Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Room to Breathe: Seeing "I Married Wyatt Earp"

I have to say that I love the lady love that has been happening in some of the new musicals that have been running in New York. First Helen on 86th Street, which featured a large young female cast, then The Shaggs, a lyrical, haunting biopic about a band of sisters, and now I Married Wyatt Earp.

With a cast of 11 women, I Married Wyatt Earp (Music by Michele Brourman, Lyrics by Sheilah Rae, Book by Thomas Edward West & Sheilah Rae) tells the story of the women of Tombstone, Arizona whose romantic entanglements and struggles to accomplish their dreams bring about the deadly shootout at the OK Corral. Not knowing a lot about the historic gunfight that inspired several movies and this musical, I was intrigued by the tale and was eager to see how the big event would eventually play out.

What emerges at the core of the musical, however, is an interesting story of class and the relationships between many of the women as they fight to protect their own ambitions. Though there is a love triangle surrounding the infamous Wyatt Earp, the conflict I was most intrigued with was the one between headstrong, fresh-faced Josie (Wyatt's eventual wife and self-proclaimed true love) and the stoic, hard-working Earp women (including Wyatt's current wife at the time). The relationships they fight for are complex and everyone has their pride at stake as they try to survive the frontier.

The music also often soars, as you can for yourself in the following videos from the New York Theatre Barn D-Lounge concert:

("Unpacking Dreams" sung by Sheilah Rae, Alison Luff, Tina Stafford, Ashley McHugh, Stephanie Palumbo, Diane Findlay, Kelli Firth, Louise Gassman & Colleen Coussinat)

("Room to Breathe" sung by Carolyn Mignini and Mishaela Faucher)

("Ain't Going Back" sung by Sheilah Rae, Alison Luff, Tina Stafford, Ashley McHugh, Stephanie Palumbo, Diane Findlay, Kelli Firth, Louise Gassman & Colleen Coussinat)

You can check out more videos through NYTB's Youtube channel here, or buy tickets to the production at 59E59 here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Silly Wants: An Interview with Shoshana Greenberg

Shoshana Greenberg is a graduate of the NYU Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program and a talented writer/lyricist/bookwriter. In addition to her own writing endeavors, she is also a fellow Thursday blogger for RSO's Crazytown blog, where she curates pieces for the weekly Rough and Ready, a regular feature that debuts a fresh new musical theatre piece created within the last 2 weeks. Shoshana took some time to answer questions about her experiences organizing Rough and Ready, the inspiration for her own work, and putting her projects out there.

("Purple House" with music by Julia Meinwald, lyrics by Kirsten Guenther and Shoshana Greenberg, sung by Manoel Felciano and Lauren Worsham)

How did the idea for Rough and Ready come about?

Shoshana Greenberg: Ryan Scott Oliver, the visionary behind Crazytown, emailed me at the end of December and said he was expanding his blog and would I be interested in doing a weekly post featuring new work written in the last two weeks. Ryan and I were in the same class at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program, so he knew of my love for new work and writers. The idea of sharing the exciting work coming out of the musical theater writing community on the Blog was very intriguing. I immediately said yes.

Me: What is the process of curating these songs every week?

Shoshana: Sometimes people will submit work and sometimes I solicit people. It depends on what I have ready to go and what might be good for that week. I’m looking to partner with more places as I did with Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA) last month and also to feature work that corresponds more with what’s going on in the theater community at the moment. For example, people who have just had a production announced or a concert or have one coming up.

Me: Have you found anything surprising about being able to feature work that is still relatively new to the world? Do you have any particular favorite featured songs since you started doing the column?

Shoshana: I think what I’ve found surprising, in a good way, is how willing people are to put themselves and their work out there. Everyone is so brave about it, especially with work that is so new. I guess we’re now living in an era with YouTube and our own websites where it’s not a big deal to put new work up all the time, but I’m still surprised and inspired by people’s courage to just put their work out there, to say, “I like my work. It’s good. Check it out.”

It’s really hard to pick a favorite song. I’ve really loved everything I’ve featured. Alex Beech and Karl Michael Johnson’s “Great New England Pumpkin Shoot” was cool because I read that lyric and was very taken with it, but when I heard the recording later, the music just made the lyric sing so beautifully. The songs from Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses’s show Nobody Loves You have been fun to feature as well -- I’m really excited that that piece is getting a production.

Me: You are also a writer/lyricist/bookwriter yourself! What projects are you currently working on, and will any of your work be featured on Rough and Ready in the future?

Shoshana: I just finished the first draft of my first play! I’d written musicals and wanted to expand into playwriting and I finally found the means and courage to do so by taking playwriting classes at Primary Stages ESPA. I’m going to rewrite that first draft in another ESPA class this summer. In the musical theater realm, I am getting ready to rewrite one of my thesis musicals from NYU with my collaborators. We are planning to do a reading at Primary Stages in the fall. Other than that, I have some musical projects in the very early stages with a couple collaborators. I hope something of mine can be featured on Rough and Ready soon!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Can Never Please Anybody -- "The Shaggs" at Playwrights Horizons

I didn't know anything about The Shaggs, a band of three sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire in the late 60s, when I went to see The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World (by Joy Gregory, Gunnar Madsen and John Langs) now playing at Playwrights Horizons. But since seeing it Wednesday night, I haven't been able to get the experience out of my head.

The musical tells the story of Austin Wiggin, a stubborn working class father in the late 60s, who is determined to fulfill his mother's prophecy that his daughters Betty, Dot, and Helen would become a famous band. Risking everything, from his marriage to his life savings, Austin pulls the girls out of school, isolating them from much of the outside world, so that they can practice. Trapped playing music that seemingly no one wants to hear, the group, now named The Shaggs (after the hairstyle and Shaggy dogs), must come to terms with their futures under Austin's thumb and the dreams of fame that may never come true (though in a strange twist of fate, they do... just many years down the road).

