Monday, August 30, 2010

Leaving Eden

I knew I had fallen in love with Laurelyn Dossett's music the first time I listened to the recording of Beautiful Star. The music was rousing, intricate, and Laurelyn's voice itself created a hauntingly beautiful aura around it. When she offered to answer some questions for the blog, I was full of nerdy theatre excitement for many reasons. Besides being a fan, I also recalled a question a reader raised in a comment on one of my prior blog posts, asking what kind of up-and-coming musical theatre artists and projects are occurring outside of New York City. While the comment was geared towards the British theatre scene, it was a question that really stuck with me since then, and one of the things I find most exciting about Laurelyn's work is that it continually calls into question what is considered "musical theatre music," not to mention that it finds a solid audience in the South. Through collaborations with artistic director/playwright Preston Lane, she has created several musicals for Triad Stage in North Carolina, including Brother Wolf, a folk interpretation of Beowulf, as well as musicals Providence Gap and Bloody Blackbeard. So, without further ado, here is my Q&A with Laurelyn:

Me: Your music combines hymns with folklore, gospel, Appalachian music, and many other genres. How would you best describe your sound?

Laurelyn Dossett: Well that is the million dollar question....these days it would be called Americana or roots music, but there was a time when it was just called "folk." When I am writing songs for plays, I am trying to evoke place, time, and mood, as well as advance the story in some way. Since three of the four plays I have done with Preston have been based in the Piedmont or Appalachian region of North Carolina, I try to write each song in a style that might have been typical for the region and the time, with typical instrumentation. I can't tell you how happy Preston was the day a clawhammer banjo player showed up in his rehearsal hall! Our first show, Brother Wolf, was set in Appalachia in the 1800's, so there was a very definite style for that. Beautiful Star is set in current time but has a rural NC setting that allowed a wider range of styles, but still bluegrassy, country, old-timey. Bloody Blackbeard was a big departure musically -- still ballad-based writing, but it was hard to get the mountains out of the melodies. The most recent show, Providence Gap, got us back to Appalachia; in that one I got to use the music to tell the story of how mountain music got to border radio and made the transition from being an intimate folk music form to commercial country radio, that was a fun challenge.

Me: Not necessarily having a typical musical theatre style, how did you get into writing music for the theatre?

Laurelyn: I am fortunate to live in a city with an excellent Equity theater, Triad Stage. The Artistic Director, Preston Lane, had a vision for creating theatre for and of the region, respectful of the south and Appalachia in particular. Not interested in Hee Haw or Deliverance, if you know what I mean. Apparently he had entertained the idea of collaborating with a regional songwriter for some time. I have a song called "Leaving Eden;" it is contemporary ballad about the closing of the textile mills in nearby Eden, NC. The song ended up on a BBC news report about the end of Chinese textile trade quotas, and voila! Preston and I live one mile apart, but met through BBC radio. He heard the song and thought I might have a similar storytelling sensibility. And thought I might just be fool enough to get into theater!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What the what??

Just saw this video and have yet to pick my jaw up off the floor! Joe Iconis and family have been doing shows at the Laurie Beechman every Monday at 9:30 this month with special guests, and this video of Heidi Blickenstaff singing brand new song "Ammonia" is pretty mind blowing. If you like it, make your reservation for the last show of the month next Monday!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Please Don't Suck

"Jeremy Desmon and Vadim Feichtner have been referred to as 'the Rodgers and Hart for the new millennium.' But maybe that’s because one of them is a misogynist and the other is an unrepentant drunk."

...And so reads the short bio blurb on the Joe's Pub show page to advertise their concert, Desmon & Feichtner Continue to Disappoint Their Parents, back in March. And that bio combined with some great tunes makes for theater with a nice balance of humor and sentiment. So, because I've been loving these for the last month of so, here are two awesome songs from their song cycle The Moment Before:

Allison Frenzel and Stephen Todd performing "Please":

And John Geiringer, Allison Frenzel, Kyle Sandall, and Cami Philgreen performing "A wink and a nod":

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Best Summer Ever

It's festival time here in the city. The Fringe is now in full swing and soon NYMF will start, followed by the NAMT festival. It's an exciting melange of new works, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to experience even just a small sliver of the offerings this year.

Because I've mentioned it on this blog before when it was only in concert form, I am proud to say that I attended the first performance of Alaina Kunin and Bradford Proctor's Bunked! last night and had a really great time. There were some wonderful songs, touching characters, and it's a surprisingly wholesome, sincere show that explores sexuality and identity through the sunny eyes of a youthful summer. Check out the promo below (if anything, you'll be educated in the ways of "friendship sticks"):

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sitting Poolside

So I know I haven't been updating as frequently as I'd like, but there's a lot of great content and updates on the way in the near future, rest assured. In the meantime, I just wanted to pop in briefly to share some videos from the musical Pool Boy with music and lyrics by Nikos Tsakalakos and additional lyrics and book by Janet Allard, which recently finished a run at Barrington Stages. The premise is pretty great: Pool Boy tells the story of an aspiring musician who takes a job poolside at the Hotel Bel-Air for the summer, where he is seduced by the glitz and glam of the rich and famous. These clips come from an Ars Nova event last year and feature Kate Ferber, Nick Blaemire, Josh Segarra, and Cassie Wooley. Here are just a few of my favorites, but a whole slew of these clips can be found at Nikos Tsakalakos' youtube channel.

The title song "Pool Boy":

"She Swims":


Thursday, August 5, 2010

...And That's The Funny Thing

On Monday, I had the pleasure of attending a reading of Kyle Jarrow's Love Kills, a rock musical telling the story of teenage sweethearts who murder 11 people together. It's always exciting to see a musical in progress-- to hear the audience's reaction, to use your imagination for all the ways it could be staged, and to enjoy writing for the stage in one of its most basic forms. The dramatic tension of the play gives a lot to play with, a Bonnie and Clyde kind of story placed in confession rooms. The presence of the sheriff and his wife also offered great layers by showing different generations confronting their beliefs about love. There were a couple of really great moments and images that took on more significance as the show went on, and I am excited to see where the show goes next.

I was first introduced to Kyle Jarrow's work last year at one of the NAMT presentations of Hostage Song. Performed entirely with the two main characters in blindfolds, it was an emotionally taxing journey of two people being held captive abroad. It was ambitious and intimate-- not unlike Love Kills. Jarrow has also written the book and lyrics to Duncan Sheik collaboration Whisper House. He is perhaps best known for A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, though looking at the theater listing on his website reveals a ton of projects in the works. One of my favorites also includes the song "All That You're Touching is Skin" from work-in-progress The Consequences, which can be heard below with "Let Him Be Good To You" from Hostage Song. Be sure to check out the diverse offerings of music, including selections from his music-specific projects.