Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Civilians Occupy Wall Street

The last time I saw The Civilians' Let Me Ascertain You at Joe's Pub, it was pretty filthy (baddum ching!). But seriously... it was about the porn industry and Andrew Kober sang a song that I had to wipe from my memory before seeing him in Crazy, Just Like Me. If you were there, you know the one. It was that good a night.

This Friday, The Civilians will be taking the (newly renovated) Joe's Pub stage to share interviews and songs about Occupy Wall Street. Whatever your feelings on OWS, Zuccotti Park and the other sites of protests have been fertile ground for art -- the human stories, the sense of community, the unwavering tension and frustration. I have to admit that while I am still learning about what it means to Occupy Wall Street, I have been fascinated and inspired by things that are going on down there, and the unrest that the protests represent isn't going to go away anytime soon.

I can't think of a better group to take on the complex themes of OWS in performance-form, and I've already been enjoying the posts on The Civilains' blog that has been giving snapshots of people that Civilians members have met/interviewed. Read them here; Michele's was particularly touching for me.

Even more exciting, even if you can't make it to the live show, Joe's Pub will be live-streaming the performance on Friday night. This way, whether your area is being occupied or not, you can still get insight into this movement and appreciate the stories and music of real people calling for social, economic, and political change.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love for NAMT Festival 2011

After the whirlwind of the 2011 NYMF, I wanted to take a little breather, but musical theatre never sleeps and another very important musical festival is still on the horizon. Though the National Alliance of Musical Theatre's annual festival this week (10/27-10/28) is for industry only, it's an important yearly festival where theatre professionals gather and enjoy presentations from 8 new musicals. This is a great opportunity for up-and-coming shows to find productions, and having gone 2 years ago, I can honestly say that for any theatre lover, it is a wonderful 2 days of getting to know other members of the theatre community and discussing what opportunities are out there for new shows. This year has a fantastic line-up of shows and writers that have been mentioned here on the blog, as well as some fabulous writers who have not yet made their appearance. Take a good look at this year's list, and be on the lookout for future productions (or if you're a producer, reach out and contact these people!). Here are this year's participants:

Bernice Bobs Her Hair
Book and Lyrics by Julia Jordan, Music and Lyrics by Adam Gwon

Bloodsong of Love
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Joe Iconis

Dani Girl
Music by Michael Kooman, Book and Lyrics by Christopher Dimond

The Dogs of Pripyat
Book by Leah Napolin, Music by Aron Accurso, Book and Lyric by Jill Abramovitz

Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge
Book by Cara Reichel, Book, Music, and Lyrics by Peter Mills

Notes to Marianne
By David Rossmer and Dan Lipton

Pregnancy Pact
Book and Lyrics by Gordon Leary, Music by Julia Meinwald

Books and Lyrics by David Javerbaum
Music by Brendan Milburn

Also, if you're curious to know more about the shows, checkout NAMT's Youtube channel, which is featuring 7-question videos from each of the writing teams, giving you a glimpse at their shows and providing insight into where each of them are in the development process. Below is David Rossmer and Dan Lipton talking about Notes to Marianne:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On a Roller Coaster: Date of a Lifetime at NYMF

Well, I have officially seen my last show at this year's NYMF, but the festival continues through the weekend, so there are still opportunities to fit in some great shows. In fact, should you need a recommendation, I would happily suggest Date of a Lifetime, which was the final show in my itinerary that I caught last night at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre.

Date of a Lifetime (book and lyrics by Carl Kissin, music by Robert Baumgartner Jr.) follows two speed daters as they meet and each imagine what their lives will be like together beyond their simple 'rotate-a-date' set-up. From Marvin's romantic vision of their family-to-be to Katie's more neurotic, practical view, these characters take you on a ride through their imaginings and hesitations concerning love, life, and growing old. This show is very winning with a score that moves the fantasy sequences along organically and also manages to get stuck in your head. The jokes come fast and furious, and the great thing about the swiftness of this musical comedy is that it never takes itself too seriously. Stars Farah Alvin and Jamie LaVerdiere make the most of the physical comedy and choreography, and Jeremy Dobrish's direction highlights how self-aware the piece is in its New York humor, theatrical nature, and overall goofiness. The show is much like a New Yorker on a date -- smart, perhaps self-referential, intriguing, and, ultimately, lovable. Date of a Lifetime has 4:30 shows today and tomorrow, so buy your tickets here.

