Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some things worth checking out...

There are a bunch of great things that have come up over the last couple of days that I would love to highlight:

First of all, Joe Iconis will be giving a free performance on June 21st at 10:00 a.m. as a part of Make Music New York, sponsored by Joe’s Pub. A free 40 minutes of music will be presented al fresco, right at the Astor Place cube at the corner of Lafayette and Cooper Square. It should be a great time, and the price is right for a perfect summer morning of entertainment.

In speaking of Joe and free, another must this summer is to get tickets to We The People: America Rocks! at the Lucille Lortel theatre as a part of Theatreworks’ summer shows. Joe wrote the book, but the songs are provided by a number of fantastic composers including Ryan Scott Oliver, Tommy Newman, Sam Forman and Eli Bolin, and Joe Iconis himself.

If you’re in Connecticut and want to see a great show, be sure to catch the last week of performances of Gaby Alter, Gordon Greenberg (who is also directing We The People), Tommy Newman, and Mark Allen’s Band Geeks! at Goodspeed Musicals. Also be sure to check out some of the media on their site (which includes song clips and a great video introducing you to the band).

If you’re looking for a good read, Ryan Scott Oliver’s latest post on is an absolutely wonderful read. Not only an educational examination of the mechanics of music, especially in the context of musical theatre, it also illuminates the trends of contemporary songwriters by examining the simple concept of the “button” in a song. Whether you agree with Ryan’s arguments or not, it does bring up interesting perspectives of where musical theatre is heading and how form and function connect in the context of the genre. I highly recommend reading it, as it brings to light one of the reasons I created this blog: to discuss what exactly is contemporary musical theatre and why.

Lastly, Dougal Irvine, who has been mentioned in passing both in a comment on this blog, as well as in reference to his musical Departure Lounge, is the Playwright Profile in the latest edition of the SPF newsletter. Be sure to check out his interview here, and enjoy this video clip of his song “Left Spain” from last summer’s Composer Exposure:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Nothing too big to report, but I figured I'd share a couple of videos that have been playing on my computer at least a few times over the past few days.

First, there have been some great videos popping up promoting Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which is ending its run in the (all too) near future-- June 27th. If you haven't seen it, I highly suggest getting a ticket. Even if the show goes on to a longer life, which I'm sure it will, this production at the Newman Theater is not to be missed:

Also, to give you a tune to get stuck in your head in the coming days, I've been obsessed with this old video of Nick Blaemire singing "I'm Out" from Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis' musical Wood. Both composers have been mentioned here before from their 15 minute musical collaboration Time to Kill for the York's 4@15, as well as Julianne's work for Cait Doyle's Hot Mess in Manhattan. The video was taken from Nick's show guyTunes with Justin Keyes and Jason Michael Snow:


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

La La Land

Sam Willmott has already been mentioned on this blog before with footage of his 15 minute musical, Scarlet Takes a Tumble. And if that hilarious musicalized account of the youtube sensation didn’t make you immediately look him up, then I’m hoping that some of these other clips will help convince you (although come on… a kind of chorus serving as Scarlet’s conscience as she ascends to the infamous table? Gold, I tell you!).

I first heard Sam’s music in connection with Standardized Testing—The Musical!!!!, a fun, spirited take on the time-honored high school rite of passage. The structure of the musical is surprisingly intricate, following the format of the SATs themselves, originating with individual songs, moving to a break, and eventually culminating in overlapping parts. Songs are kind of anthems, full of teen issues from dealing with the opposite sex to just trying to focus on the task at hand.

One of my favorite songs (if not by title alone) is this “Mantet”:

Though “I’m Sitting Next to Estella” is also an essential tune:

You can listen to many of the songs from a reading at this youtube channel, but just last week he presented some songs from his new musical Yo Vikings! with lyrics and books by Marcus Stevens last week at Songs You've Never Heard and Shows You've Never Heard Of, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. A show based on a popular children’s book, all of these songs are bursting with imagination, wonder, and a delightful energy that is uplifting and infectious. This is only highlighted by the awesome talent of Alyse Alan Louis as she goes to town on “You Gotta Believe”:

And the incredible “Emma The Red”:

Yo Vikings! will have a production at Upper Darby Summer Stage this summer. If you're in Pennsylvania, grab yourself a ticket. If these videos are any indication, I think you'd be in for a treat.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I Told You So

The Playscripts 10th Anniversary Gala on Monday was a blast. It was great to be in the company of many wonderful playwrights and to celebrate a happy milestone with a close-knit staff. But the real focus of the evening was the entertainment, and for a company that just started publishing musicals, the musical performances were truly remarkable.

