There’s a lot of things audiences might not expect when going to see Dicks: The Musical, A24’s new movie musical starring and originally created by comedians Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson. From a capital-G Gay God (played by Bowen Yang) to emaciated puppets known simply as the “Sewer Boys,” the film revels in its own delightful weirdness from start to finish.
One thing audiences should expect from the new film though is a top-tier soundtrack. Composed by newcomer Karl Saint Lucy (an original collaborator of Sharp and Jackson’s when the show ran at Upright Citizens’ Brigade in New York) and music directed by industry veteran Marius de Vries, the music of Dicks is genuinely thrilling and fun, while further underlining some of the project’s more left-field comedic moments.
As de Vries tells Billboard over Zoom, bringing a balance of movie magic and campy theatricality to the film was vital. “We wanted to turn this into a movie that worked as a movie, but we knew that some of the theatricality of it all, both for comedic purposes and other purposes, was our friend,” he says. “So, while the material itself was heavily extended and revised, the ethos of the original was preserved in a way that I think was healthy.”
Below, Billboard chats with Saint Lucy and de Vries about how they each got involved with Dicks, what it was like translating the show’s absurdist humor into genuinely good music, and how Megan Thee Stallion‘s rap number nearly didn’t come together.
I know it’s been a very long road to get here, so how are you two feeling about the film’s imminent release?
Marius de Vries: I feel fantastic, extremely relieved that it’s finished. It was a long journey in so many ways, with Karl having been involved in the original stage show, and me having met the twins seven years or so ago when the project was actually up and running somewhere else. There have been many twists and turns along the way, and many periods where it looked as if it wouldn’t get made. We got a burst of momentum, and we realized it was getting made, but we had to make it really fast. But then it kind of slowed down in post-production, and it took quite a long time to get it right. With all of that, I’m just thrilled to see it up on a big screen in front of an audience, and not on my desk.
Karl, take me back to the beginning of your partnership with Josh and Aaron onthe original stage show F–king Identical Twins in 2014. How early on in the process did they reach out to you to put the music together?
Karl Saint Lucy: Very early on. I knew Josh through Story Pirates [a comedy theater program], and I think that he and Aaron had just been set up as comedy partners at UCB when they first approached me. I was oversharing about some gay drama that happened while I was on tour with this children’s show, and they were like, “Oh, we’ve gotta get this person involved.” So they approached me, and over the course of something like six weeks, we got together in rehearsal studios at CAP21, and hashed this out. They came with the big beats of the story and most of the lyrics, but yeah, it was a very easy process.
What was your initial reaction to those initial story beats?
Karl: Oh, I was sold from the beginning. I think one of the things that worked early on about our partnership was that Josh and Aaron and I have always had a very similar comedic sensibility. Although I will say, when we were working on it, I hadn’t seen any of the staging. In the original show, there’s a scene with Josh and Aaron in a wheelchair f–king at the restaurant, and when I saw that for the first time, I was like, “Wow, I can confidently say that I have never seen this on a stage before.”
Marius, you brought something up I wanted to mention; 20th Century Fox bought the rights to F–king Identical Twins back in 2016 and planned to release it; that stalled in production for six years before A24 came in and bought the rights out from them. What was that elongated process like for you two?
Marius: Yeah, I was immediately aware that we had a big challenge turning something that was a 30-minute piece of cabaret into a feature-length script. To be honest, that’s what I relished about the task. I could see a way forward, and they’d done a great job on the first pass of the script. So I was excited to get involved. I was somewhat skeptical about it having a home at Fox. I imagined what would happen is, we’d get a little bit of progress going, and then someone upstairs would finally wake up, realize what was going on and shut it down. Then, of course, the Disney acquisition happened, so that was, you know, a non-starter. With the greatest of respect to my friends at Disney, this is not a Disney film.
Can you imagine if this was released on Disney?
Marius: It’s kind of like Snow White, in a sense, right? In that, I guess, it’s got songs and a story? [Laughs.] Honestly, thank God we hit that brick wall and ended up at A24. The most important thing about the relationship with A24, which has been fantastic, is that they’ve been supportive of all of our creative instincts with no restraint at all — up until it came to considering what the title of the movie should be. Then there was a fairly bigger discussion about that, but that happened quite late in the process, and it took a little bit of getting used to; it’s like having a 7-year-old child who’s called something, and then all of a sudden, you have to start calling them something else.
As you mentioned, part of this process meant adding in more and more songs to the film, one of which is “Out-Alpha the Alpha,” Megan Thee Stallion’s blistering rap performance. How did you go about making this song that feels entirely different from a lot of the rest of the musical theater-specific melodies used throughout Dicks?
