Sunday, April 24, 2011

And In That Universe, You'd Be Everything: An Interview with Heidi Heilig and Mike Pettry

Heidi Heilig and Mike Pettry's full-length musical, The Time Travelers Convention, debuted as a podcast about a month ago, bringing the story of three friends looking for answers through time travel straight to your living room via Youtube and iTunes. With a wonderful cast starring Nick Blaemire, Lorinda Lisitza, Jeff Essex, Stephanie Spano, Phoebe Strole, and even Mike Pettry himself, this radio play way of experiencing a new show boasts a lot of talent and fun presentation. Luckily for us, Heidi and Mike offered to answer a few questions about the process of recording a podcast, fusing nerd and musical theatre culture, and everything in between:

(First part of Youtube podcast of The Time Traveler's Convention)

Me:
The big party in The Time Travelers Convention is based on a real event organized by MIT students. How did you decide to turn the idea into a musical?

Heidi: In the summer of 2005, Mike and I were looking for an idea for our thesis musical for the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU, and my mother, who is a musical theatre writer herself, sent me an article she’d seen in the New York Times about these wacky young science nerds at MIT and the party they were holding to try to attract visitors from the future. She sent it in an email with just the heading “Time traveler convention – GREAT IDEA FOR A MUSICAL.” I’m not joking, that’s how I decided – an all caps email heading from my mother.

Although I don’t do everything she suggests to me in all caps. (If I did I may have tried for a more lucrative career than ‘bookwriter/lyricist.’) And I had to convince Mike, too, but that wasn’t too hard because the idea really grabbed me and I can be really pushy when an idea takes hold.

Mike: It didn’t take much to convince me – I was excited by the idea of writing music from the perspective of nerdy high-schoolers. Before, I had been writing more cerebral art-song stuff, and was getting very tired of that.
The Time Travelers Convention was a great opportunity to dive into more pop-rock styles, although the score ultimately found a balance between both worlds (like if Stephen Sondheim were to start an Arcade Fire cover band).

My favorite part of our first meeting about the show was that Heidi had pitched it to another collaborator first, who wasn’t that excited about it. He was like, “Time travel? Enh,” but I was like “BEST IDEA FOR A MUSICAL EVER.”

Heidi: What really sung to me about the whole story was that Amal Dorai (the organizer) and others were asking for things from the potential time traveler – cold fusion reactors, cures for AIDS, solutions to mathematical mysteries – and I thought, well, what would I ask for, if a time traveler showed up?

And the answer that came back in my head was “I’d want the time machine.”

I think a lot of people feel that they have turning points in their lives that they look back on and say “If only I’d—" or “I wish I could have–" or “I never should have–" and they end that sentence with “because then everything would be okay.” I know I have. (And I would sing about it, too.) And for me, characters are formed quite easily out of a mixture of dreams and regrets.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Séance on a Wet Afternoon

I should probably preface this post by saying that I don't really have any experience with opera. In fact, I've been extremely lucky to have gone to my first opera a couple of months ago, seeing Lucia di Lammermoor at The Met. Even having seen musicals since a young age, seeing an opera felt like a much different experience -- though much of it could have also been the experience of processing the supertitles.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see Stephen Schwartz's opera, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and I was excited for two reasons: a) this is Schwartz's first opera; and b) it would be my first American opera experience.

Stephen Schwartz isn't exactly an "emerging" artist, having collaborated on the scores for iconic Disney movies and Broadway hits. But the idea of a songwriter tackling another genre was really exciting, and I was really interested in seeing how his musical theatre style translated into this form.



The show is based on the novel by Mark McShane and the film by Bryan Forbes, both of which tell the story of medium Myra and her devoted husband Bill. Myra's ability to communicate with the dead comes through her ability to speak to her and Bill's deceased son, Arthur. Wanting more recognition for her abilities, Myra, at the suggestion of Arthur, hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy industrialist's daughter and hold her for ransom, giving Myra the opportunity to offer her services and heroically find the girl.

