Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Beautiful Mess

Rated RSO the other day reminded me that I've been meaning to do a plug of the beautiful and talented Cait Doyle's cabaret show Hot Mess in Manhattan. The 2009 Best Debut MAC recipient, Cait did a hilarious rendition of the theme song RSO penned for her titled "The Mess" at the concert on Monday:



But besides this, her show features songs written specifically for her by countless talented composers from around the city. Doyle delivers each song with care, humor, and her unique personality. The frankness with which she addresses the audience is engaging, and the songs only help to enforce her varied stories that range from the heartfelt to the ridiculous.

Songs from past shows include the panoramic "Union Square" from Gaby Alter:



The heartbreakingly earnest "A Lifetime" from Julianne Wick Davis:



And a New York neuroses filled "Running" from Adam Gwon:



Check out other youtube videos with other guests and composers at her youtube channel. Also, go to her upcoming shows on February 5th and 20th by making a reservation for the Duplex here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Joe Iconis and Rated RSO marathon

Not going to lie... I'm kind of in a state of euphoria right now after a night of back-to-back (ok, I totally indulged in some Shake Shack in between) concerts courtesy of Joe Iconis and Ryan Scott Oliver. Too much of a good thing? Never! Though I have to admit I think concentrating so much in a relatively short period of time is pushing things a bit.

Both shows though were awe-inspiring, some of the best performances I have seen of either composer yet. For a free event, Joe put on a wonderful, fully-realized set with a diverse sampling of his musical abilities. A combination of tunes from The Black Suits, Bloodsong of Love, The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks, and many stand alone songs from Things to Ruin and Rock 'n Roll jamboree, I was thrilled to witness an audience, many who seemed new to Joe's songs, get to experience a thorough sampling of his work. With Krysta Rodriguez, Lance Rubin, Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams, and Katrina Rose Dideriksen rocking the mics, there was little need (not that I don't miss the rest of the band) for more than the piano and the powerful voices to fill that auditorium and perhaps spill into the rest of the library.

Something I remembered through this performance is how amazingly Joe is able to capture youth in his songs, from the most angsty moments to the most sincere, from the silliest to the most heartbreaking. All of them are underscored, though, by a simple truth, the validity of a specific perspective that almost always puts the driver right in the passenger seat alongside the performer. They are in on all the jokes, and they feel the weight of all the confusion. There isn't a moment when a song isn't trying to express something, to show a psychology or process behind someone's actions. The characters are often flawed and hardly ever are those flaws without consequence or introspection, and regardless of the fact that Joe didn't provide much context for these songs in the interview portions, the way they took shape for themselves only served as a testament to his craft. Watching host John Znidarsic's face throughout the performances was really gratifying; he gladly went along for the ride and commented himself about how impressed he was with the journey he ended up taking.

Rated RSO was a bit more of a whirlwind, but it was one of the most beautiful storms I could have possibly weathered. It was every kind of artform combined into one: the images from the 35 MM project, the acting skills of the likes of Lindsay Mendez and Alex Brightman, the full-bodied music provided by an amazing band, the pure voices of talents like Natalie Weiss and Eric Michael Krop, and finally the sheer artistry of Ryan's lyrics made this show a feast for the senses. The songs were varied in style and context, but each of them had a confidence and twistedness that was perfectly in the RSO style. Every one of the songs created a little world within themselves, daring the audience to come in and even making them fear the thought of leaving those worlds behind.

I think what shows like tonight's remind me of is the beauty of musical theatre, not only in the art of writing music and lyrics but in the beauty of it in performance. The temporary nature of it makes the experience unique and special, while also reminding us of the importance of enjoying simple pleasures while they last. This medium combines so many elements that express the incommunicable. I feel lucky to have gotten a chance to see what I did tonight, and I only wish that everyone can find opportunities to find experiences like this for themselves.

I don't really have any links or videos for this entry, though as soon as concert footage finds its way to interwebs, I'll be sure to link to it. In the meantime, I thank you for letting me rant, and look forward to getting to blab on about even more new talents in the near future.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back to Bunked!

I know I just wrote about the Bunked! A Camp Musical, but to share in the experience, I thought I would share some of the videos from said concert, now up on Bunked's youtube channel. Personal highlights from the concert include:

Morgan Karr singing "Selfishly" (and looking quite tan at the concert, may I say):



Morgan Karr and Autumn Hurlbert trying to out riff one another in "Leave It All Behind":



Eric Michael Krop delivering a bluesy and empowering "My Time":



And Nina Sturtz sparkling in "Working Towards Tomorrow":

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I will lead them home...

I am starting to get really antsy counting down the days to Rated RSO at Joe's Pub on Monday. So, still high off of Eric Michael Krop's angelic voice from last night's concert of Bunked!, I am holding my sanity together by watching the new videos Ryan Scott Oliver uploaded to his youtube channel. The one I'm particularly obsessed with at the moment is Eric singing "Odyssey," not only a gorgeous piece (especially when the ensemble kicks in), but also an incredibly visionary journey enhanced by RSO's unique musical styling.



Both the 7:30 and 9:30 shows for Rated RSO on Monday are already sold out, but if you don't have tickets, I also highly reccommend getting over your sorrows by checking out my other favorite composer Joe Iconis playing his amazing tunes and -- hopefully -- providing some charmingly awkward banter in between (for free!) at the New York Public Library at 6 as a part of John Znidarsic’s Songbook Series. Joe Iconis and Ryan Scott Oliver in one day? Don't say I never gave you nothin', because an opportunity like this, in my opinion, is pure musical theatre gold.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's Not About Me

I had a great time tonight at a concert at the Duplex that featured selections from Bunked! A Camp Musical. Never having had a summer camp experience myself, but having heard about it from those lucky enough to have done it, I know that summer camp is an environment ripe for drama, hilarity, and teen angst. This musical focuses on five camp counselors who, as the venn diagram on the programs illustrated, cross paths through varied relationships of love, lust, and unlikely friendship.

The concert featured a lot of familiar faces, but what I loved was that it really brought out the best in everyone’s voices. The songs that were presented were fairly mellow, but offered room for long runs of impressive rifts, the occasional falsetto, and belting where necessary. I thought that it fit the subject matter well—the music was sweet and optimistic, which I feel sets a good stage for a musical about the possibilities of summer. The mood was further enhanced by the presence of lanyard/friendship bracelet making materials at the tables and a couple of rounds of camp-related trivia.

I also have to say that I really loved the vibe of the musical’s writers, Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor. Their fun anecdotes about their process made the creation of this project seem very carefree and rather effortless. They cast their demo (as well as the concert, by extension) through performances in youtube videos, which I find rather apt and hilarious.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening of songs that I honestly can and will listen to over and over again. I look forward to seeing how this musical develops and hope to be around when it gets its first full production. With music as strong as it is, I can only wonder what the book is like. Check out the demos here. I highly reccommend Morgan Karr going to town in "Selfishly," but pick almost any of them and I promise it will be worth your time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When One Road Closes, Another One Opens

Maybe there's something about the title "Open Road" that promises perfect expression through song. In Glory Days, "Open Road" is tale of freedom and self-discovery, an apt analogy to a spontaneous road trip. Similarly, when I first heard Paul Fujimoto's "Open Road" from the show Not Exactly Romeo (with a book written by Eric Holmes), I felt a similar sense of freedom, one not un-reminiscent of Pasek and Paul's "Monticello" in its description of being able to pack up, move out, and set on a journey to make your dreams come true.



While I'm still learning about Paul Fujimoto's work and Not Exactly Romeo, I have to say that I've been incredibly charmed by what clips I have heard of the musical. There's a subtle musical theatre musicality behind the tunes -- they're easy to digest while maintaining a constant conversation, whether with the audience or between the characters. The lyrics are organic, and the plot of the show sets up possibilities for a deliciously meta predicament: the story revolves around a couple who musicalize a family member's daily life (unbeknownst to him) as a means of generating income once they find out they are going to have their first child.



Besides Not Exactly Romeo, Fujimoto has clips from a Shakespearean-inspired song cycle, Legacy, as well as some other songs. One of my favorite features on his personal website is that every month he offers some kind of freebie, whether it's free sheet music or the mp3 for a new song (December's Christmas song is a real treat).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Very Potter Musical

The Harry Potter series was, and continues to be, a huge phenomenon around the world. And, capitalizing on that success, comes A Very Potter Musical, a hilarious parody written by team StarKid, a collective of creative talents straight out of UMich. The full performance of the musical can be found in parts through StarKid's youtube channel, but to give you a little taste, definitely at least check out the very first video:



The genius of this whole thing is that it successfully parodies the source material with hilarious references and jabs at the whole franchise, while still featuring a plot of its own and really strong, sound lyrics. StarKid hints that a sequel is on its way, and they have a few more projects in the works. StarKid also shot a webseries after receiving a grant from Disney called Little White Lie, which is also available for viewing on the youtube channel as well. So, sit back, get some Bertie's Beans, and hunker down on the couch and get ready to geek out!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Little Sheet Music

If you've enjoyed some of the composers I've profiled so far through the blog, I highly recommend checking out this relatively new site, New Musical Theatre, a place where you can order sheet music directly from many of the composers I've talked about. All you have to do is find your music, pay online, and then download/unlock your sheet music right on your computer.

With many of these composers, I've seen more of a grassroots approach to promoting shows and material, and I fully support this site's outreach to people who would like to perform their work. So, if you're in the market for an audition piece or just want to gather around the old keyboard and belt out some tunes for your friends (...or your cats, who am I to judge?), then head on over and do a little shopping.

After all, who wouldn't want to belt out a little "Blue Hair" by Joe Iconis at a recital:



Or drown your sorrows by doing a rendition of "Like Breathing" by Pasek and Paul:



Or inappropriately serenade your teacher with "What I Wouldn't Do For You" by Ryan Scott Oliver:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

the leaves start to turn, it’s fall now

Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are a musical match made in heaven. Their songs are rich in nostalgia, self-awareness, and seem to adapt to their subject matter like a glove conforming to the contours of a hand. Their work, from original musical The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown to song cycle Tales from the Bad Years to their adaptation of popular children’s book Henry and Mudge, ranges in audience and style, but their ability to communicate emotion and perspective is something that always seems to remain constant.

Recently, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk announced on their website that they will begin licensing Party Worth Crashing, a “do-it-yourself concert” in which performance companies can put on a custom-made song set of Kerrigan and Lowdermilk songs for a simple licensing fee. This marks a first in many ways: this is the only kind of show with Kerrigan and Lowdermilk music currently on the market for licensing (as far as I know), this is the first time I’ve heard of where a concert set up of a composer’s music is available for licensing as a complete show, and this is the first opportunity to hand pick the story arc and specs of a performance.

A common complaint of many people who don’t care for musicals is that they feel like musicals are just plays in which people “randomly burst into song.” Where big production numbers and spectacle used to play a huge role in the musical theatre experience, I think the videos and performances featured in this blog alone shows a trend against that impulse (even though this is still a philosophy going on strong on Broadway). Up-and-coming musical theatre works can be just as insular as they are performative on the exterior. They are more personal, able to even stand alone out of context, and they communicate universal themes in small windows of opportunity where a character can pour their heart out, rail against the man, or tell a story that reflects the truths of his or her experience. Kerrigan and Lowdermilk’s Party Worth Crashing is our first glimpse into the possibilities created by this movement, and depending on the success of this project, could become an option offered by many composers, widening the range of what exactly constitutes as “musical theatre.”

In any case, I am very curious and excited about this and can’t wait to see people starting to take advantage of the offer. To check out the information for licensing Party Worth Crashing, take a look at their page here. For the licensing fee, a company has a pick of any song in the Kerrigan and Lowdermilk songbook. So, to end out this blog entry, as well as give some audio/video clips to be entranced by, here are some videos of the songs I would have to have in my set if I was assembling a performance of Party Worth Crashing:

"Run Away With Me" sung passionately by Michael Arden



"How to Return Home" gorgeously rendered by Krysta Rodriguez



"Just This One Time" hilariously and sweetly performed by Morgan Weed and Caissie Levy



"Not a Love Story" delicately told by Phoebe Strole



"Girl Who Drove Away" brilliantly interpreted by Jenni Barber



"Say the Word" sung with touching humility by Julie Reiber



"Not Her Way" given attitude and flair by Kate Shindle



"Pretty Girl Blues" with soaring harmonies by Helene Yorke, Caissie Levy, and Dennis Moench



"My Heart Is Split" sung by the beautiful Kait Kerrigan herself

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's the Perfect Balance Between Yelling Too Much and Not Yelling Enough

I first heard Jonathan Reid Gealt perform not his own work, but the work of one of my personal favorite composers, Jason Robert Brown, at one of JRB’s concerts at the Birdland. Jonathan had won a JRB Karaoke contest, and he immediately got my attention with a rousing, matter-of-fact version of “Old Red Hills of Home.” Here is a clip apparently from a sound check before that concert:



Needless to say, I found his voice and performance to be absolutely stunning. The understated power he had brought out a side of JRB’s music that I have rarely, but always appreciatively seen in performance. The tables were then turned later, at Jim Caruso’s After Party (an open mic night regularly held at the Birdland) when Jonathan took the stage with fellow JRB Karaoke contest winner Natalie Weiss, and she performed this song from Jonathan’s show-in-progress, Forward.



The clarity of Natalie’s voice mixed with the organic progression of this song has a way of pinning you down and making you really listen. Just the combination of notes alone speaks for itself, creating voice and character without saying anything at all. And, with a title like “Quiet,” it’s hard not to see how important that concept is.

Jonathan’s music has something in common with JRB’s in its ability to take on different personalities with everyone who performs it, to bring out the best of them by infusing individual personalities and styles with a very clear message that the character needs to communicate. A wonderful example is this other version of “Quiet” done at another concert with Alysha Umphress:



Another favorite song/performance is the aforementioned “No Reason At All,” linked earlier with a stellar performance by Katie Thompson. Both of these songs come from Forward, which I am excited to see as it develops. Jonathan is also having an all star concert at The Canal Room in New York tomorrow (1/11), which looks like it will be phenomenal (not to mention that Katie Thompson and Natalie Weiss are performing). Tickets are still available here, and I highly suggest that anyone who can should go.

Also, I just realized that all the videos I’ve linked today came from Urintown’s youtube channel. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is kind of the UMich musical theatre youtube channel that contains an incredible library of performances, from readings around the city, to episodes of the hilarious Andrew’s Blog video blogs, to UMich concerts, to episodes of The Battery’s Down. I definitely recommend checking it out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Really What's the Point If We're Just Coasting

Though their days at UMich aren’t long behind them, songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have managed to make quite a splash in the musical theatre community in a relatively short amount of time. While still at UMich, they managed to write song cycle (which has received a slew of performances across the country in college and professional theaters) called Edges about four young adults coming of age as they navigate relationships, newfound responsibility, and their need for connection. One of the most inspired productions so far has been with a fabulous cast consisting of Steven Booth, Farah Alvin, Colin Hanlon, and Whitney Bashor (not to mention Gordon Greenberg directing!) at Capitol Repertory Theatre in Albany, along with a subsequent Midwest premiere at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts in 2008.

