Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ridiculously Talented Composers (Period)

This post is overdue, but it's one that's quite important to me... and the whole purpose of this blog, really.

About a week and a half ago, I took myself out on a date to see the Kaufman Center's Ridiculously Talented: Songs by Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don't Know But Should. Hosted by William Finn, the night offered a great selection of talent from NYU's graduate Musical Theater program with a bunch of incredible performers giving voice to their creations. Some of these writers have been mentioned on this blog before and some I had never heard of, but possibly one of the coolest parts of going to this event was hearing William Finn give a mini lesson in the art of writing songs. Where else are you going to hear someone explain that the job of a composer is to "not fuck up" or that writing lyrics can be compared to a Turducken (a lot of meat in a very small package)?

While there was a lot going on onstage, there was also another show going on in the aisle in front of me, as 3 older gentlemen watched the show. Their sighs and bragging about having seen "everything on Broadway for the pat 40 years" already kind of warned me that this event might not exactly be their type of thing, but I certainly didn't expect when one of them launched into a tirade at intermission about how what we were watching wasn't musical theatre but "conversations set to pop music."

Which is not to say that I don't feel like he has a point. The cabaret-style music was definitely the trend of the evening, and while it was appropriate for the event, I can see how it can get a bit tiresome. Also, with many musicals taking on a very "contemporary sound," distinct voices and melodies seem to be harder to come by these days.

And at the same time, I wanted to point out that musical theatre is changing with the times-- a necessary evil that doesn't diminish the genre, but helps it endure. While I love the days of On the Town and Oklahoma, subject matter is shifting so that it's not always about young, white heterosexual couples finding love. In fact, I loved the observation made by Mary Anna Dennard on The New York Times Arts Beat Blog about how now, despite the proliferation of musical theatre "types," views of masculinity and masculine characters have shifted from that of the "masculine neutral presence." Musical theatre is becoming more encompassing of the community that creates it, and this couldn't have been more evident in the incredibly personal and intimate songs, from Michael R. Jackson and Kori Withers' "Old Mr. Drew" to Will Aronson and Sam Salmond's "Pole Song" to Nikos Tsakalakos' "My Trip to Africa" to "Driving Home on the Freeway" by Katya Stanislavskaya and Frank Terry.

When his angrier friend stepped out during intermission, one of the men in front of me turned back and asked me if I knew anyone in the show (he assumed I was an NYU student supporting a friend). I explained that I wasn't and was instantly met with another question. "Then may I ask why you're here?" he asked. And it was a question that caught me a little off-guard.

I gave him a simple, honest response, but I don't think I really had an answer until I realized how swept up I had gotten in some of the songs from the show long after it was over. I'm not exactly musically inclined, but something comes over me when I hear a good piece of musical theatre. There's a kind of magic in hearing a song that seems to perfectly describe a moment-- a high that makes you hope the song will never end so you could capture that instance forever. There's an art to it that escapes me, even as a writer, where the lyrics take on dimension and rhythm and music carries it off any page. I love that feeling, and it's the reason I started this blog and the reason I was captivated throughout the show. William Finn provided some context for many of the songs that evening, trying to also root them in his mini lesson about craft, but for all I could tell, there was another force at play and I was just lucky to take it in.

Anyway, enough babbling. I look forward to much more from everyone who was represented that evening. And, just so you can't say you've never heard of them, here is the full list of writers from that night:

Josh Freilich
Seam Patterson
Will Aronson
Tony Asaro
Julian Blackmore
Yea Bin Diana Oh
Sam Salmond
Nikos Tsakalakos
Janet Allard
Dimitri Landrain
Dan Marshall
Anna Ruth Nirmala Jones
Julianne Wick Davis
Zach Redler
Sara Cooper
Kori Withers
Michael R. Jackson
Jennifer Stafford
Bill Nelson
Joel Waggoner
Becca Anderson
Rebekah Melocik
Gihieh Lee
Scott Murphy
Hannah Kohl
Katya Stanislavskaya
Frank Terry
Deborah Abramson
Rachel Sheinkin

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A big day for cast recordings

Hey guys! Today is the official release day for the cast recordings of Ordinary Days, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and the digital release of Things to Ruin: The Songs of Joe Iconis. If you're buying these albums, take advantage of the discount EMERGING10 on the Sh-K-Boom website.

Also, to mark the occasion, I have an Ordinary Days CD to give away. Just be the first to email me at the rest of the lyric to this song by Adam Gwon from Ordinary Days:

"Fine, I'll bring the red and you'll bring the white, that way..."

(Hint: the answer is in one of the performance videos posted in a past blog post.)

I'll notify the winner by email. Happy listening!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Give a little bit... (or a lot)

Want to be a part of the process of recording a CD? Want to help a fantastic songwriting duo get their music out? Trying to figure out what to do that large pile of cash you were going to burn before you realized you were out of matches? Good news! Kerrigan and Lowdermilk are making a CD, and they need your help! Visit their Kickstarter page and make a contribution. Not only are you helping two amazing artists produce their quality work, but there are also some really fun bonuses they're offering in exchange for your money (private concert, anyone?). Check it out, open your pocketbook (or wallet, as I hear they call it these days), and listen to their music on their website to get a preview of what's to come. Everyone wins!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Matilda, a Musical

I got an email today from the Royal Shakespeare Company and am so freakin' excited about their announcement about an upcoming production of a musical adaption of Roald Dahl's Matilda at The Courtyard Theatre. You can see the trailer here. Not only did I love the book Matilda growing up and think that all of Roald Dahl's stories contain enough whimsy and magic to justify a musical, but it also boasts a book by Dennis Kelly and songs by Tim Minchin. A couple years ago, Tim Minchin was playing a show at New World Stages, and I had a very memorable experience hearing him sing a particularly... "touching" song at Cast Party at the Birdland:

With the cleverness, humor, and slightly dark twist Minchin will undoubtedly bring to the mix, I think this is going to be a great show. If you're between the ages of 16 and 25 and you book on a Tuesday, you can use the code 1625 to get a free ticket. For any other day, 16-25 year olds can use the same code to get a ticket for just 5 pounds! The show will be running November 9 - January 30. If you're lucky enough to be in England and see it, please report back!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

And the Winner Is...

Thanks to everyone who left comments to win the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson cast recording. All the ideas were great, and I'm posting them below. However, rather than draw this announcement out, I am proud to announce the winners: musicaltheatreblog and Colleen! Congrats and thanks again to everyone who entered. Winners, please email me your addresses at so that I can get your prizes to you! For everyone else, remember that you can still use the coupon code EMERGING10 at checkout on Sh-K-Boom's website to get 10% off your purchase. Also be sure to check back here often for other giveaways.

Here were the great ideas that were submitted for historically inspired musicals:

I would really enjoy a musical based on the Brown v. Board of Education court case. It would make a great large-cast musical with a traditional score. Each of the thirteen plaintiffs would tell their story, similar to A Chorus Line, and it would end with the ruling being made.

After learning a little about the interesting relationship between Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahmes, I believe that Clara's life would make an excellent musical, play or movie. Clara was a talented musician who is too often overshadowed by the famous composers she loved and helped promote.

Might be interesting to do a musical from the McCarthy Era and Cold War. So many interesting things happened during that time that we often forget about: suspecting spies, going against Communism, JFK, his assassination, MLK assassination, McCarthism, etc.

I think it'd be pretty hilarious to have a Dada musical, although I cannot imagine how bizarre that music would be or if the songs would be very, uh, catchy. Frida Kahlo would be a really fascinating subject as well, or a really intimate Emily Dickinson musical, or one about the sculptor Camille Claudel and how Auguste Rodin ruined her life. Or does Einstein have a musical yet? That would be brilliant.

I'm afraid the South Park folks may be about to corner the market on religious satire musicalizations, but I always thought Jimmy Swaggart & the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries would make a fascinating, hilarious subject for a stage musical. I'm picturing a flashy gospel-rock score, big musical numbers with a chorus of singing, dancing prostitutes & a huge, tear-filled 11 o'clock number. (Damn. I really WOULD like to see that.)

I also think that Phil Spector's life & music would make for a more riveting & satisfying night at the theater than a show about the Four Seasons. It could be a jukebox musical like Jersey Boys, only exponentially more interesting (and I'm sorry to say, better music)!

I guess I'm more into contemporary figures. It's hard to pull off a major period musical. But I guess Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson defied the odds!

This is an obscure choice, but I wrote a paper years ago on female spies in the Office of Strategic Services during WWII, and one of the spies, Virginia Hall, had this incredible life story. She was set to join the Foreign Service in the 30s until she suffered a hunting accident that forced the amputation of her leg... but that didn't stop her from driving ambulances in France. When France was invaded, she worked for the Resistance, parachuting behind enemy lines, leading multiple guerrilla forces against the Germans, even escaping France at one point by crossing the Pyrenees on foot in November! Generally a very badass lady with a great story of overcoming disability to further her passion for the cause... I envision some pretty intense dramatic/suspenseful numbers, and a comedic one when she decided to nickname her wooden leg "Clyde."

Thanks again for all the thoughtful comments!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Straight from the Silver Screen

There is one day left in the contest to win a copy of the cast recording for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, so see the post below to get on that! It's easy to enter and there have already been a lot of great ideas circulating in the comments section. I'm hoping to also post the musical ideas along with the winners on Thursday so spread the word and get your entries in!

It's no secret that musical adaptations of movies have exploded in popularity over the past years. In fact, the translation between the screen and stage can be so incestuous, a book can begat a movie that can begat a musical which can begat a movie musical...and so on and so forth. And while the success of a stage musical capturing what we love most about the movie it's based on ranges wildly from show to show, I have to admit that one of the shows that will be doing a presentation at the upcoming NAMT festival that most caught my eye was an adaptation of the movie Heartbreakers. In case you missed out on this gem from 2001 starring Sigourney Weaver, Ray Liotta, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, Heartbreakers tells the story of a mother-daughter con team that runs into trouble when the daughter begins to fall for what she thinks is her wealthy mark.

My interest in this show is partly nostalgic-- I remember being on a school overnight where we all went to the movies. We had a choice between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Heartbreakers, and, surprise surprise, almost every hormonal teen went for the romantic comedy and Jennifer Love Hewitt playing a seductress. But I'm also interested in seeing what the show's talented creative team does with this material that really contains a solid, rather traditional plot set-up. With collaborators Robert Cary, Benjamin Feldman, and David Gursky, who are NAMT alum with their show Palm Beach, all the writers have impressive resumes spanning from West End adaptations to film and television credits.

Another recent musical adaptation of a film to come to light was the concert presentations of Heathers (by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe) at Joe's Pub last night and tonight. Sold out for all performances, I'm interested in hearing more about this project as it continues development. Obviously the source material is full of campy musical potential.

To further illustrate the potential of musical adaptations, even at their most outlandish, I leave you with a few of my favorite videos from "Hey, You Know What Movie Would Make a Good Musical?" which was performed at the Zipper Factory. With music, lyrics, and books by Hey You Know What Productions, this show featured songs and scenes from potential musical adaptations of films, from Twister to Scream.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Win the Cast Recording for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson!

Hey all! So if you've noticed on the calendar, the cast recording for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is officially released on September 21st. The show starts its Broadway previews on September 20th and whether or not you caught it at The Public, I highly suggest you get down to the Bernard Jacobs Theatre where you can experience the bloody goodness for yourself. Featuring an awesome score by Michael Friedman, whose work I absolutely adore, the cast recording for the show makes for a great way of reliving all the angst and pathos of one of our most iconic presidents.

The wonderful people at Sh-K-Boom have given me two cast recordings to give away on the blog, and I couldn't be more excited and thankful to be able to pass on this music to you guys. So, I thought it would be fun to have a little contest to get a fun discussion going and give you guys a chance to put in your entries for a kind of lottery.

All you have to do is comment on this blog post with an answer to this question: what historical or academic figure do you think deserves the musical treatment and how? Think the theatre world is sorely lacking a song cycle centered around Paul Revere? Have you been itching for an Andrew Lloyd Weber-esque story about Emily and Charlotte Bronte? The sky is the limit. There is only one comment/entry per person, but if you tweet a link to this blog post and include the link in your comment, I'll count it as an extra entry. The winners will be drawn at random and announced next Thursday on 9/16, and I will no longer count entries past 11:59 on Wednesday, 9/15.

Good luck, all!

Edit: Also, as a bonus for those of you who want to forgo the contest and just buy the album, Sh-K-Boom also generously offered a coupon code. Put in EMERGING10 at checkout when ordering from their website, and enjoy 10% off all their products until 12/31/10 (and shipping is always free to the USA!)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Penny Dreadfuls and other things most dark

The month of August was full of Joe Iconis love at the Laurie Beechman where Joe and his crew performed almost every Monday night at 9:30 with a few special guests in between. I was lucky enough to get a good seat for his last show in the series where Annie Golden and Lisa Brescia were the guests of honor.

It's been a while since I've enjoyed a Rock and Roll Jamboree, and I know I gush about Iconis often, but this really is one of the best ways to view his work. It's one of the few theater events that even my non-theater going friends get excited for, which makes my heart really swell for a few reasons. First of all, it's nice to have something I can share with them, and the universality of the experience is wholly thanks to Joe's great music and the explosive passion of all the people that join him onstage. Watching the show and listening to some amazing new songs, I rediscovered what a great voice Joe is for our generation, capturing youthful energy and frustration, longing and confusion, and always humor that is never without consequence.

Here are some highlight from the August Jamborees (and if you haven't watched Heidi Blickenstaff kill the song "Ammonia," you better check that out too):

Jason Tam singing "Son of a Gun":

Jeremy Morse singing "Albuquerque Anyway":

Anthony Rapp singing "Lonely Woman":

Annie Golden getting it with "Joey Is A Punk Rocker":

And the beautiful "Starting to Forget," sung by Lisa Brescia (this was followed by a touching story from Joe about how it was written for his grandfather...which was then followed by him scolding the cast for talking through his touching story about kazoos in the background):