Writing a musical's no piece of cake. Just ask Karen Hines, whose Hello... Hello opens Tuesday (November 11) at the Tarragon after a gestation period of nearly a decade, which included a full, albeit shoestring, production in 1999. Here's how workshops, grants, mixed reviews and a blockbuster Broadway musical helped change the evolution of Hello... Hello. See Theatre Listings Openings (page 79) for details.
 One of Karen Hines 's "last few straight jobs" is telemarketing. Little does she know that one day she'll be writing a script called . . .
[Winter 1994] . . . Telemarketing: The Musical , a 20-minute musical satire with composer Greg Morrison . Hines conceives it in a Vancouver café while touring with her solo clown shows Pochsy's Lips and Oh, Baby. The Tarragon's Urjo Kareda and Andy McKim were so impressed with Oh, Baby the year before that they invited Hines to join the Tarragon Playwrights Unit . There, Telemarketing evolves into . . .
[Spring 1994] . . . La BOOM , a "grand" musical for a cast of 16, with lavishly costumed characters doing extravagant things like singing from giant martini glasses. Hines thinks this dark modern take on Puccini's La Bohème is unproducible. Still, she cuts the cast of 16 to 8, and gets such a great response to her hilarious stage directions that she includes them as dialogue in the script. She continues to develop it while . . .
 . . . becoming playwright-in-residence at the Tarragon and...
 . . . part of the Play Creation Group at CanStage. At the same time, Hines's acting career takes off, with big roles in TV's The Newsroom and a lead in Angels In America . South of the border, though, a groundbreaking li'l musical called Rent opens in New York City, and it, too, is a modern reworking of La Bohème. Hines wonders if La BOOM is now viable. "Does the world need another quirky period musical?" She tries to find out at . . .
[August 1997] . . . the Banff Playwrights Colony , where she holes up with composer Morrison. After the workshop and input from dramaturges and actors, Hines chooses not to pursue it.
Everyone else disagrees with her. So she then decides to . . .
[Winter 1998] . . . take a year to see what elements should survive, and agrees to keep the love story and the feeling of a parallel universe.
She cuts the cast of eight down to four. More importantly, she decides to go completely independent. No ties to any theatre. When you have support, she reasons, it comes with strings attached. So, under her own Pochsy Productions, she arranges for . . .
[Spring 1998] . . . a public workshop (at The Space) of the script, now titled Hello... Hello . She hires a bunch of Second City alumni, including actors Steven Morel (who was in Telemarketing: The Musical) and Teresa Pavlinek , and director Chris Earle .
She joins the cast to save money. The workshop is a success, Hines gets some grants, and everything's on track for a bare-bones production at . . .
[April 1999] . . . the Factory Studio , which agrees to give her the space. Hines revises the script until opening night ("It was like we had teleprompters in our heads," she jokes), and the reviews, though favourable, say it's way too long. Hines lops off 10 minutes ("cosmetic surgery," she says) by the end of the run.
Box office is spotty, but word of mouth spreads and there are sell-outs the final week. Hines is happy, but . . .
 . . . over the next year and a half, she cuts another 30 minutes, adds another 20 ("reconstructive surgery," she calls it), refines and defines the second act and reassembles the Factory cast on her own dime for a couple of unofficial workshops. She tries to sell her revised script, but no one bites until . . .
[Summer 2002] . . . Richard Rose , then at Necessary Angel, reads it and calls her. Hines comes clean about the show's shaky history. She considered it a "developmental run," not unusual for musicals in New York. Rose directs Hines in Swollen Tongues, becomes the new artistic director of the Tarragon, and finally . . .
[Winter 2002] . . . agrees to schedule the revised Hello... Hello for Tarragon's 2003-2004 season. Hines and Morrison deepen the show's emotional through line, adding crucial music to the narration in the second half. A week before previews, Hines and Earle agree to a three-day moratorium on any further cuts to the script.