Saturday, December 22, 2012

Favorite Musical Moments of 2012

I know there's been a little too much radio silence from this blog as of late. Things have just been a little busy with the launch of a new podcast (check out our latest episode where we talk about Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson's Giant) and some other exciting things that I'm hoping to talk more about in 2013. Still, I am very proud of things that have happened on this blog over the past year, and I am looking forward to continuing to talk new musical theatre with all you guys in the new year.

As a way of looking back and celebrating some great theatre over the past year, I wanted to just highlight some of my favorite live theatre musical moments over the past year. While not all of these moments necessarily happened in musical theatre pieces, they have exemplified the magic of music and live performance, and they've definitely inspired me as a writer and artist.

Here we go:

The final scene in Leslye Headland's Assistance
Assistance was a straight play loosely based on Leslye's experience working as a personal assistant to Harvey Weinstein. If you've ever had a stressful, menial job, this play almost hit too close to home as employees set their hopes and dreams on a faceless boss who they are determined can either make or break their careers. But just when you might be reaching for the Xanax remembering your time getting yelled at for small mistakes or being used as a punching bag, the final scene of this play is a completely unexpected moment of retribution when we enter a fantasy dance sequence that, quite literally, brings the entire house down. It's a stunning theatrical feat-- getting to experience a moment of true catharsis brilliantly carried out through genius set design, music, and a wonderfully executed dance routine.


The Opening number from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812
Everything about this show was pretty awesome, but the minute the lights went up, the audience was presented with dumplings, and the cast launched into a rousing recap of the story's many characters, we knew we were in for a treat. Creating a spirited environment from the get go, my friend and I were reaching for the vodka and settling in to an exciting night of Dave Malloy's Russian electro pop opera (and who can begrudge that?).

Molly Pope singing a mashup of "We Found Love" and "How to Love" at the final Our Hit Parade
For anyone who didn't have the pure and strange joy of experiencing Our Hit Parade at Joe's Pub, this monthly cabaret mainstay was a fantastic series where a rotating variety of performers from the music and theatre scene each took a top 10 pop song and reinterpreted it. Their final show played Joe's Pub earlier this week, and it was probably one of the most electric events I have ever been to in New York. We talk a lot about artistic homes, but never was it so potent to be in a room of talented artists and to feel the love from the audience, the hosts, and the venue as everyone was just themselves. While there were a lot of laughs, one moment that utterly destroyed me was hearing Molly Pope, an Our Hit Parade mainstay, sing her interpretation of "We Found Love" and "How to Love." The love of performing coupled with a heavy heart that Our Hit Parade was ending made her performance all the more profound-- and I sat with tears streaming down my face, just as she had on hers. What a gift to be able to experience something so intimate and special.

"Just Like the Sea" in PigPen's The Old Man and The Old Moon
Another moment that managed to get some tears out of Grinch-y old me, PigPen Theatre Co.'s latest fable about an old man who traverses the world to find his wife featured a particularly striking moment that demonstrated a man's loss with only a few lights and some well-crafted shadow puppets, creating a montage of memories that was completely cinematic and emotionally affecting. Above is a video of another song from the show, "Bremen," and you can catch the moment live still, since The Old Man and The Old Moon is playing at The Gym at Judson until Jan 6!

Emerging Musical Theatre, the theme song
I couldn't be more thrilled (or slightly embarrassed) to have two wonderful writers sing a song about this little blog. Big thanks to Jeff Luppino-Esposito, Matt Savarese, and Anna McGrady again!

The Hamilton Mixtape at Lincoln Center
Can we all just agree that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius? Because his American Songbook concert, which primarily featured music from his project The Hamilton Mixtape about the life of Alexander Hamilton, is nothing short of brilliant. With rap battles mixed in with R&B hooks, this project is destined to be a great modern representation of history that makes history.

Giant at The Public Theater
I can't really single out any particular moments from Giant, and I have a good feeling this show is going to go on to a longer life, so I can't say that this production was necessarily definitive. Still, this epic musical that tells a sweeping story as vast as the landscape that it covers is a real winner. With a beautiful score by Michael John LaChiusa and smart book by Sybille Pearson, this restored my faith in the range of musical theatre being made-- and the wonderful people who support it, as well.

Monday, December 10, 2012

In Case You Missed It...


The latest podcast that I've been doing with Erin Salvi on Crazytown, titled Kim & Erin Eat Cheesecake (And Talk About That Show They Just Saw), just posted its third episode about The Old Man and The Old Moon last week. Be sure to check it out here.

Also, check back on Crazytown for our last podcast of the year in a couple of weeks. We'll be covering Giant, which is playing at The Public and has a score by Michael John LaChiusa and a book by Sybille Pearson. Trust me, it's an epic musical and just as interesting episode.

While I'm at it, if you're looking to get in the holiday mood, this week promises lots of musical theatre celebrations. Tonight, there is a free holiday concert at the Walter Bruno Auditorium at Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library as a part of Broadway's Future Songbook Series. This Friday and Saturday will also have performances from Joe Iconis and crew in his yearly Christmas Spectacular, hosted this time at 54 Below. Alas, I will not be there this year, but it has been my tradition for the last four years and has never ceased to get me in the spirit.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Simplest Things: PigPen Theatre Co.'s THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON

We often walk a fine line on this blog between a musical and a play with music. Hell, throw in opera, musical spoofs, song cycles, etc. and the genre is just too hard to fit in a box. Last night, I had the privilege of seeing The Old Man and The Old Moon, the latest offering from PigPen Theatre Company, a collection of seven young actor/musicians/writers/composers (gahh, again with the blending of the categories) who developed their unique aesthetic and development process while in school together at Carnegie Mellon. They've gained some traction around the city having won top prize at The Fringe twice now, but The Old Man and The Old Moon represents their first full-length production now playing at The Gym at Judson.


I can't go into great detail, since my friend, Erin Salvi, and I will be discussing the show in the next episode of our podcast (which you should all check out on Crazytown-- the new episode will be up next Wednesday). However, I will say this: this show is a magical display of storytelling-- an exemplary work of perhaps the oldest oral traditions while guided by an expert hand that makes them feel new and surprising. Most importantly, I think, in the context of this blog, the musical elements that PigPen adds to their shows is really essential and beautiful. With a folksy score that fits the epic action and fable-like adventure like a glove, this is an example of how play-like a musical can be and musical a play can be. For your viewing pleasure, I'm posting some videos of some songs from the company below. Please go check out their website, see The Old Man and The Old Moon (then we can discuss!), and look out for our podcast.

(The company's first animated short, Bremen, which is also an introduction
to the epic world of The Old Man and The Old Moon.)

(Song "As Lonely As Me" from their debut album, "Bremen")

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Basking in the glow of The Comet of 1812

I would say I see a fair amount of theatre-- and much of it is great. Beautiful. Wonderful. Masterful.

But once in a while, a theatre piece comes along that is truly special. Something that is less of a show and more of an event. Something a little wilder, a little newer that pushes the boundaries of theatre making. This kind of show is the one that pull you out of your beliefs of what theatre is. It challenges you. It fights you. And in the end, you learn something and appreciate something that you didn't even know existed before. This is a rare event. Almost as rare as a comet, streaking across the sky.

