Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Year, New (and Old) Shows

2011 so far has been insane -- in one of the best ways possible -- and one of the things that has blown my mind is all of the great shows I've had the privilege of seeing in this new year. Since I haven't really had time to recap them all, I just thought I would share some of the highlights from the past couple of months and some of the videos from them that are (thankfully) up on Youtube for all to enjoy.

This past weekend, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk finished their "You Made This Tour" with a final performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge. While I didn't get a chance to make it out for their last hurrah, I have been rather obsessed with the following two performances from their other "You Made This Tour" gig:

The Spring Standards singing "Berkeley":

Lewis Grosso, Aaron Bantum, and Sarah Safer singing "She's the Best"(music by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, lyrics by Adnan Ahmed [age 9]):

With the recent release of his first songbook, Ryan Scott Oliver celebrated with a concert at Joe's Pub packed with old and new favorites, fun anecdotes, and a whole lot of talent. A couple great ones from that night:

New song "Agnes" sung by Alex Brightman:

Katie Thompson singing "To Do":

I know I've been talking up Joe Iconis' Things to Ruin lately, but I also loved letting loose at his Friday Night Commotion at The Laurie Beechman before the run. A lot of newer songs made an appearance, with a few that are still stuck in my head:

Krysta Rodriguez singing "Broadway, Here I Come!":

Jeremy Morse singing "Kevin":

Aside from Joe & Company, one of the most raucous nights of music I've had lately was attending a concert of The Civilians' new show, Pretty Filthy, at Joe's Pub about the porn industry (my friend even won a prize for thinking up a porn title based on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, so it was the show that kept on giving). Michael Friedman's music is so astute and conversational -- it's really a joy to watch. There aren't any videos available from that evening, but here is a video of Greg Hildreth singing another song from Pretty Filthy, "Impossible Girls," which was performed at the concert that also took place recently (fair warning: Not Suitable For Work):

Also, be sure to check out some other videos from the concert at their Youtube channel because there was an awesome assortment of writers in that show. One song in particular I've always loved is Gaby Alter's "Deep in February," sung here by Catherine Brookman:

...And all of this only begins to scratch the surface. If you really want to get in on the experience of some of the new musical theatre happenings lately, you can also watch, in full, streaming concert footage from Drew Gaspirini's Joe's Pub concert here or David Henry Hwang, Kevin So, and Kevin Merritt's concert of their new musical Great Wall here.

On another note, even with all of the new concerts and shows in development, I actually saw a couple of the latest Broadway musical offerings (the first time in a while) and just have to comment on how funny it is that a lot of things out there (even the newer musicals) are so much in the traditional musical realm. I have to admit it was almost a little jarring last night seeing How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with so many huge dance numbers and such elaborate sets, when I had become so accustomed to minimal staging and small casts. There was something very reassuring in it, though -- to see to see how things have changed and to see how the tradition is still being carried on and paid homage to. Most of all, I was really happy to see that a musical that first was released in 1961 can still feel joyous, that satire and wit can still assert themselves in song, and perhaps most importantly (especially with How to Succeed), that talent can still find energy and passion in material years down the road. Having that as a little takeaway, I'm excited to see the future of these new writers who constantly bring their talent and passion in droves are continuing to share their music, bring houses down, and, hopefully, endure.

...Even if it means I go broke in the process of following their work.

I know I missed out on a lot of shows/concerts too. Anyone else see something awesome recently worth sharing?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Never Heard Nothing: An Interview with Joe Iconis

I am thrilled to be able to share with you guys a Q&A that I had with one of my favorite songwriters out there, Joe Iconis. Even with a final performance of Things to Ruin at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Monday at 10 p.m., Joe found time to talk about his work, his Family, and his visions for new musical theatre (Uhh, guerrilla musical readings on Broadway stages? Yes, please!):

"Never Heard Nothing" from Things to Ruin at (Le) Poisson Rouge,
featuring Ben Arons, Starr Busby, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Ian Kagey,Carrie Manolakos, Eric William Morris, Mike Pettry, Lance Rubin, Jared Weiss, Jason "Sweet Tooth" Wiliams, and Joe Iconis

Me: A friend and I were talking about how cool it is that Things to Ruin doesn’t have a traditional narrative, but it definitely tells a sort of story. How did you choose the kind of set list that would become Things to Ruin?