I gotta say -- I thought this show was electric beyond imagination. The performances were on fire; they were compelling, sharp, and undeniably heartfelt. The sets were transformative and the choreography really kept the whole show in dream-like motion. There is an aura around this piece that uniquely captures the wonder, innocence, strangeness, and darker undertones of the eclectic music of The Shaggs themselves.

With music biopic shows on Broadway like Jersey Boys or Baby It's You, I expected The Shaggs to follow a similar arc of hard-earned success, but this musical never plays into that tradition. Instead of being a story about dreams coming true, it's a story of dreams deferred, a tale of characters aspiring to voices and abilities beyond their capabilities. Every song is a song unsung. Every triumph is a fantasy just out of reach. Every romantic notion -- from Austin's intense desire to hear his girls on the radio to Betty's attempts to escape the prison of her home -- soars in song, only to be immediately grounded by reality. There's something fascinating about the fact that the girls can't express themselves through their own music, and all the new, original music for the show gives voice to Betty, Dot, and Helen in ways they could never find for themselves. The piece is constantly haunted by things that will never be, and it is never afraid to expose the dark underside of their disciplined smiles and forced showmanship.

(The real Shaggs singing their album's namesake, "Philosophy of the World")

This musical is unlike anything I've really seen before, weaving together several genres: elements of magical realism, biopic, cautionary tale, comedy, satire, drama, tragedy. I can't recommend this enough and hope everyone gets a chance to see it.

In fact, Playwrights Horizon is offering the following discount:

Order by June 1 with code SHAGGLOG and tickets are only:
  • $40* (reg. $75) for the first week of perfs (May 12-19)
  • $60 (reg. $75) for all remaining performances (May 20-July 3)

  • Order online at www.ticketcentral.com. Use code SHAGGLOG.
  • Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
  • Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

*A limited number of $40 discounted tickets will be available for purchase. Subject to availability. Valid only in select rows.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pokemon: The Musical

This new mini musical from The Online Musical team, Jeff Luppino-Esposito and Matt Savarese, totally made my day. Also, almost literally did a spit-take watching Matt Savarese play a small but crucial Poke-role.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Helen on 86th Street

I am in awe of writers/creative teams that are able to blog about their experiences as they take a project from just an idea to the stage. It's nice to see behind the scenes a little bit and get to know the people creating the show. I've already mentioned the blog for Perks of Writing a Musical, but another blog I love (for the show Helen on 86th Street) has gone from "page to stage" in a production that ends this weekend -- I couldn't be happier for it.

Helen on 86th Street (by Nicole Kempskie and Robby Stamper) is a musical tale of 12-year-old Vita, a precocious New Yorker, who is dying to get the lead role of Helen in her school's original musical, The Trojan Horse. Based on a short story by Wendy Kaufman, the musical follows Vita as she aspires be the star of the show, all in hopes that her dad, who left to travel the world without her and her mother, will return to see her in the play.

The production, which concludes this Sunday at American Theatre of Actors, is a joy to watch. The story is simple but well represented -- the music is fun and the lyrics are sophisticated and weave Greek myth sensibilities with contemporary perspective seamlessly. There are some really great numbers that allow for cool dance sequences, and the creative choices of how to use the space are very effective.

But perhaps the best part of the show is how it is a solid vehicle for young actresses. The idea of a bunch of female students competing for the role of Helen is a premise with a lot of room for play, and this show definitely makes the most out of its talented younger cast. I can't say how refreshing it was to see a show that showcased so many dynamic female roles and featured them in choruses. I can't imagine many young female performers who wouldn't want to be in something like Helen of 86th Street -- and it was great to see a piece that provides those roles in a smart, charming package.

If you want to see it this weekend, be sure to get your tickets here. But even if you can't make it, read the blog here and find out about where Helen goes next!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Composers Singing Composers

About a month ago, composers Gaby Alter, Joey Contreras, Drew Gasparini, Jonathan Reid Gealt, Adam Gwon, Ryan Scott Oliver, Brian Lowdermilk, and Zoe Sarnak took the stage at (Le) Poisson Rouge in an event called Composers Sing Composers. I've mentioned before how, as much as I love hearing talented performers KILL new writers' work, I always have a soft spot for hearing songwriters sing their own songs. But hearing other composers sing the work of their peers is also fascinating, to both see their interpretations and hear what they add to the arrangement. Also, many songwriters are performers themselves with stellar voices that mine amazing moments from any song.

Here are some personal highlights from Composers Sing Composers (though you can watch more at BwayWatcher's Youtube channel):

Zoe Sarnak singing "Run" by Joey Contreras:

Adam Gwon singing "Someone" by Drew Gasparini:

And Gaby Alter, Joey Contreras, Ryan Scott Oliver, Drew Gasparini, Brian Lowdermilk, Jonathan Reid Gealt, Adam Gwon, and Zoe Sarnak singing "Mrs. Sharp" by Ryan Scott Oliver:

But aside from songs just from that evening, here are other favorite performances of composers singing composers:

Jonathan Reid Gealt singing "The Ahrens Flaherty Menken Song" by
Will Larche:

Christy Altomare singing "This is It" with lyrics by Gordon Leary and music by Julia Meinwald:

Katie Thompson singing "Say Goodbye" by Scott Alan:

Joe Iconis singing "Meet Me In The Park" by Chris Blisset and Matt Uremovich:

And last, but never least, Nick Blaemire singing "Alaska" by Adam Gwon: