Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year Wishes

This will be the last post of 2010, so when I was preparing to write it, I knew that it needed to be something good. First of all, I wanted to let all you readers know how much I've enjoyed keeping this blog for the past year and that I have a lot of plans for new content going forward (trust me, I'm well aware that I haven't even scratched the surface of some of the up-and-coming talent out there). Your thoughtful contributions and kind words are the reason I really wanted to write this blog, and I'm entirely grateful to have people who share a passion for music and theatre and talented people and everything in between!

I know that a common end-of-the-year thing in the blogosphere is the retrospective post -- some kind of top 10 list of things that have happened over the year. And though I could easily drum up the material for that kind of thing, I thought that I might want to end this year looking forward, instead of back. So, I came up with a list of 10 songs by musical theatre writers and how they represent some of my hopes/goals in the new year. Please give them a listen, and feel free to share your own in the comments if you feel so inclined! In no particular order:

1. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's "Coasting" (sung here by Steven Booth, Farah Alvin, and Whitney Bashor)
Something that I always want to stress to myself is the importance of real connections -- learning to weed through the relationships that aren't as important and really work at the ones that are. "We are capable of finding, saying, feeling so much more." I think that line alone is something to aspire to.

2. Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal's "I Want It Now" (sung here by Sara Farb)
It's scary not to know what you want from your life, but it can be just as scary to know exactly what you want and fear that you're never going to get it. To be ambitious, you have to delude yourself to some degree, to make assumptions about the way your life will go so that you will have the confidence to achieve it. I think this song nicely balances the hope of having big dreams with the fears that are always beneath it. A friend and I always joke that you can't cross the line into doubt, because if you fully give in, it's really hard to ever come back from it. I think this is a song that reminds me of being confident and unyielding -- no matter what the cost.

3. Paul Scott Goodman's "Kindness" (sung here by Alicia Kakauer)
This song works on two levels -- the first being that it has a message that simply reminds me of the virtue of being kind. It's such a simple thing that I think is easy to forget (especially in the hustle and bustle of New York City), so to hear a character talking about how that idea was passed down through her family is reassuring in its own way. But in a bigger sense, one that is revealed through the irony of the song, this tune reminds me that sometimes perfect advice can come from imperfect people, and it's the value of what someone says that can be more important than the person who says it.

4. Adam Gwon's "Alaska" (sung here by Nick Blaemire)
Living in New York and having wanted to live here for years, I sometimes can't believe that people want to be anywhere else, in the world or in life. But over the past year, I've especially come to terms with the idea of resetting priorities and seeing the richness of living a different life in a different place. This song puts things in perspective in both a humorous and poignant way, and I think it's always a nice reminder of what else is out there to be explored.

5. Joe Iconis' "Last on Land" (sung here by Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams and friends)
I know I've been a huge advocate of Bloodsong of Love all year and have posted this particular song on a couple of occasions, but I felt absolutely compelled to include this in the list because I can't think of another song in recent memory that so perfectly captures the camaraderie of working with people on something you're passionate about. In anything I do, I am determined to pay tribute to and appreciate those people in my life, and this song is a promise of that.

6. Drew Fornarola's "Prayer for Faith on Christmas" (sung here by Alexa Green and Bethany Moore
Performed at a recent Holiday Songbook Series concert at Lincoln Center, I find this performance breathtaking. While I can't say I'm a religious person, there's something about the very humble lyrics and beautiful music that is incredibly moving. In a song, it opens up a need for faith and reassurance of something greater without making overly dramatic demands. It's a nice reminder that we are never alone in our search for something greater and our need for faith in something when things are tough.

7. Michael R. Jackson's "Things Change"
It's a small variation on The Trevor Project's "It Gets Better" campaign, but it's incredibly effective. There's a great message here of accepting the reality of life's challenges but seeing the world for the ever-evolving thing it is. It's true and simple, but really quite lovely in the way it refuses to adhere to cliches while delivering a positive message about sticking around to see where life takes you.

8. Gaby Alter and Tommy Newman's "The Argument" (sung here by Blake Daniel with Nick Cartell, Ryan Duncan, Piper Goodeve, Lauren Marcus, Jared Weiss)
This song always manages to get to me, especially with the way the music slows and the heart of the matter is revealed in one simple line: "The one thing we agree on is we don't have very long." It's a song about perspective and the giving and taking of relationships, musicalized in a way that is uplifting and rather grave at the same time.