Joe: It began as just an evening of my songs, and then a story started to take shape. Connections between different songs started to form and we began to fill in the blanks. John Simpkins and I have been working on it from the beginning and we really found the vibe and the structure of the show together. I think the idea is to feel like you get to know a group of characters and all those characters take a journey together. Hopefully, by the end, the audience is moved in the same way they’d be at a play or a book musical, but without entirely knowing what it is they’ve just seen. I think there’s a way to connect the dots a bit more literally, I think there’s a way to really set a story in motion with a good deal of these songs… but it’s more about creating a feeling, creating a mosaic of real human beings at turning points in their lives. A good example is what we refer to as “The Sad Boy Trilogy.” It’s these three songs that are grouped together in the show -- “Son Of A Gun,” which we think of as a high school aged guy who feels a disconnect with anyone who tries to get close to him; “Dodge Ball,” which is a middle school aged guy who gets picked last in gym; and “Albuquerque Anyway,” which is a nine year old whose best friend is moving away. I think this could be the same man, which is what it would come off as if the songs played in chronological order -- but we made the choice to move backward in time. By doing this I think it makes it a lot less about: “Oh, I get why this person can’t connect with other humans -- he wasn’t picked in dodge ball and his friend moved away,” and more about the feeling, the idea. We’ve frequently referred to the show as a theatrical rock concert of an album that doesn’t exist. That’s what I think it is. Except the album exists now. So, fuck, I guess.

Me: I’ve seen you perform in a lot of different venues, from The Beechman to the Ars Nova loft. What have been some of your favorite shows/spaces, and what about them make them ideal for your work?

Joe: I like spots that feel like home and The Beechman and Ars both very much feel like home to me. The first time we ever played The Beechman, there wasn’t a whole lot of the new musical theater concerts being done there. It was more of a cabaret room and it had a bit of a Classy, New York, Showtune Palace feel. One of the reasons I was excited about playing that room was because of it didn’t feel like the sort of place you’d go to hear something new or rockin’. I loved the idea of doing a down and dirty show in a venue that felt very much at odds with that. All the people there are so wonderful and smart and talented. It’s a place I feel like I can go in and try anything and they’ll welcome me and my crew with open arms. Also the food is great and the drinks are stiff and they’ve got an incredible history of amazing artists who have played there.

Ars Nova is another place that feels like home. We did the first version of T2R there in 2006 and I haven’t left yet. I did my big Christmas show this year up in the Penthouse, and I can’t imagine any other venue in the city letting me do something like that. They gave the gang and I the freedom to completely take over the space (which is basically a very beautiful luxury apartment) and turn it into a theater. I’m always a sucker for environmental theater and this was a great swipe at that. We baked during the show and the audience got to eat some samples. How great is that? Being able to literally digest a theatrical experience? All my shows will involve food consumption from now on.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" performed as part of
The Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular 2010 in the Ars Nova Penthouse

Me: Another thing I’ve loved about your work is that it’s usually combined with the talents of The Family, from the cast to the creative team. What makes your family so kick ass, and what do you look for most in the people you work with?

Joe: I am very proud of the group of artists I’ve surrounded myself with. I would lay down on train tracks for them, as they would for me. I only want to work with people who care. I have no interest in working with actors or directors or designers or producers who are “over it.” I care passionately about musical theater and about the art that I create, and its important to me that the people I create it with care just as much. It doesn’t matter if you’re incredibly well credentialed or you’ve never been in a show before. If the passion is there, it’s there. If it’s not, go to hell. Without getting too self-important about it, I really do believe that theater has the power to change people’s lives. I know it has changed mine. To be able to be a part of something like that is an absolute gift. And if you can’t see that, go get a job working in a coal mine like a real person.

Beyond that, I like actors who look, sound, and act like humans. I don’t like musical theater affectations and I don’t care how high you can belt. Just be real.

"The Guide to Success" performed by Joe Iconis at Things to Ruin
at (Le) Poisson Rouge

Me: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges facing new musical theatre writers trying to write original musicals today?

Joe: I think it’s very hard to get shows produced that aren’t based on existing material. I think it’s very hard to get shows produced that aren’t easy to describe in one sentence. That whole thing about “you should be able to say what your show is about in one sentence” is bullshit. I think that was originally said in reference to storytelling in theater and making sure there is a reason your show exists, a driving force. But it certainly shouldn’t be a selling tool, and it feels like that’s what people want now. It’s hard to begin work on something knowing that it’s gonna be an excruciating battle getting it out into the world. That’s why places like Ars Nova are so important -- they encourage and support artists and create a safe place for them to develop new work. Without worrying about whether or not it will be commercial or if the subscription will rebel against it.

