Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter Hibernation Must Watch List

Hey, guys! It's been a little while, but I hope you're all enjoying the holidays. I've personally been incredibly busy preparing for the end of the year, but luckily there has been some great end-of-the-year musical theatre goodness to send 2013 off in style. On the roster of things you can do to celebrate Christmas with musical theatre, there's the tried and true Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular coming up. Tonight, there's also this concert at the D-Lounge featuring holiday songs by BMI alumni, and Bill Finn's Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don't Know But Should at 54 below.

If you're like me, however, and haven't had time to experience some of the great winter concerts and events in person, there is still great music to enjoy from your home. Here are some of the things that are getting me through this winter:


I couldn't be more happy for my friend, Sam Willmott, who won ASCAP's 2013 Harold Adamson Award this year. He performed recently at the Kennedy Center as a part of the ASCAP Centennial Celebration concerts, along with Amanda Yesnowitz and Deborah Abramson and hosts Pasek and Paul. Watch the whole concert here, and above is Sam's song "Recession Kind of Christmas" because, well, tis the season.


It feels like EVERYONE on Twitter was a-twitter about the 54 Below concert of Hit List, the fictional fringe musical from the short-lived TV show Smash. This concert reunited 3 of the original cast members and creative team from the show, including songwriters Pasek and Paul, Joe Iconis, Drew Gasparini, and Andrew McMahon. Above is Jeremy Jordan singing "Caught in the Storm," and you can view more here.


For anyone who might think the magic of Disney has dimmed over the years should be pleasantly surprised by The Mouse's latest movie, Frozen. Not only is the movie itself charming, but it also features the immense music-writing talents of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and performer extraordinaire Idina Menzel. Need proof? Watch the video above for the sequence for the song "Let It Go."

Stay warm, guys! See you in the next year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

One Minute in a Lift

A couple of months ago, one of my fellow bloggers over on Crazytown, Michael Kras, mentioned Lift was one of his favorite lesser-known musical cast albums. Lift, referring to an elevator in Convent Garden in London, looks into the lives of strangers who share a minute-long ride together through the eyes of a train station busker. Lift by Craig Adams and Ian Watson represents the wave of new and emerging musicals from the UK, and it was developed extensively with Pitch Perfect Musicals, a company fighting the good fight by producing new works by new writers in London. Michael's mention definitely intrigued me about this show, and serendipitously enough, Lift is currently making its US debut with Beautiful Soup Theater at the Richard Shepard Theatre. 


Lift received mixed reviews in London with most citing its loose plotting as the area of concern. In many ways, Lift evokes shows like Company and Hello Again in its play with time and use of themes of longing and connection to build characters through brief vignettes. It's obvious that Craig Adams can write some great tunes, and lamentations of time and regret really ring true through his smart lyrics and haunting refrains. But there are a lot of aspects of the story that never quite gel-- though Lift shows small vignettes of possible connections between people in this elevator, it never establishes how or why we know these things. Are these scenarios all in the head of the romantic busker? And if not, what are these scenarios played out outside the lift supposed to signify about these characters, other than that they are lonely or hoping for something more than they have?


Beautiful Soup's production, directed by Steven Carl McCasland, features some lovely voices and some nice moments of cheeky humor. I can easily see Lift becoming a chamber musical cult favorite, since the music lends itself to lots of impressive solos and troubled characters. But even this production cannot overcome a lot of the holes in the plotting itself, leading to scattered moments of true musical connection with a lot of crowds rushing in between. I am glad that Lift made its way to this side of the pond, and I hope this is an introduction to more new British works making their way over in the future. In the meantime, you can catch Beautiful Soup's production, running until November 24th.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Working the Field: A Q&A with Jeremy Cone

When writer/composer Jeremy Cone first got in touch with me about his show, The Field, which will have a performance at Dixon Place on November 6th at 7:30 pm, I imagined a piece with honey-tongued twangs and a folksy flair as gentle as a Southern breeze through sun-warmed crops. For an urbanite, this didn't exactly sound like my cup of (sweet) tea at first. But while cadences of The Field echo hands working the land, there is also a very modern beat to the show, taking a rustic set piece and infiltrating it with universal themes of ambition, progress, and hope for fruit to come of hard labor.

To learn more about what exactly The Field was about, I talked to Jeremy about what influenced The Field, what the road has been like to Dixon Place, and how further developing The Field brought him to New York.


Me: Tell us a little bit about your background with music, writing and performance. What did you study in school? How did you realize that you wanted to be a part of all three?

Jeremy Cone: I grew up with a piano I was always playing around on. I was a hummer, and I made up a lot of songs. My parents played a lot of musicals on casette tapes in the car, or on road trips, and I liked the songs, but I also liked the stories they were a part of. I was in various plays and musicals at school and Temple growing up. At my high school, every year there was a cast-written play that gave students a chance to write our own lines and storylines. I really enjoyed creating and playing a part, and helping shape the plot of the show. I realized that was what I wanted to do, and what I could do. In college, I wrote and directed a few musicals. This was the first time combining music with the writing, and a bit of performing. I combined all three because there’s more than one way to tell a story. I could do more with multiple methods of storytelling. It was also fun writing stuff for other people, and I enjoyed working with friends and new people to create something. It was really special. I studied theatre and writing, but by doing these musicals, I learned how to execute my ideas, and that gave me the confidence to try it with The Field.


Me: What other artists inspire you?

Jeremy: Stephen Sondheim is one of the greatest lyricists.

I saw Roger Waters perform The Wall Live and it was amazing. It was a concert but also very theatrical. A new kind of musical theatre. I wanted to try something like that.

Dr. Seuss wrote some very wise, but simple words.

Sam Spence wrote glorious epic music for NFL films.

They've all been influential and inspirational.


Me: What is The Field? What is it about, and how would you describe it as a piece?

Jeremy: The Field is a modern musical myth about going out into “The Field,” working some land and growing life. It’s a story told through poetry, music, singing, folk tales, and projected pictures. The story follows someone trying to grow something where there is nothing. He sees a vision of Harvest Woman who says she’ll be real only when The Field is grown. So he works for her to someday appear, but there’s a Thief in The Field who steals his crops and prevents that reality from happening. He must fight the Thief, and keep growing.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

59 Days in New York: An Interview with May-Elise Martinsen

So you move to the big city. You're an aspiring theatre artist, determined and wide-eyed, ready to make New York your own. What do you do? How do you get started?

For Amy, the protagonist of the new webseries 59 Days in New York, you keep a musical video diary. But something similar can be said of May-Elise Martinsen, the writer, composer, and star of 59 Days in New York. Having recently moved to the city with musical theatre dreams of her own, May-Elise created the webseries to help keep her occupied while waiting to start the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Program. Four episodes in, and 59 Days has now taken on a life of its own.

In the interview below, May-Elise shares about the process making episodes for the series, talks golden age musicals, and discusses things that inspire her:


Me: Tell us a little about your background. What got you started writing musical pieces?

May-Elise Martinsen: During high school, I loved singing the standards of the “golden age” musical theatre repertoire, and I spent lots of time meditating on the merits of musical theatre movies like Show Boat and South Pacific. But it wasn’t until I returned to Norway the summer after my first year of college that I started thinking of writing my own show. That summer, I spent the days working at a local nursing home. In the off hours, however, I didn’t have much to do besides enjoy scenic walks and more scenic walks. I didn’t know many people in Oslo, and the few friends and relatives I did have in the city were enjoying vacation elsewhere.

It was the first time in years that I hadn’t had deadlines and homework to keep me occupied. That freedom prompted me to pick up a hobby I hadn’t touched since I was ten - writing songs. When I returned to Wellesley that fall, I brought a few of my new songs to a composer seminar. To my surprise and pleasure, the main reaction to the music was: this sounds as though it belongs in a musical.

The more I started exploring musical theatre writing, the more it felt like the right path for me - and the perfect way to combine my writing and performing interests.


Me: How has your Wellesley experience influenced your journey into musical theatre?

May-Elise: A small liberal arts school, Wellesley is not the traditional place to study music or develop a relationship with musical theatre. There were four music majors in my year, and the department strongly favored theory over performance and classical repertoire over any “popular” material (yes, musical theatre qualifies as “pop.”)

Still, when I told the faculty in my sophomore year that I wanted to write a full-length musical about Scandinavian medieval queen, Margrete I, for my senior thesis, I couldn’t have imagined a more supportive environment. Even though I had little composition experience, the faculty helped me arrange my own study abroad program in Norway and develop my Margrete musical compositions through several independent study classes. I ended up exploring one moment of Margrete’s life through three different storytelling mediums in a part research-part composition senior thesis. It was a great opportunity to develop musical theatre in a broader sense, and I feel grateful the faculty allowed me so much license to design an education that fit my goals.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New Broadway Babies: Bound for Broadway XIV

When I got an invite to attend the 14th Bound for Broadway concert, I was dying to go after seeing a line-up that included new works by the likes of Dan Elish, Salzman and Cunningham, and Adam Overett. Unfortunately, work prevented me from attending, but I sent in my good friend and impeccably theatre-savvy friend John O'Connor to scope out the show and send back a full report. Below are his thoughts.

Constantly trying to keep abreast of new musical being developed, I was surprised I had never been aware of Bound for Broadway, this year presenting their 14th concert of new musicals. Looking over their roster of past years, it seems at least one musical from each presentation has gone on to a major production that year. While this year’s five musicals had no clear standout, it was certainly be interesting to see where each goes from here.

"It's Only a First Date" from a performance at Urban Stages

First, host Liz Callaway introduced the writers of Nine Wives: Dan Elish (book and lyrics) and Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics). The men talked about meeting in the mailroom of Lincoln Center Theater and how the musical is adapted from a novel Dan wrote of the same title. The musical tells of Henry Mann who must find a date to his best friend’s wedding and the nine girls he dates on that journey. Looking to have the cast be three people, Henry, his best friend, and an actress playing all of the women, the musicals sounds like It could be a very funny, touching piece. The songs we heard, “She’s My Wife” and “It’s Only a First Date” were enjoyable – fairly straightforward songs with a repetitive structure. The strong performances from Adam Kantor and Sarah Stiles really showed the comedic potential the material has.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hanging in the New Musical Theatre Greenroom


Looking for some great reads about writing new musical theatre? One of my favorite websites and the source for all new musical sheet music, NewMusicalTheatre.com, now has a blog, which features guest posts by the many writers featured on the site. Want to know how Drew Gaspirini confronted a group of gossipy new musical critics in a coffee shop? Or what Adam Gwon learned about musical writing from Project Runway? Check it all out here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The End of Summer Playlist

Things have been pretty busy for me lately, and I unfortunately haven't been show-going as much as I would like. Still, even when I can't make it to the theatre, it's always nice knowing that I can always go to trusty Youtube to get a fresh musical theatre fix. Therefore, I thought I would share some of the latest videos/performances that have gotten me through the summer:

Santino Fontana and Jessica Hershberg singing Adam Gwon's "Fine"

Nothing like the chemistry of a real couple to keep this always-bouyant tune afloat.

Nick Blaemire and Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band doing a How to Succeed Medley

I said it before, and I'll say it again. Like buttah.

Jane Horrocks singing "Cabaret" from the Donmar Warehouse 1994 production

A new, star-studded revival has been announced of Cabaret, but I would be curious as to whether or not Michelle Williams would be able to deliver this kind of cathartic, fresh hell.

Kristin Chenoweth and Sarah Horn singing "For Good" at the Hollywood Bowl

Yes, I know Kristin Chenoweth has pulled this Wicked-duet-with-an-audience-member during concerts before, but this woman has a seriously wonderful voice. Just a lot of love here.

Pasek and Paul singing "Some Kinda Time" from Dogfight

Yep... still wearing this CD out.

Annie Golden singing Joe Iconis's "Spin Those Records"

Orange Is the New Black was the summer sensation, but an Annie + Joe collab is always sensational.


Andrew Rannells singing Hedwig's "The Origin of Love"

The big news is that NPH will be tackling this iconic role, but this song and performance are pretty close to perfection.


Arielle Jacobs, Max Chernin, Charles A. Franklin, Kerri George, and Noah Zachary singing Ryan Scott Oliver's "When the Music Ends"

Gahhh so much talent on one stage.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mark Your Calendar for SAVE THE DATE

I can't say all that I want to about fellow Crazytown blogger Gregory Jacobs-Roseman's wedding-themed musical, Save the Date, because I need to wake up early tomorrow to embark on my own weekend wedding adventure, but I did need to express how wonderful this show is. While the premise is simple -- a story of almost-thirty somethings making their way through wedding season, which hits an especially rocky time when one of their exes announces his engagement -- there is a lot of heart and warmth here. Save the Date is not a parody of young people rejecting the traditions of love, rather it's an empathetic examination of the pressures felt to grow up and what that means when everyone else seems to be on a timeline of life milestones. The four central characters are really well drawn with a believable dynamic, and the plot twists manage to negotiate rom com territory with some real sincere moments.