Christiane Noll kicked ass singing "The Coming of the Dawn," which was originally sung by Hunter Foster in the Off-Broadway production of Frankenstein. Kristin Maloney made for an engrossing Dorothy Parker in a number from Talk of the Town. Dee Roscioli and Kat Hennessey singing "Ready to Settle" from High Fidelity made for a hilariously melodic cap to the excerpts from Check Please. And Nick Blaemire closed out the night with his sweet voice and musical abilities performing "Generation Apathy" from Glory Days. I still contend his voice is like buttah... and I've even had this confirmed by a few of my colleagues.

But the standout of the night for me was definitely Michael Friedman's song "The Song of Progressive Disenchantment" from The Civilians' (I Am) Nobody's Lunch. Devliered with booming indignation, this song told an entire story in a song, perfectly capturing the paranoia and disillusionment of the play with which it belongs. The performance was staggering -- hilarious, heartfelt, and at times jarring. The eventual disintegration of optimism at the end is a stark truth laid out in front of you, and Caitlin Miller showed no mercy in delivering those final lines. You can find a recording (not from the benefit, but this is pretty close) here.

I first heard of Michael Friedman through his work with The Civilians, having read (I Am) Nobody's Lunch, Canard, Carnard, Goose, and the beautiful Gone Missing. And while on paper the lyrics were clever, it wasn't until I heard the music that things came together in an incredibly magic way. The Civilians perform investigative docudrama pieces where they interview and research a particular subject without taking notes, and then later write out the accounts from memory. The subjects range from an absurd story of trying to find out what happens to the geese after "Fly Away Home," to the topical search for understanding about things that go missing.

I already mentioned Michael Friedman in connection to his latest project, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. And the music from that, along with his work with The Civilians, give an incredible look at what he's capable of -- lyrically challenging songs that are unafraid to tackle their subjects head-on. They are artfully crafted and unapologetic as they find answers through the progression of their melodies. I've always appreciated his work, but the more I seek out his music, the more I become a huge fan.

Michael has a lot of projects under his belt, including the Off-Broadway production of Saved at Playwrights Horizons, and Bloody Bloody is already slated to get a cast recording. But be on the lookout for more of his work with The Civlians, along with many more great songs along the way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Updates...

I'm currently in the process of moving, so in the midst of that inevitable chaos, I just wanted to check in with a few minor updates worth checking out.

First of all, this is kind of last minute news, but tonight (May 10th) is the York's NEO6 benefit, where many musical theatre stars will be performing the works of emerging musical theatre composers including Barry Wyner (writer of recent Calvin Berger), Kooman and Dimond, Alan Schmuckler, and many more. Tickets are a bit pricey, but if you have some money to burn, I'm sure it's going to be a fun event.

There seem to be a slew of benefits/galas tonight, but my evening will be spent at the Playscripts 10th Anniversary Gala, which is being put on with BC/EFA. I'm looking forward to a night of excerpts from a couple of Playscripts plays, along with some musical performances from Drama Desk nominee Michael Friedman (from his work with The Civilians), Mark Baron and Jeffrey Jackson's music from Off-Broadway Frankenstein, Tom Kitt and Amanda Green's music from High Fidelity, and Nick Blaemire's Glory Days.

Also, check out, which has recently added Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich to their roster of amazing artists. Buy a copy of "Taylor the Latte Boy" or "Alto's Lament" -- if not for an audition or showcase, then just so you know the right lyrics and notes when you're singing in the shower.

If you have some time to read a fun blog post, I also highly recommend Ryan Scott Oliver's breakdown of performing the "kiss measures" in his song "Halfway." The highlight is definitely his second-by-second analysis of the tensions between Alex Brightman and Jay A. Armstrong at their Kennedy Center concert.

On that note, having just seen the deeply affecting, strangely uplifting film Short Bus, I figure I would leave you with a video of the incomparable John Cameron Mitchell singing "Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tracy's Behind the Wheel of Every Passing Car...