In the meantime, I just wanted to thank all the shows/writers who participated in the NYMF 5-Question Interview Series. I have been so honored to have gotten to learn more about these great shows, and can't wait until next year when NYMF will be happening in the summer!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

That's the Beauty of a Gun: Outlaws at NYMF

This last week of NYMF rolls on, and though an unexpected sickness kept me from seeing Kiki Baby last night, I did have the pleasure of seeing the final performance of Outlaws: The Ballad of Billy The Kid on Sunday at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre. Not knowing a ton about Billy the Kid going into the show, I was really excited to see how the tale of the gun-slinging legend would be retold through a modern rock lens.

I'm happy to report that the outlaws of the Wild West translate rather flawlessly to a rock musical. There was a palpable energy and youthfulness that emanated from the stage as Billy and his gang of outcasts try to escape their complicated family lives and find freedom in California. The soaring score really helps highlight some of the teen angst and anger bubbling to the surface in this rag-tag group of misfits, and there were definitely a couple of tunes stuck in my head after leaving the theatre, most notably "We Do Whatever We Want" and "That's What They Said." I especially liked how a cast of only 6 felt like a cast of many more, and it was an especially nice touch for many of the actors to serve as a kind of Greek chorus in Billy's darker times. Though the NYMF run is over, you can still listen to tunes from the show on its website and be on the lookout for more from these writers in the future.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NYMF/ASCAP Foundation Songwriters Showcase

I have to admit that I am still feeling the aftershocks of awe after attending last night's NYMF/ASCAP Foundation Songwriters Showcase.

As I've been attending these NYMF shows, I've been going to most performances alone, which is something that I appreciate but sometimes makes me miss having a companion, mostly because I love exposing my friends to musical works they normally wouldn't go out of their way to see. However, last night was one of the few nights I was truly happy to be experiencing alone; because though I would have loved to expose someone else to the sheer talent of some of these writers in a such a warm environment, I reveled in the fact that I got to just let the music and the discussion sink in, not having to worry about whether or not someone else was enjoying it as much as I was--just engaging in the whole experience uninterrupted.

The showcase was hosted by Stephen Schwartz and featured songwriting teams Kooman and Dimond, Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn (also known as 2/3 of band GrooveLily), and Pasek and Paul. I was aware of these writers' work before this evening, but there was something about getting to see an event focused entirely on their music -- where it comes from, what the process of writing is, how collaboration crystallizes into a final product -- that was absolutely magical. Not to mention getting to see these wonderful writers really appreciating one another was so moving in its own way. Here are some highlights (at least in my opinion) from the discussion:
  • Though the panelists were all songwriting teams and had the common thread of meeting in college, I loved how varied they were in their approaches to their writing. Kooman and Dimond began their work together writing music for Carnegie Mellon students. Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn are married. Pasek and Paul apparently fight a lot throughout the writing process. It was nice to see everyone's dynamic with his or her partner.
  • Most of the writers did not actually go to school for musical theatre writing. Pasek and Paul got their start as musical theatre performers at UMich, Valerie Vigoda was a singer/songwriter (Sarah McLachlan with a violin, she joked), and Michael Kooman was originally in the school of music (not theatre) at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Stephen Schwartz apparently thought of having a CD called "Murdered Darlings," which would be comprised of cut songs. There was a lot of talk about murdered darlings last night, in fact, hitting home the idea of theatre being a process of revision and seeing what works and letting go of what doesn't.
  • When Kooman and Dimond start a show, Christopher usually writes the book first, and then they work on the music. As a playwright, I thought this was a fascinating approach.
  • Valerie Vigoda is going to have a one-woman show that is going to rock your socks off. She performed the opening number, and I just had my mouth hanging open by the time it was done. Also, note to self, if you learn an instrument, let it be the electric violin.
  • There are some major A Christmas Story fans out there; granted, many audience members were associated with the show, but any mention of Pasek and Paul's musical adaptation garnered loud cheers.
I have to say that I was captivated throughout the evening. I wanted to post video performances of every song available that was sung last night on the blog to even give the tiniest indication of what it was like. But instead, I will only post one -- as it represents a moment in the evening that I found incredibly profound and moving.