What’s exciting for new musical theater writers is that there are no rules and there never have been. For as much as we (we = I) belly ache about the current state of musical theater and how producers only wanna produce jukebox musicals or white washed movie adaptations, there are still plenty of paths we haven’t discovered yet. The internet has been an amazing tool in getting new musical theater to people. What else? I want to start doing guerrilla readings on the stages of long running shows. Imagine seeing a music stand reading of a new “unproduceable” musical about pedophiles on the stage of The Lion King? The actors would have to speed through the songs before the cops came with tear gas and billy clubs. Lindsay Mendez would be running through the fake savannah, clutching her black binder screaming: “Viva La Musical Theater!” A real musical theater revolution.

Me: Any up-and-coming musical theatre songwriter recommendations? I remember reading your Michael R. Jackson recommendation in the SPF newsletter and can’t get enough of his stuff now.

Joe: Michael R. Jackson is just getting better and better -- I can’t recommend him enough. Anyone reading this must go right now to youtube and listen to his song called “Secretly Hoping.” It’s spectacular. I really love Daniel Maté and Will Aronson whose show The Trouble With Doug was at NAMT this past year -- it’s probably my favorite new musical kicking around these days. I saw another show at NAMT that was a rock musical version of the Lizzie Borden story -- I really liked that as well.

"Find the Bastard" from Bloodsong of Love performed by Joe Iconis,
Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams, Lance Rubin, Katrina Rose Dideriksen,
Jeremy Morse, Ian Kagey, and Brent Stranathan

Me: Any new projects on the horizon? Or any news on any of the old favorites? (I would love to see “Bloodsong” any and everywhere)

Joe: I would love to see Bloodsong of Love any and everywhere as well! On the hunt for a producer with some guts and some vision who is willing to take a chance on a show that doesn’t fit into a pre-existing mold. We learned so much from the Ars Nova run and I desperately want to make some changes to the show and unleash it on the world in a huge way. It’s amazing how hard it is to do that, though. It bums me out a little but I’m a motivated bastard. You’ll see the beast again sometime soon.

As far as new stuff goes, oh lord, I don’t know. I’ve got some projects kicking around but I’m thinking that maybe I’ll just give up writing and walk the earth. I think I’d be a good earth walker.

Before Joe earth-walks into the sunset, grab a ticket and catch him and his awesome band of performers/musicians for the last performance of Things to Ruin at (Le) Poisson Rouge (hot deal -- if you want to make an evening of it, get a ticket to Things to Ruin and If It Only Even Runs a Minute 6 for $30). Not in New York? Enjoy the music from home by downloading the album from iTunes or ordering the CD from Sh-K-Boom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

You Will Always Have a Home Here

Maybe it's the weather, but especially on a New York day like today that has brought rain, snow, and hail, there's not much I would rather do than be indoors listening to the music of Scott Alan. With an almost sold-out concert coming up on April 18th at The Birdland, I think it's a good time for some pure, soul-warming songs from a fantastic songwriter. Giving moments of intimacy poetic justice, I could go on and on about these songs and his many other works, but I'd rather let his gorgeous music speak for itself:

"Home" sung by Shoshana Bean:

"I'm A Star" sung by Carrie Manolakos and Allie Trimm:

"Kiss the Air" sung by Scott Alan:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Perks of Writing a Musical

Something that I discovered about two months ago (and have been religiously reading since) is Tom Diggs's blog about up-and-coming musical web series The Perks of Writing a Musical, which will feature music by Jason Michael Snow and lyrics from Mishaela Faucher. The series will follow a gamer/poet as he tries to musically adapt Stephen Chbosky's classic coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in an attempt to impress the girl at school who he's in love with. It's a fun, meta concept with a fantastic cast attached.

What makes this project even more engaging is being able to read about the process of developing a web series. Blogging at least five times a week, Diggs gives regular updates about the progress of the creative team and details about the cast. One of the coolest things he also does is breakdown his research process as he explores the different platforms for promoting a web series and finding an audience on the great wide web. Everything from QR codes to copyright are topics of discussion, all incredibly well researched and articulately analyzed. Not only does seeing behind the scenes really make you root for the series, but seeing the nuts and bolts of how they will be successful is also incredibly valuable (so much so, I am using them as an example in the Social Media workshop I'm doing today at the Florida State Thespians conference).

Also, the music already looks like it's going to be awesome. See below for the song "Absolutely Hell," performed at Mishaela Faucher's recent New York Theatre Barn D-Lounge show:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Placebo Effect

Placebo: A New Musical, music and lyrics by Danny Abosch and book by Joshua Borths, had me feeling its effects all day, and I say this in the best way possible.

