuff because Romy says that it’s important.”

“For Michele it sounds like a fun time, and for Romy it’s a wake-up call,” adds Kemp.

Schiff continues, “In the movie they’re just kind of shocked that they hadn’t accomplished anything in ten years. It’s momentary. There isn’t any real panic bubbling up. But now in the musical, we get to explore this more. There’s a song called ‘Ten Years’ where we are really able to dig into Romy’s deeper fears. As a bookwriter, I find that a musical pushes you to ask yourself, ‘What’s really going on in this moment? What is she really feeling—and does that mean we’ll have a song or just a few lines of a scene?’ And we felt that that moment especially was a potential song with a lot of depth and a reason for her to sing her inner thoughts.”

With Romy and Michele now in their third iteration, both Schiff and Kemp are thrilled by the opportunity to continue discovering more of their story.

“I’m beside myself with excitement,” says Schiff. “I just think it’s going to be so much fun to go in and have time to dig in deeper and I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with the audience.”

When asked to explain Romy and Michele’s continuing appeal, Kemp offers this thought: “Everybody has an innate longing to have a best friend. Sometimes that best friend is a platonic friend and sometimes that best friend is a lover—sometimes male, sometimes female—but the fact is it doesn’t really matter. Every person wants to have somebody who gets them on a level that is not judgmental, someone who accepts flaws as well as attributes… And who see attributes that others do not. That’s what is at the core of this story.”

Schiff adds, “I think the other part of it is… they’re different. They’re weird. They’re the weird people at school and I think that’s one of the reasons for their longevity. So many of us have felt like the other. And so I think we relate to Romy and Michele. And we’d like to see them triumph.”

Merchandise for Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

We are eager to present the world premiere of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion! In preparation, we have assembled an exciting collection of merchandise, available for purchase in our lobby when you attend a performance of the show! Scroll through the gallery below to see the options.

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Click here to find out more about Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.

Behind the Curtain: In Rehearsal with Romy and Michele

We are so excited to be presenting our eighteenth new musical in a couple short weeks! Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is based on the cult film of the same name, but puts a whole new spin on it: a musical! This show will remind musical theater fans of Legally Blonde with its pop-rock new songs and its important messages of acceptance and friendship.

Scroll through the gallery to see behind-the-scenes photos from a rehearsal of Romy and Michele!

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Don’t miss this world premiere musical, running June 8 to July 2 at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

Special thanks to Jeff Carpenter Photography for these awesome rehearsal shots.

Meet the Class of 1987 – The Ensemble

We’re ramping up to the World Premiere of the new musical, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, based on the 1997 cult hit film. Meet more of the class of 1987 with the A-Group, all of whom are making their 5th Avenue debuts! Tess Soltau (Christie Masters) Tess is taking on the role of lead mean […]

We’re ramping up to the World Premiere of the new musical, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, based on the 1997 cult hit film. Meet the last class of 1987 reunion-goers! Continue reading “Meet the Class of 1987 – The Ensemble”

Meet the Class of 1987 – The A-Group

We’re ramping up to the World Premiere of the new musical, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, based on the 1997 cult hit film. Meet more of the class of 1987 with the A-Group, all of whom are making their 5th Avenue debuts!

Continue reading “Meet the Class of 1987 – The A-Group”

Meet the Class of 1987 – Heather, Sandy and Toby

We’re ramping up to the World Premiere of the new musical, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, based on the 1997 cult hit film. Beginning today, we’re introducing you to the class of 1987. First up, Heather, Sandy and Toby!

Continue reading “Meet the Class of 1987 – Heather, Sandy and Toby”

10 of Our Favorite Female Friendships

By JORDAN LUSINK, Communications Coordinator

In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the film Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and in anticipation of our upcoming musical production of the same name, we’re celebrating some of our favorite female friendships, both in pop culture and in real life.

Oprah and Gayle

Gayle is Oprah’s right-hand woman. The Hamilton to Oprah’s George Washington. Their friendship has survived over 30 years, through marriages and divorces and kids and talk shows and magazines and basically everything. The fact that there are still rumors about whether they are in a more-than-platonic relationship (which both of them have stressed they would be super open about if they were “together,” or, as Oprah put it in an interview, “All my stuff is out there. People think I’d be so ashamed of being gay that I wouldn’t admit it? Oh please”) just emphasizes how important it is to talk about and celebrate non-adversarial, platonic female friendships.

Continue reading “10 of Our Favorite Female Friendships”

Behind the Curtain at the Romy and Michele Photoshoot

We had a lot of fun during a Romy and Michele-filled week recently, during which we did a shoot with Seattle Weekly, an awesome video with our Romy and Michele, and a pre-production photoshoot. Take a look behind the curtain with these photos taken before and during that photoshoot, with our Romy and Michele, Cortney Wolfson and Stephanie Renee Wall.

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Special thanks to our amazing photographers, Mark and Tracy Photography, who took many of these behind-the-scenes photos.

Click here to find out more and purchase tickets for the World Premiere of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion: The Musical.

Meet the Director: Kristin Hanggi – Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

Kristin Hanggi Headshot

Kristin Hanggi will be directing our world premiere of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Kristin directed and developed the international smash-hit Rock of Ages and is also a film director! Find out more about Kristin below.

Is this your first time working with The 5th?
Yes, it’s my first time! And I’m so excited! Many of my friends and colleagues have worked at The 5th and have sung its praises, so I’m looking forward to get a chance to work on a new musical here. The 5th is so encouraging to the creative process and one of the best places to develop new works. Continue reading “Meet the Director: Kristin Hanggi – Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion