During that fellowship he began “Ordinary Days,” the show that set a template for his next several projects. He sometimes thought about trying something grander, something that would get him back to New York. (It’s not the only place to make a career as a musical theater composer, but if you’re hoping to make a living on rights and royalties, it helps.)
But commissions kept him afloat and “every month that went by that I could pay my rent because I was writing musicals was exciting to me,” he said, apologizing for how “incredibly cheesy” that sounded.
Five years ago, Mr. Gwon decided that he should fulfill his Roundabout commission, which he had accepted during “Ordinary Days.” He speed-dated potential book writers, including the playwright Michael Mitnick, who pitched him an adaptation of the 2001 cult film “Scotland, PA.” A black comedy riff on “Macbeth,” with a side of fries, it tells the story of Mac, a 1970s fast-food worker, and his ruthless wife, Pat.
After a decade mired at minimum wage, Mac meets three stoners who predict a glorious future for him. He and Pat murder their boss and take over his burger joint. Success? He’s lovin’ it. Until tragedy places an order.
Something in Mr. Gwon’s gut insisted that this was a story he needed to tell. The premise was clever, the plot juicy, the ’70s setting inviting to a classic rock fan like him. But that wasn’t it. A week ago, watching a preview, he finally figured out the pull. “Oh my gosh,” he realized, “this is about characters who are stuck in one place and how are they going to climb up to the next level.” That is his story, too.
“I’ve been very happy and felt very successful,” he said. “At the same time, there might be three stoner voices in my head saying, ‘Hey, you’re doing great, but Broadway’s right there. What are you going to do about it?’ And I think it is a question, and a struggle that I don’t necessarily have an answer to, other than to write a rock musical about it.”
I asked Mr. Gwon, whom several colleagues described as the nicest man they have ever met, if he had ever considered murdering his rivals as an option. He laughed. He didn’t say no.