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?

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.

Monday, July 9, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: HE'S NOT HIMSELF

In the next show in our 5-question interview series, protagonist Gene finds himself unconsciously living a double life in the musical comedy He's Not Himself by Marc Silverberg. Having a previous production as a part of Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, He's Not Himself is a NYMF Next Link selection full of hilarity, adventure, and gangsters. Below, Marc shares more about his show and what to expect from the NYMF production:

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

Marc Silverberg: A non-stop comedy romp, with a traditional jazz score.

Me: How does a comedy/farce translate into a musical in He's Not Himself?

Marc: Very few musicals that I have seen incorporate the style of theatre known as farce, probably because it’s a very difficult thing to do. To properly execute a farce, the show must establish a plot that involves mistaken identities, constant confusion among the characters, misunderstandings, and climax in a non-stop chase that has characters running in and out of entrances as quickly as possible. Traditionally, musicals focus more on the music than the story, and I wanted to write a musical that focused equally on both, while still trying to be as silly as possible.

Me: You seem to have a lot of choir/a cappella experience. Has that had any influence on writing the music for He's Not Himself?

Marc: Being rooted in choral music and a cappella music for most of my life has given me opportunities to study with some of the greatest musicians and teachers in the country. By traveling and collecting information on how to compose, arrange, and understand music, I had the knowledge I needed to try my hand at composing a musical theatre score. In my opinion, music and theatre go hand in hand, and I was able to take the skills from one and translate them to the other.

Me: How has the show evolved since its productions at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity?

Marc: The production that was seen at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity was the seventh draft of the show. The production that will be seen at NYMF is the eleventh draft of the show. With every draft, the script keeps getting tweaked until we are all satisfied with the outcome. There aren’t many big changes in terms of the script- unless someone was in the audience for all six performances, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The major changes involved the big chase scene at the end (we just wanted to include more action, and make it a little longer) and many of the lyrics in the songs have changed. In terms of the overall production, we feel that the show audiences will see at NYMF is much stronger than in past incarnations. We have a bigger budget, more time to rehearse, and lots of support from the festival.

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

Marc: I’m hoping that the popularity of NYMF will bring awareness to this show and draw more audience members. We were chosen as a Next Link project, which gave us a huge amount of support and insider info, allowing us to hire the right people and promote the show effectively. It has been a dream of mine to present a show in NYMF, and now I looking forward to seeing that dream become a reality.

Friday, July 6, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: SHELTER

Next up in the 5-question interview series is Shelter, a new musical showcasing the voices of women in a Philadelphia women's shelter. Written by Brittany Bullen (with music by Newell Bullen), this heartfelt show tells the story of a woman trying to start over, and has also taken on a philanthropic angle, having raised over $10,000 for homeless shelters. Below, Brittany Bullen shares more about bringing Shelter to NYMF:

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

Brittany Bullen: A contemporary pop/rock musical about love, loss and starting over.

Me: What was it like collaborating with your brother-in-law on this show?

Brittany: It was a fun process. I had a great deal of the music written in my head when I asked for his help, but I never could have done it without him. Several days a week, I'd take my 2 year old son Thomas to Newell's apartment and we'd spend most of the day working on the show while Thomas played (more like fought over toys) with his daughter, Laura Klein. I'd sing a song for him and give him a general idea for what I wanted the instruments to do and he'd flush it out. He was like my musical translator. We always knew we were on the right track when Thomas started dancing.

Me: This show is very female-centric. What has the process been like developing a show that is so rooted in women’s issues?

Brittany: Writing a show for women was always my goal, but there have been some unexpected challenges that came along with it. First of all, you are limited in the kinds of harmonies you can write. That said, I haven't been shy about testing the limits of our cast's vocal ranges!

Secondly, when you write a show for women, you have to be very careful about the subtext because even if you're not trying to convey a particular message, people expect one and will be looking for it. Ultimately, the show isn't just about women, it's about all those who feel weighed down by the past and are struggling to move on.

Me: What is it like as a writer to also be acting in the show?

Brittany: It's fun! I think in a different setting it might be difficult to wear so many hats, but because our process with the creative team and actors has been quite collaborative, it feels very natural. I wrote the role of Gloria with myself in mind. It's more like a cameo than a role, actually, because my character is basically mute for most of the show.

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

Brittany: I am excited to see how New York audiences respond to the show. We were received very well in Salt Lake City where we originated, but I am aware that New Yorkers are a much tougher crowd to please. We are up to the challenge and thrilled to have the opportunity to bring some more attention to what we feel is a really amazing piece with a message worth hearing.

For more information on Shelter, check out the show's blog, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: RIO

Yesterday morning, NYMF hosted a special preview presentation of songs from 9 of the musicals that will have productions as a part of this year's festival. Amongst the performances were a song from A Letter to Harvey Milk sung by Leslie Kritzer and a song from today's 5-question interview show, Rio.

Rio, with book, music, and lyrics by Mitch Magonet and Joey Miller, is the story of twelve year-old Pipio who is searching for his mother amidst the colorful and cruel streets of Rio. Inspired by tragic true events in Brazil, Rio is a rich story of survival and identity, set against a vibrant cultural backdrop. Below, Mitch shares a little more about their journey in writing Rio and getting to NYMF:

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

Mitch Magonet: Rio is a musical about celebrating life and finding hope even in the darkest of times and places.

Me: I read a little bit about where the inspiration for Rio came from, and it seems to be tied to some really powerful stories and a personal connection to the place. Can you tell us a little bit more about the show’s conception?

