Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Blumenkrantz Gem

There are so many other composers that I'm dying to profile, but in the meantime, I keep discovering some really amazing videos of works by people I've already mentioned here. One of the most haunting things I've found recently is "My Heart Was Set On You," from Jeff Blumenkrantz and Billie Wildrick who performs this with heartfelt precision. Hard not to relate with lyrics as solid as this.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Very Iconis Update

So I know I mentioned Joe Iconis' upcoming show Bloodsong of Love, which is soon to premiere at Ars Nova in just over a month's time. Though tickets are not available to the general public yet, if you sign up to be a Super Nova (it's free) at the Ars Nova website, you will not only get a free drink at each Ars Nova performance you attend, but you will also have access to buying tickets to Bloodsong right now. Ars Nova has a lot of great programs and shows (by the way, try to see the Alter, Greenberg, Allen, and Allen concert of Band Geeks! on Monday, March 1st as they prepare for their production at Goodspeed -- I assure you it's going to be a solid night of some really wonderful songs), but throw in some free drinks and exclusive offers like this presale and I say why not.

And, just to give you more of an idea of the kinds of talent you will be treated to at Bloodsong, here are a couple of videos from Iconis' recent Bare Bones concert at Joe's Pub with Michael R. Jackson.

There's the always fantastic Jason Sweet Tooth Williams singing new Iconis' tune "The Protector":

And just because I can't believe they played this song that has been a strange motif in our office for the past month or so, here's Iconis and Jackson singing "One of Us":

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Missing Piece

It doesn't happen terribly often, but sometimes a single song inspires me so much that I just feel compelled to examine it and try to absorb as much of it as possible.

The latest example of this comes from a youtube channel for Contemporary Classic's New Voices concerts, which are presented regularly at ACT's Central Heating Lab in Seattle. Besides the fact that this seems like a fantastic program that promotes many of the composers mentioned on this blog over on the West Coast, I also stumbled across this awe-inspiring video:

Sung by Thomas Dutton and Keely Avery, "The Missing Piece" is a song from a kind of musical concept album called Razia's Shadow by brothers Thomas and Paul Dutton, collectively known as Forgive Durden. A kind of creation myth and spiritual journey, the story describes the world as it suffers its downfall through selfishness and later finds reconciliation through love. Featuring members of bands such as Saves the Day, Say Anything, The Deer Hunter, and Gatsbys American Dream, there is a lot of talent here, courtesy of an unexpected musical theatre source.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Kind of Epidemic

Almost two years ago, one of my friends casually asked me if I wanted to see this show that someone she knew was working on for NYMF. She told me what it was called, but the title completely slipped my mind, and I showed up at the theater with no idea what exactly it was I was about to see. So I met up with my friend, we waited for the ligths to dim, and the next thing I knew, I was along for the ride that was Bedbugs!!! a musical by Paul Leschen and Fred Sauter.

So let me set the scene: the lights go dim and the next thing we know, we are treated to the vision of a young girl, sitting in her room listening to a performance of her favorite pop diva, Dionne Salone. And then, in true diva glory, Brian Charles Rooney emerged in a rather lovely 80s ensemble, giving a performance that would bring any ballad belting star to her knees.

Bedbugs!!! was an operatic, glam rock funhouse about a bedbug epidemic and one determined exterminator named Carly who ends up concocting a pesticide that turns tiny pests into mutant terrors. When the metal rock king of the bedbugs wants to make Carly his queen, Carly and her friends must put a stop to the madness. This all happens with an army of horny, androgenous insects, inappropriately mesmerizing dance numbers, and even a take home environmental message (complete with an appearance from Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring). Be sure to check out some music clips here.

Despite the fact that this type of musical is not normally my cup of tea, it's a show I think of every once in a while. I don't think I've seen anything quite so delightfully off the wall since then, or at least nothing that has made me smile as wide as this show did. I wish this show could have some kind of life beyond its NYMF production, but I haven't heard anything in particular since the festival.

I also have to say, though, that Paul Leschen's music in general is very addictive, a guilty pleasure for soaring 80s-esque numbers. I've been enjoying listening to the music on his myspace and letting myself sink into a silly stupor. While I know Paul has also had his hand in a Scissor Sisters album, I think his musical theatre writing skills are also apparent. He's also worked on Twist: May I Have Some More, a naughty, wicked version of Dickens' Oliver classic. And still, while completely campy and hysterically wild, Bedbugs!!! is an example of camp done hilariously right.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

If You'd Seen His Smile, I'm Sure You'd Feel the Same Way

I first heard Jeff Blumenkrantz's music when I stumbled across this entrancing video, courtsey of UMich's benefit, "The Girly Show." With a brightly charming, totally relatable performance by Susanne Layton, "Toll" tells the story of unrequited love in the fast lane (of sorts):

Jeff's music has always held a soft spot in my heart, and I've always enjoyed seeing him pop up here and there, whether on the pilot episode of The Megan Mullally Show or on The Martha Stewart Show (to see one of his latest, non-musical ventures, check out his cooking-related blog here). But regardless of the various projects he always seems to have in the works, his music always speaks for itself. There's a craft to his storytelling that seems inherently Romantic, mortally optimistic in a way that strives for art and understanding in even the littlest of moments. Case and point, Jeff singing "Hold My Hand":

Perhaps some of the stark beauty of his music comes from inspiration like his love of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, a personal detail that I've always found deeply affecting in a strange and small way. To get even more perspective, I highly recommend listening to some of his podcasts available through his website, which feature the likes of Rebecca Luker, Sutton Foster, and Marin Mazzie. One of my favorites includes an interview and performance by Julia Murney with an easy, hilarious back and forth that provided for good entertainment. Download them all, sit back, and get swept away in some quality songwriting.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pure Joy

This is too amazing not to post:

Iconis? Pasek? Gwon? And Lowdermilk? Singing Nick Blaemire's "Good Old Glory Type Days"?

Okay, maybe a little rough around the edges. But I think it's good proof that "If It Only Even Runs a Minute," a show that ran at the Laurie Beechman a couple weeks ago, brought about some pretty memorable performances.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Some Reading Material...

Found this old article today from 2003 on The New York Times website about Adam Guettel. It's a fascinating look into a family that is easily considered musical theatre royalty and the complications of creating art with that kind of legacy looming over your head. Adam Guettel is quite accomplished in his own right with The Light in the Piazza and other shows like Floyd Collins under his belt. But this article is a great look at one artist's journey through creating those pieces and the possibilities and pitfalls of talent and privilege. I thought the article was a nice little gem to dig up. Happy reading!

"Envious souls, which is to say most everyone involved in the theater, might be glad to find this apparently superfortunate human reduced to weird marionette behaviors. And Guettel is a test of your tolerance: how talented, charming, wealthy and 'maddeningly good-looking' (as his mother puts it) is it fair for one person to be? Among all the young composers working so hard (and so much more prolifically) to make a moribund art form sing, why is it Guettel who is dubbed the musical theater's crown prince and savior? That he is the most accomplished composer among them -- the most interesting lyricist too -- only makes it worse. That 'Piazza' is such a brilliant property for musicalization is also galling. People are envious of Guettel not just because he gets the acclaim, but also because he deserves it." -- Jesse Green, The New York Times

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the 15 Minute Musical

In the madness of my little musical-thon last week, I didn’t get a chance to talk about my experience on Sunday night, watching 4@15, a night of four 15-minute musicals by different composers and writers, starring students from NYU Steinhardt. It was presented at the York Theatre and proved to be a very fun event. The concept alone is very intriguing: similar to the 24 Hour Musicals, song and book writing duos are paired with a group of actors for whom they write a 15 minute musical, which they create with their cast in mind. The time span the creative team had to rehearse and work on their scripts/songs was longer--over the course of a few weeks--but the rush of mounting a completely new work in a short period of time provides a unique, unpolished look at a musical theater work in progress.

The subject matter of each show was varied and all the synopses for the shows can be found here. There was a piece about a fear-of-flying school taking their first venture into the friendly skies, a folktale about an Irish couple in America, a tribute to the San Francisco Earthquake, and an office parody of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

While every show featured an interesting premise and at least one hummable song, the standout of the night for me was Time to Kill, a hilarious take on Macbeth complete with three water cooler gossip witches, cut throat office politics, and an IT guy who can get an entire row of cubicles hot and bothered and solve a rubiks cube while simultaneously singing. The whole thing was fun with a tight book that allowed the hilarity of the situation to unravel organically (imagine a quickly paced conflict coming to a head in the form of an epic battle of office supplies between the IT guy and the murderous VP). The show featured the wonderful music of Julianne Wick Davis who gives the three gossip girls perfect material to become a seductive chorus, as well as a book by Dan Collins.

Because of the temporal nature of the performance, I don't have any audio or videos to add to this post, which actually made me think a lot about the idea of 15 minute musical and what kind of environment is best to foster these works--or whether such a short work of musical theater has an audience for a professional production at all.

Observing the show last Sunday made me think a lot about the craft of constructing a work of musical theater, because there are so many components to a solid musical work. And when you condense that into a fifteen minute format, being economical with time and the way you present the characters, situation, and emotion becomes a tricky thing to do. With plays, 10 minute or short plays are already difficult to pull off, because the subject matter has to be pointed and the vision has to be strong. A short format musical presents all the same problems, but also presents additional challenges in being able to also blend music seamlessly with a brief book in the amount of time it would take a character to just sing a couple of songs in a full length work.

As an exercise, I see how creating these types of musicals are good for everyone involved. It gives actors parts that were written with them in mind. Writers have an exercise that is compact and helps them get the creative juices flowing. Audiences have a variety of works to enjoy and don't have to sit through a whole evening of the same thing if one work doesn't appeal to them. It's how the plays have a life after the initial run that makes me wonder.

With ideas floating around like Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's Party Worth Crashing, I can't help wondering if there is a demand for a new kind of musical--one that is far more democratic for both the audience and the company when putting a show together. Are 15 minute musicals satisfying for an audience, and does the option of viewing various writers, actors, and stories in a couple hours appeal to a mass theater going audience? People have proved that it is possible to create a quality show in such a span of time, from Joe Iconis' ReWrite to a personal favorite of mine, Sam Willmott's Scarlet Takes a Tumble:

But with a majority of theaters sticking with what they know, with unending revivals of Broadway classics, what is the ideal home for the 15 minute musical? Or is the demand always going to be for the traditional full-length format outside of the classroom or cabaret theater? Personally, I can't say. But it makes me incredibly curious to see what comes up in the future.

Monday, February 1, 2010