In the middle of the program, every songwriting team presented a second song, usually preceded by some kind of introduction. Kooman and Dimond explained that their next song was an intensely personal number -- one that was written in 24 hours, spurring on one of the biggest creative arguments they'd ever had, and that even made Andrew Lippa cry. Seems like a pretty big set-up for song, right?

And then Michael Kooman took to the piano and sang this song, "Lost in the Waves," which is performed below by Anderson Davis:

When it ended, I was in shock. There was something about it-- the piano, the lone voice, the crispness of lyrics in the silent Peter Norton Space. For the entirety of the song, I was transported into another place, and when it was over, realizing where I was was almost shocking. I sat there, gobsmacked, trying to adjust back to the event. And the most beautiful part of the whole thing? When Stephen Schwartz turned to Brendan Milburn so that he and Valerie could present their song, the look on Brendan's face was the exact same as mine.

I was so thankful when he took a minute to digest the performance, when he was genuinely short on words in the aftermath of that song. There was something great about seeing in other people, not to mention other terrific writers, the passion and love that I feel for these works.

NYMF is now into its second week-- what a way to begin it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

New Musicals Take on Old Classics

It was a weekend of musical adaptations, as I continued on my NYMF viewing with Gatsby: The Songs in Concert and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, A Musical. Both of these shows are takes on some of my most beloved books (I was also an English Major, so it comes with the territory), and I was both apprehensive and excited to see how they would be interpreted on the stage and in song.
Gatsby, a one-night-only concert, was one of the shows I was looking forward to most. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is nothing short of a masterpiece, a great narrative of selfishness, recklessness, love, and wealth in the jazz age. Gatsby the musical, written by Hugh Wheeler, Lee Pockriss, and Carolyn Lee, was Broadway bound in the 1970s, but never quite made it to The Great White Way. Performed in concert by insanely talented Matt Cavenaugh, Autumn Hurlbert, Jenny Powers, Megan Sikora, and Max von Essen, the concert was a wonderful peek into a once-lost musical. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical when the band started up and the first song began, outright declaring that it was the "Jazz Age." One of my favorite parts of Gatsby the novel is the layers of meaning throughout; on the surface, the plot can seem quite melodramatic (affairs, parties, murders, and misunderstandings) but the real joy of the book is seeing this world through the eyes of Nick Carraway, a narrator who tries to see his companions for who they really are, while also getting caught up in the decadent world of 20s New York himself.

Where Gatsby the musical really shines is in its darker moments, in the places where, past the bravado, the music reveals darker desires and sadder truths that entice and force the characters into their lives of frivolity. Though it was hard to always understand the exact context of certain songs when presented in the brief concert format, I thought the Daisy character really sparkled the brightest, especially with her first number "Sooner or Later," a sultry and insistent song about cheating husbands. From there, it was interesting to see how certain refrains repeated themselves throughout the show, changing meaning as parties were thrown, loves were rediscovered, and choices were made. I would love to see this show as a fully staged production someday.

The other show I saw this past weekend was Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacob's Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, A Musical. A reinterpretation of Jane Austen's timeless novel, I am happy to report that this musical adaptation is quite a crowd-pleaser. With deftly drawn characters (which is important when handling the iconic Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy) and lively pacing, the show was a joy to watch. Perhaps one of the most successful additions to the original novel is that this stage adaption features Jane Austen herself as she revisits the novel's first incantation, First Impressions, trying to rewrite her own work to submit for publication. Donna Lynne Champlin (who was blogging about her experience with the show on The New York Times ArtsBeat blog) delights in this role, adding a nice presence for the characters to play off of throughout the show. It lent a winking eye to those already familiar with the story and helped move the plot along swiftly and evenly. There was palpable chemistry between Doug Carpenter's Darcy and Patricia Noonan's Elizabeth, and all the other characters had their own moments in the spotlight as well. The rest of the run is sold out, but I can easily see this show going on to a longer life, as even the most fervent of Austen fans will find something to enjoy here.