Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bloody Bloody good

History is treated with a huge dose of angst and irony in the Public’s musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and book by Alex Timbers.

In a good way. Trust me.

Because as much as I entered the Newman theater rather skeptical of the opulent-colonial-meets-rock-video d├ęcor, with animal heads and carcasses strewn with beads, red lighting, and other wrecked touches, I surprised even myself in how gleefully the history nerd in me delighted in the sarcastic treatment of one of our presidential icons. And in history alone, there’s a lot of material here: the trail of tears, bigamy, accusations of genocide, not to mention winning the populist vote only to be shut down by congress in the first presidential race he attempted. But add to that portrayal of Jackson in a new light, not unlike the way “The Tudors” have reinvented Henry VII, along with a rock/emo score incredibly reminiscent of another musical with microphones pulled from holsters at opportune moments that was on Broadway not too long ago.

And even with its obvious influences, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson stands on its own two feet, a deliciously irreverent portrait of history in general and the legacy people leave behind. Beneath the gags, the sardonic humor, and portrayal of bumbling politicians, there is a lot of emotional truth, a stark reality to the persona that Jackson created through the sheer force of his anger and selfishness. One of the most gratifying moments for me was when Rachel, Jackson’s wife, tells Andrew, who asks why he can’t have a private life with her and the public fame of the presidency, that it’s because he’s “a grown up.” The fact of the story is inescapable – regardless of the glamour or the hype – none of Jackson’s glory came cheaply or peacefully. And the complexity of this story is something that will touch you at times throughout the show, but will also bring you a lot of joy in the twisting of those questions into an absurd, hilariously rebellious musical appeal.

I highly suggest buying tickets and seeing this production, which can be done here. With an amazing cast, band, and production values, this is something to be seen.

Edit: Just a teaser, really, but something to give you an idea of what you'd be in for:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One of us cheated... and it wasn't you

Michael R. Jackson has made an appearance on this blog before singing "One of Us" with Joe Iconis, but he also has an amazing collection of his own songs, many of which he performed at the Bare Bones concert recently with Joe Iconis. And while I've only heard a couple of his songs before, I think that Joe's blurb in the SPF newsletter is a really great endorsement for his music:

"One of my absolute favorite new writers out there is the spectacularly-named Michael R. Jackson, aka Michael Living-Jackson. He was a classmate of mine at the Tisch Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program and I've loved his stuff for as long as I've known him.

The thing that makes him so special is his ability to transform situations that might seem outlandish or horrific into experiences that are shockingly moving and weirdly relatable. I feel like there's so much 'new musical theater' that's about being young and dating in New York- lots of songs about white people who go on picnics and have dreams and learn things and feel things. I've certainly written my fair share of those types of songs. But here is someone who is writing something completely different- a truly unique and electrifying voice.

Anyone reading this needs to stop what they are doing and watch a recording of Michael's song 'Jethro.' If you can watch that and not realize that you are experiencing the work of a true artist, you need to hang on to your Ferngully: The Musical! ticket stub and promise to never go to the theater ever, ever again."

The song Joe mentions is this one, which was performed by Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams at the Bare Bones concert:

And to call it a rather shocking piece would be a bit of an understatement. There's something startling about the frankness of the portrait Jackson paints in his music. It's strikingly honest -- at times brutal, and suprisingly gentle when need be. Here are a couple other highlights from Bare Bones...

Molly Hager singing "Verse Chorus Song":

And "Blood and Lather" sung by Joe Iconis:

Monday, March 8, 2010

How Can You Run With A Shell On Your Back?

I was first charmed by the music of Alan Schmuckler and Michael Mahler at last year’s NAMT festival with their presentation of How Can You Run With A Shell On Your Back? Unlike anything else at the festival, this adorable musical combined many popular fables into a story about a group of middle schoolers in detention. Think Breakfast Club meets Aesop. And while the show featured a strong book with likeable characters and funny one-liners, there was also some pretty fantastic music that ranged in style but always featured memorable tunes. The title song, in particular, is a great example of the blending of teen angst with a hummable score.

There are huge things on the horizon for this creative team, especially with a television development gig with ABC after their 15-minute web presentation of a musical comedy series Boyfred. Fascinatingly enough, the project came about after a hold up in getting the rights to adapt The Secrets of NIMH for a commission at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Having already tentatively written songs for that show, I can already see a lot of potential if the rights ever come through. Here is one particularly haunting song, beautifully rendered by Angela Ingersoll titled “If Jonathan Were Here”:

Just as a fun addition, a Michael Mahler song that I’ve been finding absolutely infectious as of late is “The Girl Next Door.” It makes even the occasionally absurd lyrics somehow make sense:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not a Love Story

I’m still reeling after an amazing night of performances last night at the Kerrigan and Lowdermilk concert, Under the Influence, at the Birdland. As I’ve raved about this songwriting duo before, the night was an incredible combination of some sweet tunes. I was impressed with the kind of narrative they set up through their song selection—an amalgam of their well-known songs with stories of the pop music that influenced them, as well as some covers of songs that impacted their musical style.

Perhaps the thing I loved most about the concert though was their decision to re-orchestrate and rearrange their most popular songs. In fact, the highlights included a (gasp!) male version of “Two Strangers,” a revamped version of “Runaway With Me” with the eclectic and whimsical Spring Standards, and a re-orchestrated “Not a Love Story” with Kait Kerrigan at the violin. There’s something very admirable in a musician’s willingness to play around with their music, and the beautiful new creations that came out of that play showed how malleable their music is.

Hearing their influences was also powerful. I’ve always felt that their music has such a distinct female voice and has a contemporary sound that is distinctly theirs. Ironically, this comes from the fact that they borrow from contemporary pop musicians, building a musical theatre reflections of popular hits.

So, through the power of youtube, I leave you with some videos of my favorite performances of the night: Jay Armstrong Johnson, Morgan Karr, and Matt Doyle singing “Two Strangers,” Katie Thompson singing “Five and a Half Minutes,” and Jenni Barber, Kait Kerrigan, and Brian Lowdermilk singing "I'm Sorry."

EDIT: Got a few more!

"Run Away With Me" with the Spring Standards:

"My Heart Is Split" with Vienna Teng:

In fact, go watch them all here.