The story has a lot of twists that keep things interesting, though the parts that really resonated with me were the relationships between the characters and the effects their actions had on the ties that bound them together. The most powerful moments in the show were the moments that explored the relationships between parents and children and the way the parents in the show clung to hope and gave in to the supernatural because of their inexpressible love for their offspring. To see the moments of clarity when Myra sung to or about Arthur juxtaposed with the murkier communication with her husband really set up a compelling story that went far beyond the plot twists and turns.

Overall, I found this show to be accessible and genuinely spooky and heart wrenching at times. One of the most fascinating things to observe, especially not knowing much about opera, was the subtlety of the form and the intertwining relationship between musical theatre and opera throughout. It was interesting to see a show that really communicated Schwartz's music, while being a separate entity in many ways.

The show will be playing until May 1st at Lincoln Center, so be sure to go if you want to experience something a little outside of the musical theatre box!

Also, if you are interested in emerging songwriters and contemporary opera, go out and see some work from Vox 2011, which will feature 12 new, unproduced shows from an amazing host of writers on 5/14 and 5/15.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Listen Up: Musical Theatre Talk with Trish Causey

For the past couple of weeks, I have been obsessed with listening to the Musical Theatre Talk interviews with Trish Causey. Coming from a musical theatre writing/performing background herself, Trish makes a great host, interviewing everyone from vocal training professionals to performers to writers involved with musical theatre. A few weeks ago was Larson week, which featured awesome composers mentioned on this blog: Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, Joe Iconis, Ryan Scott Oliver, Mark Allen, and Lance Horne. It's fascinating to hear different takes on songwriting, approaches to the industry, and general philosophies about having a career in musical theatre.

From what computer music programs people are using to filling out grant/award applications, all these podcasts are fantastic resources for anyone hoping to get into musical theatre, and if you listen to the broadcasts in realtime, you can even call in/chat questions to the guest. Listen to replays of the podcasts here, and be on the lookout for future shows!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tomorrow Morning and beyond

Laurence Mark Wythe is a British musical theatre writer whose work has been featured with Perfect Pitch in the West End and is currently running in New York. Tomorrow Morning, which is playing at The York Theatre until April 23rd, tells the story of two couples, both on the brink of pivotal points in their relationships. One couple is about to take the next step in their relationship; the other is about to end theirs. Through their connected stories, Tomorrow Morning explores the possibility and complexity of relationships, especially when examined through major, defining moments in time.

One thing I love about Wythe's music is the way, especially his group numbers, it seems to melodically piece out individual stories and then converge again to form a greater whole. His other works, The Lost Christmas and Through the Door, are contemporary pieces that also explore modern relationships, finding connections through rhythm and rhyme. Here are a few videos to check out his music for yourself:

Stuart Matthew Price singing "Goodnight Kiss":

The opening number from Through the Door from the 2008 Perfect Pitch showcase:

Rehearsal footage from the Chicago production of Tomorrow Morning, featuring Charissa Armon, Jonathan Rayson, Emily Thompson, and, lo and behold, Michael Mahler:

If you want to check out Tomorrow Morning during its current run, The York Theatre Company is offering a special discount off tickets to remaining performances. You can get tickets for $47.00 (regularly $67.50) by mentioning the code HHCMORNING at either YorkTheatre.org or calling (212) 935-5820.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A New Girl in Town

Hey all! So I have a cool announcement: as of this week, there are new additions to the cast of Ryan Scott Oliver's Crazytown Blog -- and starting today, I will be joining them as a secondary contributor! My first post on the divas of my childhood can be found here.

I'll be blogging every Thursday for the next three months on Crazytown, talking playwriting, finding inspiration from everyday things, and navigating the theatre/art world, with the occasional nod to the musical theatre artists who we talk about here. So if you're interested in more theatre talk with a slightly more personal twist and a glimpse into my own writing, then be sure to check in every Thursday (And everyday, really. There are some great writers on there!).

If you're not, have no fear. I will continue to update this blog regularly, bringing you the same musical theatre goodness. Either way, there are some exciting things coming down the pipeline, and I am just really happy to share it with you.