And thus are my feelings about Natasha, Pierre & The Comet of 1812, a dynamite electro-pop opera finishing its extended run this week at Ars Nova. I would tell you that you should absolutely run out and buy a ticket before it closes, but the show has been sold out for a while, so giving such advice would probably just make you feel like I do every time I see an ad for Book of Mormon on television. Still, for those who haven't had the chance to see it (and even for those who have), I thought I would just give a few thoughts about the piece, since I think this is an experience that is hard to replicate but everyone deserves a chance to experience.


Natasha, Pierre & The Comet of 1812 is based on none other than Tolstoy's War and Peace. But lest you think this is some stilted classic left to collect dust on a shelf, this operatic version takes on a life of its own, quickly summarizing multiple characters and modernizing their plights so that you can find some of these countesses and scoundrels making the rounds at the club. The actors move on the bars that snake around the room-- there's no formal stage, rather, the audience is seated at tables which are outfitted with bottles of vodka for everyone to pour at their leisure, along with some vegetarian dumplings (not bad, I must say). You, the audience member, are very much in the fray as old Pierre tries to find himself and young Natasha finds herself... in the arms of a man other than her fiance.

As to be expected, loves are lost and found, characters despair, and hopes and dreams are born as quickly as they are squashed. And while sometimes the dramatic arcs reach a point of melodrama, what separates this rousing musical from many before it can be attributed to Dave Malloy's music, an exciting  blend of pop from the folksy to the techno with subtle Russian influences and the occasional remix over an electric beat. The music shows depth and humor, and the lyrics manage to capture the deep dramatic feelings of the characters while still poking fun at them on occasion.

Photo by Ben Arons

Director Rachel Chavkin creates an atmosphere of warmth and inclusion-- normally I balk at the prospect of audience participation, but I felt strangely at ease even so up close and personal with the action around me. All of the cast delivers excellent performances, and I was riveted throughout. The energy never falters and every moment is performed with such glee and commitment.

This show is truly something special, a reminder of the possibilities of theatre and a justification for why some things just need to be experienced on stage. It was a gorgeous representation of not only great musical theatre, but also great atmosphere and performance-- a chance to come in from the cold and to share in a good story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Will Reynolds' POEMS & MOON SONGS

I've had the pleasure of hearing Will Reynolds' music a few times now, with songs seeming to pop up at every up-and-coming musical theatre concert in town as of late. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a full evening of his songs, which came in the form of Poems & Moon Songs, a "song constellation" presented by Libra Theater Company at The Underground Lounge. With incredible singers Sara Jean Ford, Marissa, McGowan, Jeremy Morse, and Zachary Prince, the evening of original songs about seasons and time really soared along with some gorgeous tunes written to accompany poems by famous writers like Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

(Rehearsal of "Heart, We Will Forget Him," sung by Sara Jean Ford and Marissa McGowan)

Many of the songs arranged for the poems (which served as lyrics) were quite stunning pieces. I especially enjoyed the Emily Dickinson pieces which featured very lovely harmonies for two of her most famous pieces, "Heart, We Will Forget Him" and "Hope." I loved the idea of setting famous poems to music-- it's fascinating the way punctuation and structural choices are reflected in the music. I can only imagine how awesome it would be to hear an e.e. cummings or John Donne poem put in a song someday.

The original songs were just as memorable and elegant, with many songs feeling like a part of a starry-eyed American songbook collection. There were many wistful tunes that allowed for some beautiful performances, and lord knows I'm a sucker for some well-placed string parts and the cello and violin didn't disappoint.

Standouts included the irreverent "Spring," sung below at a Dreamlight Theatre Company concert:


And "Si Vous Me Souivez" sung below by Will Reynolds himself (and which was sung winkingly by Jeremy Morse in the Libra production):


The Libra Theater Company has 1 more performance of this lovely piece tonight at 7:30 pm. All proceeds from ticket sales go to Hurricane Sandy relief, so you can see a great show and support a great cause. Get your tickets here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A New York State of Mind

It's been an unusual week and a half, to say the least. Many parts of New York were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and even areas that weren't hit very hard by the storm itself have still been at a standstill with power only coming to lower Manhattan over the weekend. There's still a lot to be done to get the city and its surrounding areas back to normal, but I feel like there's no better time to repost some videos from the recent concert Once Upon A Time In New York City, where up-and-coming composers shared original songs about this great city and the great people who make it what it is:

Gaby Alter singing his song "My First Year in New York":

Kate Rockwell singing Danny Abosch's "Real New Yorkers":

Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Molly Hager, Alyse Alan Louis and Lauren Marcus singing Michael R. Jackson's "New York Is the Worst":

Gaten Matarazzo and Grace Capeless singing Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich's "Why I Like New York":

Joe Iconis with Jason Williams, Eric William Morris and Molly Hager singing his song "52":

Watch more videos from the evening here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Musical Mood Ring

I have to admit it's been a busy last couple of weeks, with much busier ones on the horizon. I've been preparing for a reading of one of my own plays set for November, in addition to launching a new podcast on Crazytown (listen in-- we'll be sure to talk about musicals in future episodes). It's been so busy that I haven't had a chance to write out something more elaborate for Emerging Musical Theatre this week, but I do promise there's a ton of exciting things on the horizon (Look at the calendar! The next couple of months are going to be musical-filled for sure). In the meantime, I simply leave you with this gorgeous song from Todd Almond, which was recently featured in Sherie Rene Scott's 54 Below concert (and is performed below at a St. Mark's Church concert). "Oh, Sean" is a strangely cathartic tune, a wistful song for the realist lover:

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Speak (Musical Theatre) Geek

After having watched videos obsessively from New York Theatre Barn's D-Lounge series, I finally had the opportunity to attend one in person, thanks to an invite from Becca Anderson. Becca, along with Julian Blackmore and Dan Marshall, wrote the musical comedy Academia Nuts, the first of two sets in the concert presentation that night. Telling the story of a quiz bowl championship and plucky Maggie McCutter, a bright but sheltered champion hopeful, Academia Nuts is a story of star-crossed romance, family secrets, geek love, and all-around irreverent mayhem.

Here are some highlights from their presentation at NYTB's D-Lounge:

The Opening Sequence:


The incomparable Alyse Alan Louis singing "Pirate TV":


Alyse Alan Louis and Grasan Kingsberry singing "I Just Think of Favre":


Charissa Bertels singing a rousing "Sarge's Soliloquy":


And "I Speak Geek," a "La Vie Boheme"-esque tune I can definitely get behind:


Check out more videos from the evening at NYTB's Youtube channel here.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

KISSLESS Goes From Stage to Screen: An Interview With Chance McClain

Last year, Chance McClain participated in our 5-question NYMF interview series for his show Kissless, and now, a year later, he contacted me with the exciting news that Kissless has been filmed with professional actors in Texas and will be released through Chance's Chat Productions as a movie. A natural progression from stage to screen? In the following interview, Chance talks more about his post-NYMF thoughts, decision to put the show on DVD, and what the film means for Kissless' future.