Mitch: As writers, Joey and I have always been attracted to characters who have an inner need to find their history and who are relentless in their search to find themselves – characters who have inner rhythms, where music plays an important part of their lives. The rhythms of Brazil was a natural place to start. Fascinated by the intricate music and characters of Rio, Joey and I began an eight year journey of discovery about this violent, yet beautiful city. After learning about the tragedy of the ‘Candelaria Massacre’ where many homeless street-kids were brutally murdered at the church by the police, we felt that there was an important story to be told. Within six months, we composed a crop of exhilarating songs that explored this fragile and powerful world.

But it wasn't so much that 70 children were shot and 8 died on those church steps. That was tragic enough. But several years later, that 39 of the 62 survivors were killed either by police and street-life was just incomprehensible to our North American sensibilities. How could a country let this happen to their future - again. As a father of 2 young girls, I could never imagine even one of my children going one day without clean running water, an education or a hug from their parent, and yet, this is what these street-kids live without everyday. This is their imprisonment. And yet, no prison can keep them from their music. To be able to dig up hope and joy from the mudslide of their daily existence with music and Carnival was so deeply inspiring that we knew if it could move us, it would move any audience.

Me: How did you and Joey become collaborators, and what is your writing process, given your distance from one another in where you’re currently based?

Mitch: Knowing each other through relatives, Joey and I realized we had such similar tastes in music, theater, film etc. So it was a very easy fit. While we were both living in Toronto, we were searching for a project that would combine both my pop music sensibilities and his background as a percussionist. What started out as a ‘test’ project to see if we could even work together, turned into a complete labor of love. We had no set rules. Sometimes we would choose a character and write songs using his or her unique and distinctive musical rhythms and language. Then we would meet and help shape each others’ songs but always being tough critics on each other. We tried sitting in a room together and working on a song but it just didn’t work for us. So now that we’re living in different cities, we work through a million emails mp3s and phone calls. Once in a while we travel to each other’s city and play what we have. We established this method that worked best for us.

Me: How did you approach translating Brazil as a place into music and onto the stage?

Mitch: We started with a universal story - one that would work no matter where it took place. We always knew that it would be impossible to recreate the actual Carnival in Rio. That must be seen and experienced. We take a lens, and against the background of Carnival we tell the story of a twelve year old boy who never stops believing that he will find his birth mother. He is an innocent child, who with the pure faith of a child, changes the life of a young girl who has almost given up believing in herself.

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

Mitch: Seeing the audience respond emotionally to a musical that we have been nourishing and caring for all these years is the best reward we could ask for. We’re excited to share the journey through our music and story, and to have an audience experience those travels with us. We hope this story impacts them as it does us and that the audience will love this production as much as we do. The gift of seeing an audience respond to your work is invaluable, and through the Festival we know that other musical theater writers appreciate the incredible opportunities this process offers.

For more information on Rio, check out the show's official website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Monday, July 2, 2012

5-Question NYMF Interviews: A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK

Here we go, guys...

As I recently mentioned, NYMF is right on the horizon, starting in July this year instead of in the fall like years past. There are 21 full productions gracing NYMF stages this year, in addition to other events, including readings and a Cutting Edge Composers concert (which is always a lot of fun). To keep up on all things NYMF, check out the festival's official website and follow them on Twitter.

Last year, I contacted many of the NYMF shows and conducted 5-question interviews with the writers, getting a sneak peek at how they were preparing for their productions, as well as learning more about their shows. This year, there are a ton of fantastic offerings with themes and subject matters ranging from iconic historical figures, political issues facing our country, and original material putting a new spin on how we view the modern musical. Over the next month, I'll be rolling out 5-question interviews with writers of shows in this year's festival... and today we are starting with A Letter to Harvey Milk!

A Letter to Harvey Milk is based on a short story by the same name by Lesléa Newman. With a book by Jerry James, music by Laura l. Kramer, and lyrics by Ellen M. Schwartz, this funny and touching musical explores the stories of a retired kosher butcher and young lesbian teacher and stars Leslie Kritzer and Jeff Keller. The writers shared more about their shows below:

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

Jerry James, Laura l. Kramer, and Ellen M. Schwartz: A Letter to Harvey Milk is a mystery story that examines the question, “What do we owe the dead?” with humor, warmth and compassion.

Me: What inspired you to write this musical?

Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: When we realized that the three of us—one a Jew, one a gay Jew and one neither—were all equally excited by Lesléa Newman’s beautiful and touching short story, with its message of the healing power of love in the midst of horror, we knew we were onto something. To paraphrase the old rye bread ad: you don’t have to be gay or Jewish to love A Letter to Harvey Milk—only human…

Me: What has it been like giving voice to such an iconic figure in politics and civil rights?

Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: Humbling and liberating. Our Harvey appears in scenes that are completely invented, and if we try to make him say or do something that rings false, something that is somehow untrue to the life and legend of Harvey Milk, we know it. Harvey lets us know. But he also urges us to say and do things we might never have thought of without him.

Me: The musical seems to take place after Harvey has died. What role does his character take on in Harry’s current story?

Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: Our musical takes place in the spring of 1986, almost eight years after the assassination of Harvey Milk. He appears only in flashbacks. But what happens in those flashbacks is central to Harry’s solving of the mystery that threatens to destroy him.

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

Jerry, Laura, and Ellen: To see our work—done in collaboration with our director David Schechter and our wonderful cast, headed by Jeff Keller and Leslie Kritzer—in front of an audience and to see their reaction to the qualities in the source material that inspired us to write it in the first place.

For more information, like A Letter to Harvey Milk on Facebook!