Having seen this music evolve over the years through countless youtube videos and clips, I have to say how impressed I am at how much their music has matured over time. While their music has always been incredibly skillful, the tightness of their lyrics, the beauty of their music, and the progression of emotion throughout these songs only seems to get better. It also helps that they have wonderful conduits that really reach into the music and pull out soul-grabbing performance with enthusiasm and attitude that make these characters pop. There are a few videos from Edges available from Pasek and Paul’s youtube channel, but my favorites are undoubtedly this humorously frank performance of “Monticello”:



And the hilarious-turned-shockingly-poignant “Along the Way”:



Surprisingly, a piece of theirs whose memory brings a smile to my face was their work for last year’s 24 Hour Musicals event, where they wrote a few songs for a ridiculous story about three doctors (also brothers) who realize the woman they are about to operate on was their old flame. Led by an all star cast consisting of Cheyenne Jackson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Roger Bart, and Scarlett Strallen (also with a book by Rinne Groff), you can enjoy the wit and pure joy of their music, which was surprisingly written in less than 24 hours.

Part 1:


Part 2:


The duo also has written songs for the delightful children’s show, Johnny and the Sprites, and have had a couple concert appearances in recent months. More than anything, I am thrilled that their next project is an adaptation of the classic film, Dogfight, in which a group of marines attend a “dogfight,” a party in which they each compete to bring the ugliest date. With an intriguing plot and what I presume to be an insightful score to match, I think this could really be something special as a commission for Lincoln Center Theater. Then again, I feel like this clip really speaks for itself:

Friday, January 8, 2010

He trusts me with his suits...

With the first female composer mentioned yesterday, I figured I would bring a little more diversity to these composer profiles with the work of Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. Almost all the composers/writing duos on the blog so far have been recently out of school contemporaries who excel in pop-infused or alternative scores. Marcy and Zina's work is a little more traditional, a loving send up to strong book musicals with humor and warmth to support a good story through song. They're perhaps best known for the song "Taylor the Latte Boy," which, if you type that title as a search on youtube, will come up with an endless treasure trove of performances and even some responses — though the most memorable interpretation comes from one of my favorite blondes of all time:



Their shows and music are mostly family-oriented with musicals under their belt like Junie B. Jones and Dear Edwina. But even in their kids musicals, the lyrics are smart, witty, and sophisticated, and their partnership exudes an easy sincerity and lightheartedness in the way they play off one another. This was great to see at SPF's Composer Exposure this past summer, and you can find a clip of their performance "Compromise" here (along with many other great audio clips of up-and-coming musical theatre artists). I've also been meaning to see their show, aptly titled, The Marcy and Zina Show, and have been obsessed with this song:



A main reason I mention Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich is because they recently won the 2009 Fred Ebb Award. I look forward to their up-and-coming projects, which apparently includes adaptations of Snow White and Rose Red, Cyrano, and Clinton Kelly's Freakin' Fabulous.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

You Should Know I Am On Your Side

I’ve noticed that these blogs have all been very male-heavy. Though it’s true that many of my favorite composers happen to be men (and with some of their senses of humors, boys even), I thought I would help even the score a little bit by mentioning one of the strongest female voices (both in performance and as a composer): Katie Thompson. Fearless, gorgeous, and with talent to boot, I’ve had the privilege of seeing both Katie’s musical work and acting skills. She whipped Eric William Morris’ character into shape in the NAMT presentation of Ripped, a Jack the Ripper musical. She rearranged Ryan Scott Oliver’s “To Do” in a way that only helped the song reach greater heights. She also brings down the house in this video, a song by another rising musical theatre writer, Jonathan Reid Gealt, “No Reason At All”:



But along with her personal performance abilities, she also writes songs with lyrics that are often careful, confidently feminine but bare and declarative. They bring out the inner diva in all the actresses that perform her songs, like Shoshana Bean singing "I Know" at Katie's Birdland concert last year:



There's also another beautiful performance by Lisa Brescia singing "Your Side":



I’m sad I missed R.R.R.E.D. at NYMF this past year, but I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll see of her work. In the meantime, I think I’ll get by being able to hear her sing the shit out of songs, new and old:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Last Minute Gifts

The holidays may be wrapping up, but in case you're still in the Christmas/holiday spirit, here's a little something to warm you up, courtesy of Joe Iconis' Christmas Spectacular:

The One Thing We Agree on Is We Don't Have Very Long...

It’s amazing to me that there hasn’t been a major hit marching band musical that has made its way into every high school in America, but I have high hopes for Band Geeks!, a smart, infectious musical comedy about a small rag tag group of band nerds in Cuyahoga Falls who hope to actually compete in a competition. Written by Tommy Newman, Gordon Greenberg, Gaby Alter, and Mark Allen, the show features incredibly catchy and telling songs about the camaraderie and ambitions of young students who find confidence and understanding in their ability to make music. I saw a reading of this at this year’s NAMT festival, and I can assure you it’s as clever as it is delightful. There are demo songs available on Tommy Newman’s website (there are other songs/versions also available on the websites of the rest of the creative team), as well as this gem from Joe Iconis' Secret Show (notice Jason “Sweet Tooth” Williams and Lauren Marcus giving earnest, lovely performances):



The reason I bring up Band Geeks!, aside from my love of this show, is because I wanted to highlight the music of Gaby Alter. While Band Geeks! seems to be a rather seamless collaborative effort, Gaby’s work as a composer and lyricist has a contagious life of its own. Most of his musical theatre projects involve Tommy Newman, but I was first introduced to Gaby’s music when I stumbled across this gem:



There’s something about the combination of really engrossing, tuneful music mixed with simple narrative lyrics that really makes for an understated but meaningful piece. The little conclusions that often come over the course of a song pack an emotional punch in the simple way they reveal themselves. They seem to be truths that the character knows all along and eventually realizes is too hard to avoid. This is especially true for songs like “Twirler Girl,” “All Amateur Anapolis Marathon,” “The Argument,” “Deep in February,” among others. His musical 29 (written with Newman) particularly hits these marks. His understanding of humor is adept and precise in the way humor presents itself in the music, a perfect example being “The Princess and the Co-op,” but his more harmonic works also demonstrate an ability to evoke intimacy in even the barest moments like in “Orphan Thanksgiving.”



Aside from his work in theatre, he’s also written pop music, as well as music for children’s television, radio, video games, and a documentary. With a solid career going for him, I have no doubt that any endeavor of his will be effortless and fruitful, and Band Geeks! in particular looks like it’s off to a good start. More than anything, I find comfort in all of his works, proof that a strong, confident narrative voice can reveal truth and humor in the simplest of terms.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

We met, of all places, in front of Gristedes...

One of the most pleasantly surprising theatre-going experiences of the past year undoubtedly was Roundabout intern-turned-produced-composer/writer Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days. A musical exploration of four New Yorkers as their lives intersect in moments of connection and chaos in their everyday lives, Ordinary Days was a feverish jumble of neurotic ramblings, witty one-liners, and carefully guarded secrets for fear of vulnerability. There were a lot of times where the show felt strangely disconnected, but there were several moments, tiny glimpses, where everything came together in a moment of truth that would close up just as quickly as it revealed itself. This made the show a very true and admirable representation of a day in the life of a New Yorker—one part chance, one part anarchy, one part pure human need and love.

Gwon has a lot of projects under his belt, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of his work in the near future. His adaptations, in particular, are exciting to me (but that’s also because I love Edith Wharton—who I consider to be the most canonized trashy romance novelist of her time—and his musical adaptation of Ethan Frome makes my heart swell nerdily). But the reason I bring him up and highlight Ordinary Days in particular is because I recently found this video:



Performed my Lisa Brescia, who played the character Claire at the Roundabout production, this video is of the song “I’ll Be Here,” a heartbreakingly gorgeous song that comes near the end of the show. Lisa’s clear, emotionally open delivery paired with the brilliantly crafted lyrics and music recreates the moment I had in the theater… and yes, I will admit I teared up like a baby and had to discreetly wipe my eyes without the old guy sitting next to me noticing.