9. Brett Ryback's "Hymn for St. Anthony"
It's a simple song, but it has a wonderful message about the freedom of accepting that sometimes "we lose things" and is beautifully rendered through the accompanying piano. Bonus points for this particular performance: I love the humility of this rendition without the veneer of a more polished recording. Really brings the idea to full realization.

10. Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk's "I Drove You Home" (sung here by Emma Hunton)
Kerrigan and Lowdermilk really have a knack for finding ways of stretching little moments into musical experiences that transcend time and space. This song just represents a desire to absorb each moment, to feel its weight, and to be able to share it with other people.

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trouble was that I forgot that love can make you sad...

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Davenport Theatrical's developmental reading of new musical Date of a Lifetime, with lyrics and book by Carl Kissin and music by Rob Baumgartner. The musical, which follows a couple on speed date as they imagine their lives together, was a fun ride that seems to have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. I'm excited to see where it goes and really enjoyed hearing people discuss their thoughts as the creative team continues to work on the show.

One of the things that struck me about the show was how beautiful the music was. I really loved the way it was constantly in conversation with the lyrics, punctuating jokes and building on itself with energy and wonder. Rob Baumgartner has collaborated with Heidi Helig on projects The Hole and Under Construction, the latter which features the following gorgeous song "The Man Who Isn't There" sung by Rob Baumgartner himself:

He also worked with Dante Russo on the family show Radiant Ruby, but the songs I've been playing most throughout this past week have been the beautiful songs of Rob's Adam Lives, which tells the story of a composer who leaves his home and wife to write a new single for pop star Jude Kane in New York. Watch the following songs from the show:

"Trouble Is" sung by Cait Doyle:

And "Pictures of the Border Signs" sung by Lindsay Mendez:

There's something really exhilarating about the way these songs explore romance and love -- examining both the thrilling and flawed moments of loving someone. The music isn't afraid to be quiet, to breathe, to contemplate, and most of all to feel the absence of someone or something who should be there. I love the way thoughts are broken down and deconstructed and pushed out into the world in moments that seem to take flight, and I highly recommend checking out all the music available at Rob's website.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spending Christmas Alone

In speaking of the holidays, just had to post this gem from brilliant playwright Young Jean Lee's new collaboration with Tim Simmonds as a part of One-Woman Show, the next show to be produced by 13P. Listen to the song "I'm Spending Christmas Alone" here, which is a fantastic tune that sharply captures the seemingly depressing, surprisingly liberating idea of spending the holidays like any other days. Here are some sample lyrics The New York Times ArtsBeat Blog posted that I absolutely love:

I wake up Christmas morning
No presents and no tree
No friends or neighbors calling
No loving family
I pour a bowl of cereal and turn on the TV
A hundred different channels
A hundred shows for me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gifts that Keep on Giving

So while the holidays are rapidly approaching, I still thought I would do a quick post with some gift suggestions for a musical theatre enthusiast, whether they are a composer, writer, or just fan of the genre.

The most talked about theater gift this season is undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece, Finishing the Hat, which I am currently in the process of reading. Anyone interested in the theater will enjoy the anecdotes, and any writer will absolutely see the value in the beautifully laid out lyrics and Sondheim's comments on them. It's a really gorgeous book, and both its content and respectful packaging really make this perfect for any book collection.

As mentioned in past posts, Sh-K-Boom has come out with some really amazing albums this past year from many of the composers mentioned in this blog. New releases include Joe Iconis' Things to Ruin and cast recordings for Adam Gwon's Ordinary Days and Michael Friedman's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. New releases on the way include CDs of work by composers Will Van Dyke, Jonathan Reid Gealt, and Scott Burkell and Paul Loesel -- so you can pre-order any of those as well. Also, remember the code EMERGING10 will still get you 10% off your order on the website at checkout until 12/31!

If you have an actor/singer to shop for, get them some sheet music through NewMusicalTheatre.com. Also soon to be available is the first book of Ryan Scott Oliver's music, which is now available for pre-order here. Or go the extra mile and get tickets to the RSO launch party at Joe's Pub on February 7 for a special someone, and every ticket will get you a free copy of the book.

Another nice gift can come in the form of an experience. I love to buy my friends tickets to shows, and what better to get you in the holiday spirit than getting seats for Joe Iconis' Christmas Spectacular next weekend? Also coming up? A Will Van Dyke concert at (Le) Poisson Rouge on January 17. Quality time and a show? Everyone wins!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Time Travel

With the launch of the new Facebook features today, it's becoming all the more apparent that the digital world is quickly expanding, and social networking in respect to musical theatre is no exception. In fact, I've seen grassroots campaigns flourishing over the past few years through the help of social media -- Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's very successful album Kickstarter campaign, the viral videos of University of Michigan MT students, and newmusicaltheatre.com, to name just a few -- and I've always been curious to see what the next big thing is going to be.