Me: What was your experience bringing Kissless to NYMF? Did it change your view of the show at all?

Chance McClain: Getting Kissless into NYMF was an enormous privilege and the most educational experience of my producing and writing career. I thought I had read everything there was to read about producing a musical. I thought I knew what to expect and felt prepared for the accelerated pace of a musical festival. I was dead wrong. It was a complete blur! I brought a wonderful cast from Houston so it wasn’t just the show but also the logistics of forty people traveling to and living in New York City for two weeks. Many of these young people had never been to NYC and some had never even been on a plane! I had a wonderful team of people with me to help but it was still hectic and crazy. It was an honor to participate and I hope to do it again. As far as my view of the show, I would say that the New York audiences taught me more about my writing and music than I could have learned anywhere else. The show got laughs and emotional responses at unexpected places. When I went back to the writing table after NYMF I felt more prepared to tell the story I had started out to tell.


Me: What were your goals for the show post-NYMF?

Chance McClain:
Sadly, I went into NYMF without goals or expectations. I was naively “along for the ride”. I don’t think I took advantage of the opportunities that were all conveniently gathered together in the city to celebrate and explore new musical theatre. I felt that Kissless was a show best suited for high schools, colleges, and community theatres but did not know how to let people know that it was out there.


Me: How did the idea for the movie come about?

Chance McClain: For years I have done freelance work as a video producer. I have made television commercials, promotional videos, and pretty much anything involving video. In 2009 I wrote and directed Horrible Turn, an unofficial musical prequel to Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. We released it online (it is free at horribleturn.com) and won some awards. Through that experience I was introduced to an audience that was as comfortable watching videos on computers as on televisions. I learned a lot from Horrible Turn and met talented people that knew how to tell stories with cameras. After NYMF it dawned on me that there was another way for people to see new musical theatre works. While the dream for any writer is to have a show on Broadway, not every writer has access to the millions of dollars it takes to realize that dream. But for a fraction of that cost I could cast a show with professional actors and tell the story on film and then distribute it online.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Getting Excited for Matilda


Yes, I know it's still months away, and it's an award winning West End show coming to Broadway (hardly "emerging," I know). But if there is one show I'm excited about gracing the Bway in the near future, it's Matilda. With the fanciful flair and unexpectedly poignancy oozing from Tim Minchin's buoyant songs, not to mention the potential for some great roles for young stars, my heart could burst from the joy the few performances I've seen have given me. Because unbridled delight loves company, here are a few clips:

Original four Matilda actresses performing "Naughty" at the Olivier Awards:



Hayley Canham singing "Quiet" at a cultural event for the London Olympics:

Friday, September 28, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance (to some new musical theatre)

Though the latest season of So You Think You Can Dance is over, I still think about one of the final contemporary performances to "Leave" from Once:


Being that Broadway is a frequent style of dance on the show, it's hardly the first time music from a major musical has been featured on the show. Consider that and the fact that a few original Newsies came from So You Think You Can Dance, and crossover between stage and screen is not only natural but quite welcome. After all, the level of storytelling that many dances on the show accomplishes is a type of musical theatre in itself, and I've had my breath taken away on multiple occasions by some really stellar performances.


But aside from Broadway classics (and soon-to-be classics), a couple of up-and-coming musical theatre composers have had their work featured on So You Think You Can Dance, and the results are incredibly moving:

Katie Thompson's "It Doesn't Hurt":


Scott Alan's "It's Good To See You Again":


Now excuse me while I quietly tear up watching these...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Only Kids at Bayside

I feel like I've seen a decent array of parody musicals so far this year, with Newsadoosies and Triassic Parq both representing great (albeit very different) examples of what a musical based on a popular franchise can be. Ryan Bogner wrote recently on Crazytown about the phenomenon of __ The Musical!, but Newsadoosies proved that a completely wacky spoof could still make social commentary and Triassic Parq demonstrated that sidelined characters of a cult classic could have its own rich brand of storytelling.

The latest parody musical that I had the pleasure of seeing was Bayside! The UnMusical! (by Bob and Tobly McSmith) based on-- you guessed it, the wacky kids from Saved by the Bell. I grew up on Zack Morris (trust me, I even wrote a short story in grade school that involved running into Mark Paul Gosselaar, which I hope is lost somewhere and will not resurface at my wedding or be excerpted in my biography), so I was excited but nervous. What was there to say about the kids of Bayside so many years later?
There's obviously a lot of material to lampoon-- all of the cast members have gone a long way from their high school characters, the show itself was known for its outlandish schemes, all the plots were strangely squeaky clean, and there were dance sequences and after school special episodes that will live in infamy. Bayside! hits on many of the obvious jokes-- the Max is facing bankruptcy, Jessie is addicted to caffeine pills, Zack and Kelly broke up and Kelly is pregnant, Slater might be gay, and Lisa doesn't realize she's the only non-white character. Yet, in spite of all these plot points, the story of this wacky, raunchy show never really comes to a cohesive whole. Even with all this going on, most of the show consists of a Miss Bayside pageant that just allows the characters to do their insane thangs.

Which in many ways is fine. Most of the audience is there for the cheese and over-the-top characters, and the show does deliver this in spades. The actors' dedication to their characters is impressive, particularly April Kidwell, who channels Elizabeth Berkley at her most manic.


There are some parodies of songs in the show as well, with 4 Non Blondes getting a shoutout, as well as the Hot Sundae workout video song and a tune from Grease. The original music is simple, and pretty much the entire score is sung to the audience in an explanatory, self-aware Zack Morris narration way instead of amongst the characters. Probably one of the most memorable songs was one involving unicorns, in a bizarre but entrancing moment of glory for Screech. There's also a fantastic rap for Lisa that actress Shamira Clark kills.

If you've been missing the Bayside gang, this play will more than get your nostalgia going. They still have 7 performances, so check them out here, and visit the only kids at Bayside high.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting to know Fannie Lou

Continuing our series of guest posts is Felicia Hunter, composer, book writer, and lyricist of the new musical Fannie Lou. Telling the story of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, Fannie Lou is not only a powerful work of musical theatre, but an important one as well. With their first New York performance coming up on October 6th, the 95th anniversary of Fannie Lou's birth, Felicia Hunter shares the story of her show's journey (and be sure to go to the end of the post for an exclusive discount for readers of this blog).

My original musical Fannie Lou began as an idea that wedded history, music and drama. What if, I thought, the story of Fannie Lou Hamer were told not only through an artistic work that presented her voice, but gave considerable weight to contrasting perspectives as well?

Fannie Lou was inspired by the life of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, she grew up poor and had to leave school before reaching the seventh grade to help her family make ends meet by working in the fields. At the age of 44, in August of 1962, Mrs. Hamer decided to register to vote. She had never voted before, and was determined to exercise her right as a citizen. She, and others in the group of prospective voters that day, were turned away. Thus began Mrs. Hamer’s public life as a voting, civil and human rights advocate.

In my writing process for Fannie Lou, many of the songs came first; I started by telling different elements of the story through the music and lyrics. The book followed. As characters and personalities developed while I went through the intricacies of completing the book, more songs were written. A few more came afterward.

Although I was aware of Mrs. Hamer and her work, the idea to create a musical came while I was reading a biography about Mrs. Hamer written by Kay Mills, titled This Little Light of Mine. What I learned about her was so inspirational and motivating that I thought her life and determination would translate well as a theatrical work.

One of several musical influences for Fannie Lou is the compelling work Jesus Christ, Superstar. I'm amazed at how the writers succeeded in retelling an age-old story through the eyes of the antagonist and, at the same time, made that story palpable for modern audiences. Because Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice even attempted -- much less succeeded, in my opinion -- to walk that intricate tightrope makes Jesus Christ Superstar one of my favorite musicals of all time.

What they did is what I wanted to do with Fannie Lou. I wanted to utilize artistic conventions to tell a story of heroism, dynamism and personal sacrifice in an unconventional way. And, at the same time, even though we know the ending (although arguably the voting rights story is still being written), take audience members on such an intriguing journey that they wonder what will happen next.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Emerging Musical Theatre: The Theme Song

Were you aware that this blog has a theme song? Well, it does now!

A while ago, I donated to The Online Musical's Kickstarter campaign for their Mini Musicals, and a perk of making my donation was a custom song written and performed by none other than Jeff Luppino-Esposito and Matt Savarese. I asked them to write a little theme song for this blog, and here's what they came up with:


Big thanks to Jeff, Matt, and Anna McGrady! Now go check out some of their other works here!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Go See the Mess

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Cait Doyle's Hot Mess in Manhattan, and I do have to say that if you're a fan of new musical theatre, you should totally go out and support this show. Inspired by her cabaret show, Hot Mess the musical is a story written around a slew of original songs by up-and-coming musical composers collected for Hot Mess's cabaret shows. There's a lot of good stuff here: really affecting music by the likes of Nick Blaemire, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, Michael Mahler, and Ryan Scott Oliver, an infectious cast with Cait Doyle at the helm, and a wonderfully personal undertone to the show that helps the themes of New York City disillusionment and survival hit home. Admittedly, the plot is a little thin, but it's a wonderful showcase to some brilliant music and performances. Also, the show is still in development, so go out and show your support as they continue to work it.


My fellow Crazytown-er Shoshana posted a cool interview with Cait today. You can also still get your tickets for the remaining performances here, and use the code newMTfan for $15 tickets.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cutting Edge Composers III for your viewing pleasure

A little over a month ago, I reported back from Cutting Edge Composers III, which had a couple performances as a part of NYMF. There were a ton of great songs, and most of them are up on Cutting Edge Composers' Youtube channel. Still, for some highlights, I thought I would post some of the performances I had mentioned in my earlier write-up:

Blake Daniel singing Will Reynold's "I Knew a Boy"

Matt Bailey, AJ Shively, and Joe Cassidy singing
Drew Gasparini's "The Whistler"

Emma Hunton singing Anna Dagmar's "We Were Children"

Emma Hunton singing Zack Zadek's "Just Me"

Also...

Lilli Cooper singing Zoe Sarnak's "Easy"

Check out all the great performances and songs at Cutting Edge Composers' Youtube channel here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hot Mess Takes Manhattan

I've expressed my adoration of Cait Doyle and her cabaret show, Hot Mess in Manhattan, a few times on this blog, and I'm thrilled to say that Hot Mess will be taking to the Manhattan stage again in the near future, only this time as a full-length musical! Chock full of songs by up-and-coming composers (including the likes of Ryan Scott Oliver, Adam Gwon, Nick Blaemire, Salzman and Cunningham, Kerrigan & Lowdermilk), this semi-autobiographical tale is sure to debunk some Sex and the City myths with a realistic, entertaining portrayal of life in the big city. Cait is hilarious, and armed with some great original songs, this is sure to be a great show.



Performances start on August 30th, and the show will run until September 8th. You can purchase tickets here, BUT WAIT! Use the code newMTfan at checkout, and you can get tickets for $15 each! Save a little money, see a great show, and come back here and share your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Queen of the Mist (and chance to win a copy of the cast recording!)

I was pretty bummed to have missed The Transport Group's production of Queen of the Mist last winter, but I am excited that the performances will live on with the cast recording that was recently released by Sh-K-Boom. The gang over there was nice enough to provide me with a copy, and I am happy to report that Queen of the Mist is very much still alive in its recorded form, maintaining an exciting story that barrels (sorry... had to do it) on through, with much of the momentum attributed to a stunning performance by Mary Testa.


Telling the story of Annie Edson Taylor who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel and lived to tell the tale, Queen of the Mist is a tale of ambition and its price. As to be expected from Michael John LaChiusa, the music is evocative and the songs serve as wonderful vehicles for storytelling. Even without having seen the production, the characters still shone through with their individual voices, with Mary Testa's being the most nuanced and star-turning. How a recording manages to captures how Mary Testa infuses Annie with humor and heart while also showcasing her callous determination really speaks to the work that was put into developing this show. The song "There Is Greatness In Me" is one of the ultimate "I Want" songs, if I've ever heard one.

In addition to letting me listen in on the cast album myself, the good people over at Sh-K-Boom gave me a couple of cast recordings to give away on this blog! So, I thought it would be neat to take this contest over to Twitter. Here's all you gotta do to enter for your chance to win a cast recording:
  • Either look at my Twitter page and RT my tweet with the link to this blog post, or just tweet the following: "Win a copy of the Queen of the Mist cast album from @emergingmt. Details here: http://bit.ly/MYSqm9."
  • You have until 11:59 pm on Friday (8/17) to get in your entry, and random winners will be chosen and notified on Saturday (8/18).
  • Also, if you want any other updates on the blog or any future contests, feel free to follow me.
Good luck! Hope to see you in the Twittersphere soon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fresh Iconis

Figure since I've been listening to them obsessively for the past week that I would share the two new songs Joe presented at his last show with the family at 54th Below:

Krysta Rodriguez singing "Out of Sight/Out of Mind (The Buddy Song)"

Annie Golden singing "Spin Those Records"

Happy listening!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Are you Spandex Material?

Earlier this year, I received an invitation for a reading of a new musical called Spandex by Daniel F. Levin and Annie Grunow. Telling the story of eclectic characters and the competitive world of aerobics in the 80s, Spandex is a quirky and energetic piece about achieving greatness. Here to talk about the journey in getting Spandex off the ground, what the creative team took from the most recent reading, and where the show is going from here, Daniel F. Levin contributed the following hilarious and candid piece in his own words as a part of our guest post series.

"No one would undertake the intricate, painful, gargantuan, hysterical task of putting on a musical play unless he had more enthusiasm than most people have about anything." --Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times Drama Critic, 1924-1960

I felt like I had paid my dues. I wrote a Holocaust musical. I also had written Hee-Haw: It’s a Wonderful Li_e, where Sam Wainwright challenges the heroism of George Bailey. At the show’s end (spoiler alert), when Sam’s guardian angel has shown him his life if he had never been born, Sam finally follows through on one thing better than George Bailey: he kills himself.


This is why, when Annie came to me and showed me the youtube clip of the 1987 Crystal Light National Aerobic Competition, hosted by Alan Thicke, I said, “Yes, Annie, that would be a great musical!” No suicides, genocide, or other “ides.” No battle to the death at the end of the show. Lots of headbands, leg warmers, waxed bodies, gelled hair and white teeth, plus the star of TV’s growing pains, Alan Thicke. Annie and I watched the clip over and over. The Miami Vice décor, the dazzling aerobics moves, culminating in the great circle wheel of push-ups--all of the elements just seemed to be in place.

And so Spandex the Musical was born. Annie is an archivist whose last show, according to her bio, was “All My Laundry…co-written and produced with the Sullivan and Francis children and performed in the Francis’ basement on New Years’ Eve 1991.” I’m a musical theater writer whose work, as noted, has trended more towards Les Miz-style shows, only with more people dying, and who has never done aerobics. We dove in.

Like the 1980’s conference call technology we were exploring, we used the power of the Google Docs to share the script. We laughed over terrible jokes. We called the show “a Palimpsest in Two Acts.” We wrote an original opening number on the train featuring the line, “Spandex Spandex, you can wash it on medium warm/ Spandex Spandex, it can fit any physical form,” and highlighting the fact that Spandex is an anagram for “Expands.” Research! Before we had written three scenes, we started imagining an all African-American sequel to the show called Black Spandex.  This is how exuberant you get at the beginning of a new show.

We pushed through a sophomore slump, continuing our regular meetings at the Muff (Connecticut Muffin), the Sauce (now-defunct Boerum-Hill coffee shop Flying Saucer) and the Bucks. We reassured each other that our Montague-street Starbucks would one day have a plaque for us. That Starbucks later shuttered and moved down the street.


By the Spring of 2011, it was time for our first reading. We invited loyal friends to our apartment. Annie brought cheap wine and my girlfriend, Casey, and I ordered pizza. I cast my friend Mike E. as Shmitty, the closeted, tough-as-nails aerobicizer who spent time in the clink. Annie and I thought the character was hilarious and couldn’t wait to hear him brought to life. It turns out that despite being very prominent in the stage directions, Shmitty only had four lines. Mike E. felt slighted. But other parts worked. My friend Dan G. used a horrendous accent to play Israeli fitness guru, Dov Yisrael, but despite this he made the character come to life--funny and full of heart. By the second reading, that Fall, the character of Trip Allen, evil pusher of Instathin diet pills, elicited the proper boos and hisses.

In addition to a central love story between Lorraine, (an aerobics instructor) and Dov, we had a secondary love story between Bob and Linda. All the great shows have a secondary love story! Linda is a plump housewife who, now that the kids are a little older, starts aerobicizing. Her husband is a Reagan administration employee who can’t handle her newfound independence. It all seemed so harmless. But something went wrong. Our reading critiquers couldn’t tell who they were supposed to focus on: Lorraine and Dov or Bob and Linda. Our subplot had metathesized and was now eating up the main plot! Annie and I went back to the Muff and recalibrated. I fought for some scenes--I can get precious; Annie wanted to use a chainsaw--she’s ruthless!. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Being A Part Of It All

Unfortunately, it's been a pretty chaotic month, and my schedule was not going to permit me to see very many of the NYMF shows this year (I'm thinking that might need to reworked in the future... I might be in search of contributors/interns in the near future, and if you think you might be interested, drop me a line). So, rather than having to choose from all the great full productions, many of which participated in the 5-question interview series, I decided that I would see the up-and-coming composer concerts to start scoping out the talented that will undoubtedly be making appearances on this blog and perhaps even in the festival in the future.

Up first was Cutting Edge Composers, an event whose first 2 incantations have featured the music of writers like Joe Iconis, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, Tysen and Miller, RSO, and so many more familiar faces. On Monday night, there were also a lot of familiar names: Joey Contreras, Anna Dagmar, Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal, Kevin Fogarty, Drew Fornarola, Drew Gasparini, Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond, Peter Lerman, Paul Loesel and Scott Burkell, Virginia Pike, Will Reynolds, Zoe Sarnak, Ben Velez, Michael Patrick Walker, and Zack Zadek. You can read up on all their bios here.

The evening was quite a lot of fun, and there was no shortage of talent in the performers whose credits were all impressive and often Broadway-full. It was very exciting to see an audience so enraptured by new work, and it was also great to hear a little from the writers themselves about the context of their songs and how they got started. Everyone's work was solid, but here were a few highlights of the evening for me (videos aren't up of the concert, but I'll add a video to some rendition or other where I can):
  • Drew Gasparini wrote a new song specifically for this concert titled "The Whistler," which really showed off some beautiful male harmonies in a haunting tune about miners.
  • Zack Zadek's tune "Just Me" was a nonstop delight when sung by the infectious Emma Hunton near the end of the evening. The song is the closing number from his show 6, which also received a concert performance as a part of NYMF.
  • Will Reyonold's "I Knew a Boy" was a deceptively simple tune that was so precise with its language that it was hard not to relate to this song about a relationship, once good, gone bad. 
  • Last but certainly not least, Anna Dagmar's song "We Were Children" was the song of the night for me. Again with a memorable performance by Emma Hunton, this gorgeous song is from the songwriter's latest musical about a child soldier in Africa.



This week, I also had the privilege of seeing the 10:00pm show of Part Of It All, a concert of work from up-and-coming college-aged composers who had their music performed by college-aged actors. It was wonderful to get such an early glimpse into these writers' works, and it was clear that there was a ton of potential in the room. A lot of the songs, understandably, reflected early 20-something sentiments and ambitions, and I would be very interested to see how their music evolves over time and changes within the context of their full shows. The writers who presented their works at my show were Berkley Todd, Landon Braverman, Alexander Sage Oyen, Patrick Sulken, and Alex Ratner, but you can find a full list of the participants here (there was a different group of writers and performers for the earlier 7:00 show).

As a closing note, can I also just point out what a perfect host Drew Gasparini was for a college audience? Poop jokes, sarcasm, self-deprication, and a final performance that made everyone in the room swoon? Like taking candy from a baby.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: LE CABARET GRIMM

I love me a good cabaret, and a good story/concept tying the whole thing together can make for a powerhouse evening of theatre. Enter Le Cabaret Grimm, a punk cabaret inspired by The Tales of the Brothers Grimm-- but these aren't your Disney-fied sweet, glossy fairytales. Instead, the show, with book and lyrics by Jason Slavick and music by Cassandra Marsh, delights in the darker aspects of these classic tales, adding a contemporary spin and edgy flare. Performances started yesterday, so be sure to check this one out while you can. In the meantime, Jason and Cassandra share more about their journey in getting this show to NYMF:


Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?

Jason Slavick:  Le Cabaret Grimm is a punk cabaret sashay through dark tales of loss and love.

Cassandra Marsh: It’s an edgy punk cabaret with interesting characters telling a story of journey with music of many genres.


Me: What inspired you to write  Le Cabaret Grimm?

Jason: The Tales of the Brothers Grimm are awesome source material. They’re dark, moving and archetypal, so even though they’re old folk tales they hit a contemporary nerve. And their fantastical tone gives them a ton of room for imagination. I had recently seen several punk cabaret and contemporary vaudeville shows, so I was excited to play with those stories through the punk cabaret style. It all just came together.

Cassandra: Jason and I originally created this piece for a theatre camp program before it evolved into the Boston production. So, initially my inspiration came from the spirit of the students and the immediate creative connection that Jason and I had. We share similar musical influences and creative visions, which like the show, grew into the production we have today. The collaborative nature of this project is very inspiring and I would also say that that spark of creation certainly comes from my love and passion for music. The Lark has surely been my Muse.


Me: What has it been like for Jason to also direct the show?

Jason:
Directing and writing are one process for me. I build my shows around the actors, using their improvisations, character choices, dialogue choices and actions. I propose situations, watch them respond, record it and then shape it. It’s very much like directing – you pose the questions and guide everyone else’s responses. I come to rehearsals prepared, but I also respond to what happens and make changes to the script as we’re going. It’s empowering to me and everyone in the room, because when something doesn’t work we get to fix it right there on the spot. Even though this show has been previously produced we’re making changes to the script.

Cassandra: I think it has been a great advantage to have the writer also direct. As the writer, Jason knows the tone of the piece and this gives him a great eye as a director. Having the writer present during a collaborative project is great for the process. Adjustments and changes are much easier to figure out when the authors are present. As the composer and musical director I would say the same about the musical part of Le Cabaret Grimm. I think it’s exciting for everyone involved to have the authors on hand.

Haley Selmon (Photo courtesy John Capo Public Relations)

Me: How has the show evolved since the Boston premiere, and what has it been like bringing it to New York?

Cassandra: Each inception of this show has evolved with each new creative member. The show becomes shaped around the voices of the actors and musicians which lends itself to finding new ways to sing/say it, and creates an atmosphere of new discoveries. I have found that very exciting and energizing. We are lucky to have such an amazing company of people bringing  Le Cabaret Grimm to NYMF. It’s a wonderful, magical collaboration.

Jason: In Boston we discovered some scenes were too long, other scenes were missing and certain moments needed to be clarified. This has been a great opportunity to revisit the show and address all those issues. We rewrote a scene and added a new scene entirely, along with trimming along the way. The feedback from the NYMF staff was crucial guidance. Meanwhile, the requirements of the festival have been great for demanding discipline. They force us to keep everything lean and tight. I like it.


Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Jason: I love the excitement of a festival. I love the frenzy and the speed. We load in, the audience arrives, we hit it hard, it’s over, they leave, we strike. Boom. Done. Repeat. It’s great energy and fun. And there is so much going on with so many things to taste. In the festival, we get to be part of a wide and varied experience for an audience.

Cassandra: I would say that what I’m most looking forward to is playing keyboard with the Grimm band and sharing the music I wrote with a wider audience. And we’re performing our show in New York City at NYMF! I’m beyond excited for the journey we’ve embarked upon.

For more information on  Le Cabaret Grimm, check out the show's official websitelike them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Friday, July 20, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT

I've added a note to the post below, but the good news is that there will be one more performance of Flambé Dreams tonight at 11pm! You can purchase your tickets here.

In speaking of final performances, tomorrow with be the final day to catch Arnie the Doughnut, a deliciously zany family musical with a book by Frances Limoncelli and music and lyrics by George Howe, based on the story by Laurie Keller. I was first introduced to these writers' work with their musical The Emperor's Groovy New Clothes, and Arnie, the tale of a doughnut and its new bakery owner, promises to be fun fare for all. The final two performances will be tomorrow, Saturday, July 21st at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. If you need any more convincing, read on to learn more about the show.


Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?

Frances Limoncelli and George Howe: A silly, tuneful, delicious family musical that strives to redefine human/doughnut relations.


Me: You guys have collaborated on a couple of projects. How did your writing partnership begin?

Frances: George and I met in January of 1986 when I was a freshman in college and playing Mame in a production of the same name. I had 16 lightning fast costume changes and no dresser. George had just dropped out of school and was hanging around watching rehearsal. Everyone else I knew was already in the show and busy, so I walked out into the seats during our tech and asked him to be my dresser. He came backstage, I took off my clothes, and the rest is history. I think I said something like “Get used to these, you’re going to see a lot of them.” That what he claims, anyway.

When I got out of school I started doing summer stock at the same place George did – the infamous Weston Playhouse in Vermont, the one that we held the benefit for last fall. It was there that we started occasionally writing and/or performing in sketches or with parody lyrics to songs for their after-hours cabaret. Highlights include Bovinian Rhapsody, Vermont-themed opera parodies like Madame Buttermilk and The Magic Fudge, and a series of musical take-offs starring George’s version of Ethel Merman: The Sound of Merman, The Little Merman, and Ethel Merman is Peter Pan.

George and I both moved to NY (Brooklyn, actually) after I graduated college. After a year I moved to Chicago and he followed three months later. My boyfriend at the time used to say to me, “I guess it’s love you, love George.” True.

Me: What has the process been like bringing the show from Chicago to New York?

Frances and George: We had a great experience developing Arnie in Chicago for the theatre that commissioned it: Lifeline Theatre, for whom we have written many shows. We struggled for weeks trying to decide how much of the Chicago production could transfer to the festival. When we finally accepted the fact that it was just too expensive and complicated to transfer anything, we started anew in New York, and we’re really happy with that decision. It’s been so exciting to return to New York, where our theatre careers began and where we have our roots. It’s a sort of homecoming. And it has reunited us with so many of our New York theatre industry friends.

Me: What is your approach for writing a show that is good for both an adult and child audience?

Frances and George: That’s easy – we write what we like. Maybe that makes us 8 year olds on the inside, but that’s what we do. We don’t believe in talking down to kids. We find no difference in writing for children than for adults. Either way we just write what makes us laugh, or what touches us. That’s why grownups are always surprised how much they enjoy our family shows – they assume that it’ll be dumbed down or over simplified. We find that our material works on many levels so that a 4 year old can be entranced by color, sound, and silliness, while a 10 year old gets the character conflict and loves the catchy tunes, and the adults appreciate how sophisticated the music is and the wit of the script. They also pick up on all the references we have sprinkled throughout.

Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Frances and George: We are thrilled for our work to be seen by New York theatre audiences and by industry leaders who could give the show a life in the future. We would love for Arnie the Doughnut to be seen by families all over the world. And we hope that, as a writing team, we get a career boost that will open doors for us as a writing team.
For more information on Arnie the Doughnut, check out the show's official websitelike them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: FLAMBE DREAMS

*EDIT: The writers have actually informed me that there has been an added performance for the show! So you can still catch it tomorrow night, July 20th, at 11 pm. Get your tickets here. And now, back to the original interview post...


I am the WORST, guys. In scheduling all of these interviews, I unfortunately did not get to share this one from Matthew Hardy and Randy Klein's Flambé Dreams until now, after they've concluded their NYMF run. This sweet musical comedy tells the story of a man with big dreams of working in the food industry, following in the footsteps of his deceased father and winning the love of a beautiful girl. The show received some nice reviews during its run, and it was especially important to me to share this interview since this show has been development for some time and has even participated in the Finger Lakes Musical Festival's The PITCH. So, to share more about their show, Matthew and Randy answered the following questions about Flambé Dreams:


Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?

Randy Klein: Flambé Dreams is a show that entertains audiences and makes them laugh!

Matthew Hardy: Flambé Dreams is a hilarious yet poignant new musical about a young man who dreams of becoming a great Maitre d' like his father who was killed in a freak flaming Bananas foster accident.


Me: How did you two begin collaborating together?

Matthew: Randy was recommended to me as a music director for a cabaret act called "Songs for the Dysfunctional" that I was developing. Randy liked my parody lyrics and suggested we write original material.Randy: We began collaborating when Matthew was performing his cabaret act and I was his accompanist. Matt was writing lyrics to other songs and I suggested he write his own songs. The cabaret act developed into Flambé Dreams.


Me: What is it about aspiring to be a maitre d’ that makes for a good musical?

Randy: The theme is that anyone can live their dream, no matter how silly it may seem to others. If you believe in yourself, your dream can come true.

Matthew: It's original! We've all seen musicals about characters with dreams of becoming great actors, singers, musicians etc. but have we seen a musical about making it in the food and beverage industry? Plus you get dancing waiters and flaming desserts!


Me: You guys were one of the first teams to present Flambé Dreams at The PITCH at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. Since we just talked to Ed Sayles about the program, can you talk a little about the experience?

Matthew: We had a great time in Auburn. Theater Mack is a beautiful new theater/cabaret space and we were honored to be the first show to tread the boards. It was a great exercise for us to whittle the show down to a three person, 45-minute presentation that still captured the show’s heart and charm. The audiences were very appreciative and gave some excellent feedback.

Randy: The experience was wonderful. The folks at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival are great to work with. It is a super professional operation producing some wonderful musical theatre. Ed Sayles is a true supporter of the art form.


Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Matthew: Watching six performances of Flambé Dreams and hearing the laughter from the NYMF audiences! I'm looking forward to the future opportunities that the exposure from NYMF can provide. I'm also excited to join a community of creative people who have come before us and see the shows of my fellow 2012 NYMF participants!

Randy: Hearing audiences laughing and applauding to our work. The show has been in development for 7 or 8 years and to see it in front of a live audience is a great reward. We look forward to moving it to the next level of production after NYMF.

For more information on Flambé Dreams, check out the show's official website.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: TROUBLE


The coming-of-age stories of teenagers is not new fodder for the stage, but not many of them can boast warnings of sexual content and nudity. 13, this is not. Still, behind the disclaimer on the NYMF website for Trouble (book by Michael Alvarez, music and lyrics by Ella Grace) lies a raw tale of modern teenage relationships and one crazy night where teens explore their innermost passions. Read on to learn more about Trouble (which has one more performance today), straight from writers Michael and Ella themselves:


Me: How would you describe the show in one sentence?

Ella Grace: A “grow-up-face -your-demons-life-goes-on-all-there-is-is-love” view of the world told through the hearts and minds of a group of young, glorious people.

Michael Alvarez: The show is a look at 8 teenagers and the relationships, sorrow, love, sex and joy that young love brings.


Me: How did you two become collaborators? For Michael, what was it like also directing the show?

Michael: I met Ella at a musical theatre networking event in London. I saw her from across the room and had instant butterflies and fireworks—I knew she was the one, artistically, I was meant to meet! It was kismet. I started on Trouble as the director, but then realized that I should also write the book as well.

Directing the show has been a great experience and opportunity to continue developing the characters and storylines. When you prepare a script as a director you dissect the script differently as you would a writer. I found as I was dissecting the script from a director’s point of view a lot of new layers and little things about the characters I didn’t realize I’d written. Some I liked, some I didn’t; but I had the freedom to change them as I saw fit. As I worked through scenes with actors I have been able to cut, tighten and focus to make the scenes stronger and more concise. A week into rehearsal I practically changed a whole story line! I love directing and I love writing, so put them together and it is theatrical bliss!


Me: The aesthetic for some of promotional materials reminds me a little of the British program Skins. Where do you think Trouble falls in the pantheon of works about teens and coming of age?

Ella: Trouble’s contribution to the teen story is a little Skins in subject matter, a little Dawson's Creek in character with a few magical Narnian elements provided by our show’s star crossed lovers. We all, regardless of age, can feel isolated by our seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I hope Trouble is a piece that will touch and encourage people, that will show we are all united in life’s fun fair. Sometimes things are bumpy, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes scary but it’s one hell of a ride and quoting the High School Musical line “We’re all in this together.”

Michael: I think we really explore what it is to be young and in love. It is sexy and scary and overwhelming and exciting and new and all these things! It may not always work out in your favor, but in the end it makes you who you are. The show looks at how relationships, with your parents, friends, lovers and self can shape you and make you become who you are. I think we have the sexy and edgy side of Skins, the drama of 90210, the heart and innocence of Dawson’s Creek and a fashion-forward sense like Gossip Girl.


Me: How did you develop the sound of the show/score?

Michael: By Ella’s genius!

Ella: The music has changed a lot as I’ve been growing up with the show. Initially the sound was very Paramore/Linkin Park to go with the dark angry mood of the story.

As the story has developed, the feel of the piece has changed a lot bringing a whole host of contrasting moments to play with. Overall, the music has arrived at a pop-ier, more musical theatre sound. For Trouble, I wanted the music to be simple and direct to communicate honestly the stories of the young people.


Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Ella: Meeting all the amazing crew and cast members who have been working their butts off to make this all possible, getting to see Michael after waiting a whole year and getting to spend 10 straight days with my amazing sister in one of the best cities in the world. I am nervous to venture into rehearsals as I know these people are going to blow my socks off!

Michael: Seeing the show come to life on its feet with this incredible cast and team! And being able to share this experience with Ella.

For more information on Trouble, check out the show's official websitelike them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: STUCK

Have you ever spent a long commute on the subway thinking to yourself, This could be a musical? At this year's NYMF, Riley Thomas's Stuck responds to those thoughts with a new show about a group of people stuck on a train. Weaving together the stories of strangers, Stuck is an examination of lives converging in a certain place and time. Below, Riley answers 5 questions about the inspiration for the show and why Stuck is perfect for NYMF audiences.



Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?

Riley Thomas: A humorous and heartfelt ride accompanied by fun and evocative music.


Me: The idea seems like such a great concept for musical/song cycle. What prompted you to write it?

Riley: Predictably, the idea popped into my head when I was stuck on the train. As I took in my surroundings I was struck by a unique quality about the subway: nowhere else can you find such a diverse group of people in the same place. I whimsically began inventing a backstory for each rider and realized that trapping these profoundly different people and watching them interact would be fascinating.


Me: Having a musical take place in one location seems tricky writing-wise. What your approach to the piece to make sure audiences don’t feel confined with the characters?

Riley: Occasionally throughout the show, vignettes take the audience off the train and into the life of each character, weaving history and fantasy into the present action.


Me: How did you decide on NYMF as a good showcase for this piece?

Riley: Other writers may yearn for a complicated Broadway-style production, but the size and scope of NYMF's presentation is perfect for Stuck. The small cast, the austerity of the set and the minimal technical demands are things that would allow Stuck to flourish as part of NYMF. The quality of NYMF's previous presentations has created a respect that attracts top tier talent, and the resulting notoriety pulls in industry professionals interested in analyzing, collaborating, or discovering the next step.


Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Riley: The opportunity to watch Stuck come alive via the artistry of a powerfully talented cast and creative team, and to share my work with audiences and industry alike.

For more information on Stuck, like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Friday, July 13, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: LIVING WITH HENRY

Many of the NYMF shows this year are addressing important issues facing our country and society, from poverty to politics, and in the thick of it is Christopher Wilson's Living With Henry, an honest musical portrayal of a man living with HIV. Inspired by Christopher's own personal journey, Living With Henry is by turns comic and heartbreaking-- a work about living day to day just as much as it is about dealing with illness. The show was selected as a Next Link project and was performed as a part of the Toronto Fringe; below, Christopher Wilson shares more about the NYMF production.


Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?

Christopher Wilson: Framing HIV as a chronic illness rather than a death sentence, Living With Henry is a musical drama that explores the fears, complications and complex realities of living with HIV today.


Me: What inspired Living With Henry, and what was the writing process like creating a musical about such an important issue?

Christopher: The piece began with my personal HIV diagnosis 10 years ago - and grew as a means to cope with something that was initially very frightening - to shift it into something more humanized and emotionally manageable.

It began with personal dialogues and journal entries. Those further evolved into writing scenes and composing songs. And it landed as an hour and a half musical drama - exploring some very important and hard-hitting issues that continue to confront both our gay community and the community at large.


Me: What role has your company, Beyond Boundaries, had in the development of this show?

Christopher: Beyond Boundaries is an ensemble-driven company that has been focused on the development of this specific work. As the show has had two previous incarnations here in Toronto, the vast majority of our company have been with the piece since its inception last summer at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Our extraordinarily talented and committed ensemble explore intensely to uncover the truth in these characters and their intentions. They have worked tirelessly to help figure out the plot puzzle as the piece has evolved, and strive to tell the most honest and effective story possible.

I say jokingly, if you want to engage in therapy but not pay a therapist, write a show about your life - give it to a group of smart and questioning actors - and have them rip it apart and put it back together. The process is incredibly enlightening, terrifying and equally inspiring.


Me: What has the process been like bringing the show from the Toronto Fringe to NYMF?

Christopher: Exciting, terrifying, epic, daunting and logistically challenging! Living With Henry has grown throughout the past year since its Fringe debut, with a second production at the Next Stage Theatre Festival here in Toronto. Being invited to NYMF as one of 10 Next Link Productions was a dream that surpassed all of my previous expectations!

The NYMF staff has been incredibly supportive and encouraging throughout the entire process. If I am not mistaken, we are the only international company participating in the Festival this summer - and working out the details of getting our company to New York from Canada has been its own unique dance.


Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Christopher: It is a privilege to be a part of such an exciting and creatively vibrant theatrical community. The opportunity to share this new Canadian work in the artistic mecca of musical theatre is incredible - and we hope that as many patrons as possible will resonate with the honesty and boldness of the piece.

It is also a cherished honor to share this musical work with a community such as New York, that has been so deeply affected and impacted by HIV/AIDS since it emerged in the 80's.

Although HIV is a much different animal than it was twenty years ago - there is still a great deal of ignorance, stigma, misunderstanding and fear that we need to work through together as a united community.

For more information on Living With Henry, check out the show's official websitelike them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: PRISON DANCER

Remember this video of Cebu prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller"?



Not only does this incredible viral hit hold up as an impressive work of choreography and performance 51,000,000 views later, but it is also now making its NYMF debut through a musical written by Romeo Candido (music, lyrics, and book) and Carmen De Jesus (book). Prison Dancer tells the story of the prisoners behind the video, creating a wonderful blend of real life events with fresh new characters. Even further blurring the lines between real life and viral video, Prison Dancer has also been existing online in the form of a web series. Below, Carmen and Romeo talk a little more about the project and what you can expect from their NYMF debut of the show's first fully staged production.




Me: How would you describe your show in one sentence?

Carmen De Jesus and Romeo Candido: A love letter to outsider in all of us, in the form of a musical inspired by the Cebu Inmates viral video.


Me: You did a lot of research for this show; what was that process like?

Carmen and Romeo: Much like how we discovered the phenomenon of Byron Garcia and the Dancing Inmates from Cebu, we turned to Youtube to do research. Everything is on Youtube! Regarding research, we didn't want to be accurate to any one specific in the real prison. Instead we wanted to create a fictional mythology and interpret what could have happened behind the scenes, and blur the lines between what is real, and what is not, to ultimately tell the tale about different people imprisoned by their circumstance.


Me: Prison Dancer will be on stage for NYMF, but it is also a musical web series. Where did the idea from that come from, and what has the experience been of putting that together?

Carmen and Romeo: We workshopped Prison Dancer - the stage musical - twice, in two separate Toronto theatre festivals (fuGEN's Potluck Festival, Summerworks Theatre Festival). Ana Serrano, who runs the Canadian Film Centre's Digital Media Lab. She specializes in developing and launching digital media projects. She was in the audience during one of those workshop performances and came on board our creative team, spearheading the move to "transmedia." She thought it would be great as a webseries, and encouraged us to adapt the work for Youtube.

It's not easy to truncate a 120 minute stage play to 12 5 minute episodes for Youtube. We had to sacrifice some characters, some songs, and some of the more theatrically dramatic storylines for the webseries because we just didn't have the time to develop the narrative to engage the Youtube audiences in some of the darker tones of the piece. So we fashioned each episode around a song, added interactive elements to extend the narrative of each character where possible, and the resulting webseries stands alone but also gives a great taste of what the full stage production will be.

Prison Dancer has had many iterations, from a screenplay, to a staged musical, to a webseries, and then revised back into a stage musical. While there are differences between the webseries and the NYMF production, all the stories and characters exist in the same world. We started creating rules to the 'storyworld' of Prison Dancer as to keep the experience between stage and screen consistent.


Me: How do you view the relationship between the web series and the stage show?

Carmen and Romeo: The webseries and the webseries cast stands alone as a complete show, a complete product - one that will exist for as long as Youtube exists. It's the "immortal" representation of our Prison Dancer story. It also serves as the evangelical platform for introducing people all around the world to our Prison Dancer universe - to the characters, the stories, the songs. The webseries exists to not only fulfill the audience members who can't come see a stage production of Prison Dancer - because of location or cost - but it also exists to help cultivate an audience and a hunger within the general public for the live stage experience.


Me: What are you most looking forward to about NYMF?

Carmen and Romeo: We've never had a fully staged production of Prison Dancer before - with the full out choreography - 12 dance numbers! So exciting. Even in our web series we didn't have the time to get all the hardcore "dancing" of Prison Dancer out. Also, the talent within our NYMF cast is truly awesome - Filipino triple threats of Broadway renown and caliber, that's got me giddy with excitement to see how they and our Director/Choreographer, Design and Music teams will interpret and breathe life into the material! We're so thankful to NYMF for this opportunity to take our show to the next level!

For more information on Prison Dancer, check out the show's official websitelike them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.