Marius: Well, when we were doing the additional writing and construction of material specifically for the film, which was well-over half of it, not including the score, we didn’t have any idea who was going to be cast as Gloria. So, we just wrote the song for a random actress that we imagined might be the kind of person that would be cast as Gloria. That person was not Megan Thee Stallion at all, so, when the casting conversation rolled out, and we learned that it would be Megan, we had this song — which was, I thought, really promising, but was in no way suitable for the force of nature that is Megan.
So, we had to very, very quickly go back to the drawing board, because it had to be completely re-styled, and it had to be done unbelievably quickly. She had a very limited amount of time to construct and record the rap, rehearse it on set, and shoot it. All of that process was very condensed into four or five days. So, we had to kind of pause efforts on all fronts at a very late stage in rehearsal, lock ourselves away, and come up with some sort of musical skeleton that we felt she wouldn’t find offensively inappropriate in terms of what was suitable for her to sing.
We sent over something that we thought was embarrassingly rough, but she was great. She rolled her sleeves up, turned the vocal around in a day. Then it was time to rehearse it; the choreographers had about 12 hours to put the whole routine together. The whole thing was an immense panic, and there were certainly moments where we thought that we weren’t going to pull it off. But that’s the thing with this film; there were many moments where we felt it was impossible, but as the film teaches us, nothing is impossible if you force it not to be, to paraphrase.
Another song I love is “All Love Is Love,” which I think is a perfect send-up of the anthemic, Broadway finale number. I’m curious, Karl, what was the sort of ethos behind creating this song?
Karl: Yeah, this is one of the songs that, in some way shape or form, existed in the original — though, of course, everything that we brought over from the original stage show has been transmogrified within an inch of its life. But for me, this one is about queer joy. Getting to say whatever I want on stage in a very queer setting is always a lot of fun, and providing that opportunity for other queer people is huge for me. I remember, too, that we were in a discussion about whether or not we would have the lyrics on screen with the bouncing ball, and I’m so glad we went with it, because that was a feature of the original stage show that I felt really worked — we were implicating the audience in singing this refrain.
Marius: Yeah, retaining some of some of those extremely theatrical elements from the original was key to the way we approached this.
Are there any songs that stand out to you two from Dicks that were extremely fun to write and work on?
Karl: I think “Sewer Song” was the one, for me. It was so much fun, and it was such a challenge because you’re writing three different verses that kind of sound like they could be a song on their own, but you’re also negotiating everyone’s range, you’re making everyone’s voice is sitting well. That’s the ultimate song, to me, because they had a joke at the end of the stage show about “being in a sewer that smells like piss,” and I just was like, “I have no idea what to do. So I guess this will be a samba at the end.” To me, that song is a good example of the ways in which we just kind of went for it, and didn’t necessarily always have a reason for what we were doing — and that works really well.
Marius: Yeah, let’s take these three completely incompatible melodies and have them all sing it at the same time, and somehow make it work. That was an adventure for sure.
Marius, as someone who has music directed a number of classic movie musicals like Moulin Rouge and La La Land, how different is it working on a project like Dicks that tends to poke fun at the artform itself?
Marius: It’s very refreshing. I love that self-awareness and the surface lack-of-seriousness that is actually disguising a real sincerity. These songs wouldn’t work if they weren’t pretty great, and if they weren’t emotionally sincere. The artifice to which you’re drawing attention, that sits on top of that, wouldn’t work if the structure underneath it was sketchy or shoddy. It’s really a great testament to Karl in particular that it works as well as it does. Plus, it did allow us to poke fun at ourselves while we were in the process of making it, which is really thrilling and liberating.
Karl: I’ll also say, for myself, I’m really grateful that for my debut project, I get to share something where I had such creative freedom. I’m really grateful to Marius for giving us the opportunity to do that.
It’s also great music that also isn’t overly referential. You’re allowing the songs to speak for themselves in the musical world that you’ve created, instead of making a series of inside jokes about musical theater itself. Why was that an important part of this process?
Karl: I think that’s part of the DNA that Josh and Aaron and I brought to this, because we came at this from a diagonal. There was a focus on the characters and, as Marius said, the emotional truth of the moment. That is kind of what grounds a lot of Larry’s work as well, which is why he was exactly right to direct this movie, because he knows how to really dig in to the joke and also unearth those emotional moments.
The film is getting very positive early reviews. What do you hope audiences take away from their experience of watching Dicks: The Musical?
Karl: I just really hope people have fun. I love movie musicals, and I obviously have a perspective on what I want movie musicals to look like. But I hope that this inspires more work like this.