On January 11th, Mike Pettry and Heidi Heilig's musical The Time Travelers Convention is about to launch in a big way. Through Youtube, the musical will be performed as a kind of musical radio broadcast, and shortly following the launch, audio will be available to download both as a podcast and cast album.

The Time Travelers Convention was inspired by a convention held by MIT students in 2005. The musical tells the story of 3 nerdy high schoolers who, hoping to find a way to go back in time to change their pasts, begin planting invitations to a convention in library books in hopes that someone with access to a time machine in the future would see the note and attend. When a stranger actually shows up at the party, the 3 teens must then deal with the idea of the past and learn how to live in the present.

Besides having an innovative plot, the music is fun and you can listen to much of it here. Mike Pettry, in addition to being a great musician, also has a great selection of songs both from The Time Travelers Convention and his other projects available on his website.

I'm very curious to see what this January 11th premiere has in store. It's an interesting concept -- one that is especially intriguing given the time travel themes of the piece. After all, even though this is a digital launch, the idea of a radio play is quite traditional in many respects. Also, the resonant themes give the idea a great through line, and I am most curious to see if people are going to be inspired enough by the material in the digital ether to materialize the show in their theaters.

Who knows what the future holds.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It Won't Be Long Now

I try to refrain from writing about Broadway offerings, since I really want this blog to reflect all the talent that hasn't yet hit the Great White Way (and there's so much of it out there, I could go forever without even mentioning a Broadway show). And especially in light of some original new musicals closing on Broadway, I think it's becoming more and more apparent that success doesn't always need to be tied to a huge theater or expensive production. Still, I want this blog to be about the musical theatre that can be electric, all-encompassing, and I while I've had those moments in smaller venues lately, last night I was reminded that I could feel that way on a grander scale as well.

Lin Manuel Miranda is well on his way to being a musical theatre hit maker, making a huge Broadway debut with In The Heights and quickly moving onto other jobs working on the current revival of West Side Story and a musical adaptation of Bring It On. I had the pleasure of seeing In The Heights in one of its first previews and it's been my go-to show when I've had friends or family in town. It's been an instant crowd pleaser, and I've always been amazed at how it's resonated with so many different audiences, especially my friends who aren't especially interested in musicals.

Last night, I revisited the show when I got tickets for a dear friend's birthday, and I found myself excited to not only experience the show again but to share it with my friend as well. And upon another viewing, I was able to truly appreciate the intricacies of Miranda's well-crafted lyrics. Having seen the original cast, I thought it would be difficult to recreate the chemistry and energy of those characters, but the material holds up well with new actors and takes on new meaning with fresh faces. Though I understand criticisms of the show's lacking book and surprisingly traditional plot lines, watching the show last night really made me realize how the show is about Miranda's music and showcasing the world and characters he so skillfully whittles with words.

The precision of the rhymes manage to avoid cliche, never seeming cheesy but always seeming accessible. While some may argue that the subject matter deserves a vision that is more edgy, I find the buoyancy of every song important to immerse the audience in unfamiliar territory. It's easy to say the characters fit general archetypes, but the details with which they express themselves in song shows how music truly helps transcend language barriers -- take for instance how, regardless of how my mom kept asking why the abuela character kept singing about "color" (which was actually "calor"), she understood very clearly the complex theme of immigrating and building a home in unfamiliar territory.

I felt a sense of pride coming out of the show, and I have to admit, though I HATE talkers in the theater, I love the way people can't help but respectfully 'ooh' and 'ahh' at choice parts. These are characters and songs that people relate to enough to want to interact with them -- and it never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps the best part was being able to share the night with my friend who said herself that it gave her a new appreciation of being a New Yorker, which, while not necessarily a ringing endorsement for the realism of the piece, is a sign that musical theatre continues to succeed in being transformative on the stage.

Anyway, for sticking with me through this gush-fest, I leave you with some videos of Lin Manuel Miranda genius: In The Heights' Tony performance of "96,000," Lin Manuel Miranda's Tony acceptance speech, and his recent Alexander Hamilton rap at the White House. Also, try to see Lin doing his thing when he returns to "The Heights" fort he last two weeks of the run, starting Christmas Day!