Since I've been on a total Miller & Tysen kick as of late, just thought I would share this awesome video from Matt Doyle's recent Joe's Pub concert of their song "Passing Tracy":

Monday, May 3, 2010

Making Highway Miles

Somehow in the hubbub of being on vacation and what not, I didn’t get a chance to talk about a truly phenomenal composer, Peter Mills, who was the latest winner of the 2010 Kleban Prize. I’ve been meaning to do a profile on Peter for a while now, but especially with the announcement of this award a few weeks ago, I figure now is as good a time as any.

I first heard Peter’s music at last year’s Composer Exposure as a part of the Public’s Summer Play Festival. Anthony Holds and Jaclyn Huberman performed the song “Breaking Up,” a hilarious twist on a couple whose relationship is on the brink of turmoil. You can listen to the SPF performance here, or watch this video from the Contemporary Classics concert series below:

Still, being introduced to Peter’s work last year, I was getting to know his stuff a little late in the game. He already has two musicals published (Illyria with Theatrical Rights Worldwide and The Taxi Cabaret with Samuel French), has won some prestigious awards, and has had a new show about every year for the last ten years. And with subject matters ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald to feudal Japan, to new twists on old classics, there is a wealth of cool material to peruse in this man’s catalog.

The last work that I got a sample of was the presentation of Iron Curtain (lyrics by Peter Mills, book by Susan DiLallo, and music by Stephen Weiner) at last year’s NAMT festival. To say that this show is really fun is an understatement, and there’s definitely an art to writing a swift-paced, old-fashioned, book musical comedy. The show centers around two musical writers who can’t catch a break on the Great White Way and end up on a whirlwind adventure when they answer a mysterious ad and find themselves whisked off to the USSR. The whole thing is just an absolute treat for anyone who loves the craft of musical theater, from the self-referential to just plain silly gags and outlandish characters. You can find out more about all of his shows here, and enjoy the clever, tightly woven lyrics and music of the latest Kleban winner.

Also, in speaking of awards, big congrats goes out to Michael Friedman, Alex Timbers, Joe Iconis, and Jeremy Morse for their Drama Desk noms today! Both of the shows are fantastic, and I HIGHLY recommend getting out there and seeing them while you still can.

Lastly, courtesy of Playwrights Horizons, be sure to check out The Burnt Part Boys and take advantage of the following discount:

Blog reader DISCOUNT! Use code “BPGR”

Order by May 16 with code BPGR and tickets are only
--$45 (reg. $70) for all performances April 30 – May 9
--$55 (reg. $65) for all performances May 11 – June 13

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Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)

Limit 4 tickets per order. Subject to availability.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Getting to the Burnt Part

Even though I found myself running to Playwrights Horizons to make curtain on time, I very ungracefully climbed over a few seats just in time to see The Burnt Part Boys, a haunting new musical from Mariana Elder, Chris Miller, and Nathan Tysen. Telling the story of a coal mining community scarred by the memory of a tragedy that has left many local children fatherless, the musical details two brothers’ journey to the site of the cave-in which has been deemed “the burnt part,” the younger brother hoping to blow up the area so that they can’t reopen that part of the mine and the older brother trying to stop him. It’s a rather dark tale, especially light of recent current events, but it’s also an ambitious piece of theatre—the idea of creating such a fantastical journey on stage seems quite daunting from afar.

The production requires a bit of imagination, but it’s not hard. Though just a few ladders serve as many of the obstacles the boys (and one girl) encounter along the way, it’s not hard to picture them making their way through barbed wire fences or railroad tracks. In fact, the sparseness of the set only gives way to greater emotional space, places where grief finds pockets between connecting ladders or on the other end of a hanging rope. The fact that a chorus of fallen miners move the set pieces around ensures that there is always a prevailing memory of what this town was built on. The last twenty minutes are also incredibly gripping, with even just the visual aspects enough to make me tear up a little.

In the same vein, the music is evocative with the twangs and rousing harmonies of a familiar landscape. The lyrics are also incredibly tight, revealing the complexity of the characters’ emotions through a tumble of rhymes and verbage. Check out some songs at Miller & Tysen’s official website here (along with songs from some of their other works), and here is a little video someone put together for an audio clip of Skylar Astin and Andrew Durand singing “Disappear”:

Also, on a side note, if you see the production, you will have the privilege of seeing Noah Galvin in one of the starring roles. Not only is he a complete delight throughout, but I also remembered how he delivered this performance a couple years ago at “Don’t Quit Your Night Job”: