Thursday, June 28, 2012

We Are Dinosaurs: A Glimpse Into Triassic Parq

If you've been loving a lot of the interviews and guest blogs lately from writers and people in the industry, much more of that kind of content is on the way as I'll soon be rolling out the NYMF 5-question interview series once again for this year's summer festival. If you can't wait, feel free to browse through some of last year's interviews to gear up for a July full of new great shows.

Before you do that, though, let's talk Triassic Parq, a musical send-up to/parody of Michael Crichton's famous novels (and subsequent movie adaptations) by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo. This show was a hit at Fringe 2010, but even having heard hype from friends, I had no idea what to expect when I went to the production that just opened at SoHo Playhouse.

I wish I could accurately describe this show, but the truth is, it's hard. I enjoyed it very much, and I was practically hypnotized by the zany plot (based on scientific details from the famous source material), dedicated actors, and wild choreography. Still, in the closing number, both my friend and I had a moment where we wondered, "How does something like this even exist?" There is definitely a lot going on this show, which tells the story of the park's dinosaurs developing male organs to reproduce and their relationship with humans, and it's not necessarily for everyone-- but there is a lot to like. In fact, this show may be perfect for you if you like:

  • Jurassic Park. Though this show stands on its own, it definitely has roots firmly in the world of Jurassic Park in a refreshing way. Also, were you aware that the theme song has lyrics? The final song reflected the tune of the theme with lyrics that included, "We are dinosaurs." As though we would want them to be anything else.
  • Morgan Freeman. Guess who plays narrator throughout? No matter what characters mistakenly say throughout the show, it's not Samuel L. Jackson.
  • Gender bending. Men playing women. Women playing men. Lady dinosaurs becoming dudes.
  • Surprise raps about the scientific method.
  • Irreverent, raunchy humor. Ever want a song about what it feels like for a male dinosaur to be sexually stimulated for the first time? Don't act like you haven't...
  • Mime. There is a Mime-a-saurus. You know, that rare species of dinosaur with the face paint and penchant for exaggerated movement.
  • Bad ass choreography. These dinosaurs practically soar, jumping around the stage, breaking through fences, and scaling doorways.
There are a lot of other great things about the show, as well as a ton of surprises. But some things are just left to the imagination, and it is totally worth checking out for yourself. Grab your ticket, see some dinosaurs, and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Second ACTS - Changing Careers Through a Musical

When Mark Hagan contacted me about his new show, Ripper, written with MCHM partner Michael Carach, I was eager to hear more about the show and their development process. Rather than write about it myself, I asked them to put together a guest post (the first and last guest post with R.C. Staab and Daniel Sturman was last August) talking about their project. Below is their account of the beginning of MCHM, the inspiration behind writing Ripper, and the challenges on the horizon as they look towards a production.

Formed in 1985, MCHM was the summer folly of two youths growing up in rural New Jersey. Best friends Michael Carach (MC) and Mark Hagan (HM) would spend their endless summers rewriting current Broadway shows to create parodies for their friends. Armed with a tape deck and a crude microphone from Radio Shack, the duo would sing along with popular shows at the time and compile them into new shows with new lyrics and story lines. “We never put these shows together for anyone but our small circle of friends, but we always dreamed of someday being able to write a real show from scratch" says Hagan. This eventually led them to build a small play theatre in the loft of Mark's parent's barn like a scene out of “Our Gang.” Nothing came of that venture except for dust choked rehearsals and a chaotic fantasy dance sequence that nearly brought the house down...literally.

The two went on to college some twelve hundred miles apart and upon graduating, entered wildly different careers. Hagan worked as an architect for some twenty years. During that period he started a record label ( and attempted to enter the music industry only to find it to be a closed system where the independent artist had few opportunities to be heard. Meanwhile Carach became a television director, writer, and finally a production manager for live television events where he later went on to win two Emmy Awards for technical excellence.

Quickly approaching mid-life when most professionals are simply funding their 401K accounts, they discussed re-booting their careers and starting over as writers. They would begin this effort by trying to write that “real show” they had dreamed about since High School. “Neither of us knew what the other could produce, but the planets had realigned and MCHM once again began to write.” says Carach from his backyard writer's retreat.

What came from five years of intensive writing, re-writes and musical scoring, MCHM's Ripper was born. “Back in the eighties is when Mike and I experienced Broadway. It was a time of large-scale British imports of bombastic proportions, usually based on some historic events like the French revolution or the Paris Opera House's resident ghost. It was at that time that the greatest unsolved mystery entered my consciousness” says Hagan. “I always thought it would make a jarring and aggressive musical. The idea gestated for a few years until I saw a PBS documentary on the subject suggesting the Royal Family's private doctor may have been involved. So I thought to myself- there is a lot here that COULD have happened and perhaps there are some valid reasons to why the mystery was never solved despite modern day forensics. When Mike and I sat down to begin work years later, we decided we would take Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code approach where we would construct a completely original piece based on historical facts. Our goal was never to solve the mystery, but to present a show where the audience could draw their own conclusions and come away with some possible explanations of why the mystery was never solved.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

The PITCH: An Interview with the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's Ed Sayles

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival is a summer-long festival (May 30-October 20) located in Auburn, New York and produced by Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. This year, the festival will feature shows from Altar Boyz and 9 to 5, to My Fair Lady and Fingers & Toes. New to the festival, however, is The PITCH, a festival of new work where every night 2-3 writing teams present a 40-50 minute musical sample from their shows. Live audiences will have the chance to give feedback on these musical pitches and to see works-in-progress in a bare bones setting. The full roster of presentations is listed on the festival's website, but to delve even deeper into how The PITCH came to be, I asked Ed Sayles, the festival's Producing Artistic Director, some questions:

Me: Where did the idea for The PITCH come from?

Ed: I’ve always loved the movie Yankee Doodle Day with James Cagney as George M. Cohan. In the movie, Cohan and his partner Sam Harris meet with a producer, and Harris sits at the piano while Cohan “pitches” their story for a show in less than 15 minutes. Pitch. The idea stuck with me for a while. Over the years I’ve become disturbed at the production costs creative teams incur in the early stages of developing their musicals. So The PITCH came into being as a way for creative teams to receive feedback about their work without any out-of-pocket expenses. This summer, The PITCH will be hosting 20 new musicals, which we hope will give them a start on the way to being fully realized productions. I suspect that a number of wonderful ideas for shows have never reached fruition because of the financial burdens that accompany the development process. It is my wish that, in a small way, this will remedy that problem.

Me: What was the process like curating all the musicals that will be presented as a part of The PITCH?

Ed: Oh, it was great fun. Highly amusing as we were going through the shows. The PITCH Coordinator, Walter Ryon, is based in New York City, so he was in a perfect position to establish personal relationships with creative teams. The finalists were vetted by the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival staff, and then the final selections were made.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Dolls of New Albion: An Interview with Paul Shapera

When musician Paul Shapera contacted me about reviewing the recent recording of his steampunk opera, The Dolls of New Albion, I was certainly intrigued. What would steampunk sound like? When I tried to imagine it, all I could think of was the recent storyline in The Guild that ends in characters riding into a convention hall in a steampunk airship (aaaaaand I am officially revealing more of my geeky self than intended).

Just listening to the overture of The Dolls of New Albion, however, and I instantly recognized the influence that the genre had on the music. This musical is all about moving parts -- from the way the narrative weaves through different generations of characters to the sounds that come together in one musical machine. To share more about his vision for New Albion, Paul agreed to answer some questions about the recording, steampunk, and more.

Me: Where did you get the idea to write The Dolls of New Albion?

Paul Shapera: A friend of mine once pointed out that the Dresden Dolls song which inspired the plot is a song about a… uhm…a vibrator.

About a year ago a director I know asked how I felt about writing an opera My response was mixed, in that I didn’t want to write an orchestral opera with operatic singers. I am more a rock musical kind of composer. I responded off of the top of my head that the kind of thing I would be interested in writing would be a steampunk opera. I wasn’t really serious and was just trying to come up with a unique combination to demonstrate where my interests might lay. I went on to suggest it could sound like the love child of the Dresden Dolls, Rasputina, Tom Waits and Stephen Sondheim and left it at that.

A month later however I could not stop thinking about it and the musical possibilities. I emailed the director saying that I needed to write it. I had to write it. I couldn’t not write it. If I did write it, would he put it up? He told me to go for it.

Obviously the next step was to come up with a plot. Two days later I was driving alone, humming the song “Coin Operated Boy” by the Dresden Dolls, which is actually about a vibrator but also suggests a mechanical boy. I flashed on an image of a mad scientist trying to build a mechanical mannequin and boom. Over the next 25 minutes the first 2 acts and a good bit of the third just poured out.

Me: How do you define 'Steampunk' in the context of The Dolls of New Albion?

Paul: The very first thing that makes the show steampunk for me and the reason I became obsessed with writing the piece was trying to imagine what music for a steampunk show would sound like. There’s only a smattering of steampunk music since it’s mostly an aesthetic and literary movement. I was enthralled with trying to make the music, especially at first, which sounds like what you would THINK steampunk sounds like.

After that, I tried to create a city in an alternative reality whose description fits the bill of a fantastical city from a past that never was. The city of New Albion itself plays an important role in the show. Additionally, once the show is staged and visual design elements are present the steampunk aesthetic will have a chance to really shine

I also see steampunk as a movement containing strong women and bizarre and iconic individuals. Why strong women and steampunk seem intertwined, I’m not sure. Perhaps because there is such a large online presence of women who have embraced steampunk design and who create an image of steampunk femininity which is strong and full of vivacious personality.

The moment I thought of the idea of a mad scientist bringing to life a mechanical doll, it was clear to me that the mad scientist needed to be female especially since the mad scientist trope is so thoroughly male. It made the premise more interesting and at the same time I was convinced that it also made the concept more steampunk.