It's been a while since I've been so fascinated by a show's concept, and despite the fact that a musical of this title could easily be a one trick pony, I was surprised at the many facets of human relationships that one little pill could reveal. With a strong, more traditional book, the show follows two brothers as they fool their town into thinking that they've created a miracle drug in an attempt to continue their deceased father's legacy and make themselves and their town a fortune.

But within this story are a lot of complex and interesting threads: a relationship between two very different siblings, an earnest love story, a struggle as sons try to emerge from their father's shadow, a town founded on lies, amongst many other things. These details really lend themselves to some skilled, thoughtful songs, many of which explore the idea of a placebo for all its nuances -- how false and morally questionably it is by nature, how its consequences hinge on belief and faith, how exposing it for what it is can leave you disillusioned, and whether or not any of those intricacies even matter if the outcome is positive. It's a pretty arresting metaphor for life, and this musical explores this for its ambition and darker realities.

Below, I'm posting some videos of a few of my favorite songs from Placebo's production at the University of Michigan, but if you have some time, I highly suggest going straight to the show's site and downloading the album (or order it off iTunes or order a CD).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Things to Ruin" is back!

Joe Iconis and friends kicked off a 4-show run of the concert-showstravaganza Things to Ruin on Monday to some raves.

I've talked a lot about my love of Joe Iconis music, and Things to Ruin is always a total party featuring some of his most foot-stomping, head-nodding tunes -- I couldn't be happier that it's back! People have written some really nice things about Things to Ruin, from Variety, which called it "So much fun that it's a little overwhelming -- 'transporting' is probably the best word!" to The New York Times, which says it "...would call Things to Ruin the beginning of something, except that it is already well under way."

But why take my (or a critic's) word for it? In honor of this show once again gracing the New York stage, I decided to get the real scoop from some of my friends and family who I've dragged to Joe shows (especially Things to Ruin) over the past few years (and who now go willingly):

"I'll preface this with the fact that I'm kind of a music snob. I'd never heard of Joe Iconis or any of his usual performers, so I was more than a little skeptical. But after hearing his stuff for the first time, I was like, 'He totally passes the snobbery test. With flying colors.' Since then I may or may not have tried to sing along to clips of songs on YouTube, witnessed some of the most awkward and hilarious stage banter ever, and rocked out to a live concert in a library. The madhouse of political incorrectness, overly scanty clothing, senseless violence, soap-opera love, and ill-advised drinking that make up Joe's shows -- whether they're in a black box theater or someone's part-time residence -- are all tied together by solid songwriting and truly joyous performance."

"It's never felt so good to feel so bad about my utterly talentless self."

"Going to a Joe Iconis concert is a little like attending a reading of the diaries of the misfits and outcasts of the world set to music--in the best way possible. You never quite get a grasp on what precisely is going on, but the unbridled energy and enthusiasm of Iconis's merry band of singer-actor-musicians distracts you from caring."

"My favorite song was 'Albuqurque Anyway' because I think Joe Iconis just kind of captured that feeling of losing something you wish you could control. I guess it's because I've been on both ends of that kind of friendship where you don't have a say about moving. Back when we lived in Hawaii, I remember my best friend Claire moving away and how all I could really do was say 'I wish you didn't have to move' and nothing changed. Then when we moved out of the [school] district I remember [my friends] and I making a promise to still be best friends when we reunited in high school, which never happened. I think that with that song you kind of know in the recesses of your heart that you're about to lose something that means a lot to you and fighting it is futile."

"When I went to my first Joe Iconis show, I had no idea what I was in for. Well, all I can say is that the night was really entertaining and totally unique. Everyone is ridiculously talented and the songs are really, really good."

"Things to Ruin contains a very dynamic set of songs ranging from serious and heartfelt to comical and carefree. What makes his music unique is that all his songs stay true to reality. I found Joe’s ability to capture the small, yet significant, events in a person’s life quite impressive... Sometimes I, too, have a hard time letting my heart be vulnerable, but the song 'Son of a Gun' found a hole and wiggled its way in. I hunted down the song on YouTube, quickly scribbling down the lyrics and taped then next to the head of my bed where they’ve been ever since."

"Things to Ruin revived my love of the heart & energy of live music, so much so that whenever I hear these songs live, for days I can't shake the feeling that I've experienced something genuinely magical happen between these people on stage. Also, Eric William Morris is really fine, okay?

The first time I heard Iconis & family live I knew that I was in for a long and beautiful journey filled with poignant storytelling, booze, and awkward banter.

If only all the money I've spent on Iconis shows the past couple years could be tax deductible."

If you haven't already done it, go out and get your tickets for the remaining three shows at (Le) Poisson Rouge on March 7, 20, and 28 here. Also, if you like the music, be sure to pick up the album here.