 
Clips from first developmental reading presentation at the NYU GMTWP

The strength of the show definitely comes from the strong cast that embraces its roles with energy and feeling of cohesiveness. Greg's script and score are also wonderful, both infused with wit and humor. His lyrics especially soar in many of the numbers, drawing great parallels between characters and always moving the plot forward. I thought the direction also helped the production feel very full-bodied, transitioning rather seamlessly and balancing all the characters in any given scene.


Ultimately, something I really treasured about this show was how much it was a story about dreams and fantasies unfulfilled. There are a lot of great fantasy sequences that have real world impacts on the characters in how they view the world. Perhaps I also read into it my own feelings as I prepare for a wedding ceremony, but I thought a lot of the ideas it presented were accurate to the many emotions these traditions can bring about. Save the Date is a great show, and a wonderful value for a Fringe show. Catch the rest of their performances by buying tickets here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Experiencing THE ORION EXPERIENCE

I'm not really one for audience participation, but the recent trend of really excellently integrated transmedia/immersive theatre experiences has gotten me to come out of my shell a little more. I let Macbeth cry on my shoulder at Sleep No More. I wanted to dance with Imelda at Here Lies Love. It's enough to lull someone into a false sense of interactive theatre security.


Still, I was a bit wary when I decided to dive in and experience The Orion Experience, an interactive dance party/theatrical experience at XL Nightclub. All I knew going in was there there would be aerial acrobatics, some space jams, and space vampires, whatever those were. Luckily, there was a bar and I had the perfect companion to enjoy the night with.

And even with some skepticism at first, The Orion Experience proved to be a fun night on the town. It's pure technicolor camp, a kind of PeeWee's Play House in space with whacky characters, low stakes, but really delightful atmosphere. There's very little by way of plot: the band basically takes you through space adventures, introducing a slew of beautiful and fierce creatures who parade through the stage in a series of acrobatic acts and dance numbers. There were ribbon dancers. There were lasers shooting out of an evil queen's fingers. There were trumpets and giant metal hearts and an infectious Gaga-esque music set that will get even the biggest grump's toes tapping.

The show fits into the space rather seamlessly. When all was said and done, I was surprised how easily the club slipped back into its lounge setting, simply moving from techno to pop hits. In that way, I would even say The Orion Experience is less of a show and more like an even more entertaining club experience, an elevated dance party with just the slightest hint of story to get you on your feet.

Get your tickets here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Inside Out, Outside In: A look at Jeannette Bayardelle's SHIDA

The one-woman musical is an intriguing idea, if not nerve-wracking one. Solo shows are hard enough to pull off without a musical element, but when you consider that Jeannette Bayardelle not only performs all the parts in her new musical, Shida, but wrote the book, music and lyrics, you start to wonder how it will all come together.


Shida is the titular character of this harrowing journey, which details the tragedies of this young girl's past that lead her from a promising future as a writer to a cocaine addict on the streets on New York. Ultimately a redemption tale, this character-focused show gives Bayardelle lots of places to shine as she embodies heartfelt characters that allow Shida to eventually find her way back home.

The piece is a great platform for Bayardelle, as her voice takes on difficult notes without abandon. She's got some powerful pipes, for sure, and total commitment in tackling the show's tougher scenes. The lyrics to the songs have some really poignant moments with some nice motifs weaved throughout. The characters also have distinct voices and populate the story with lovable people.

Perhaps most of all, one thing I've noticed with a lot of new musical theatre is that there's not a lot of diversity in the types of stories it tells, especially if it's not a period piece. Watching Jeannette Bayardelle do her thing, I couldn't help remembering a friend talking about how often you just have to create the parts for yourself if they're not out there. Bayardelle has certainly done that and given herself a meaty role to tackle. She definitely has a voice, both in performance and on the page, and it's worth checking out if you want to explore something new.

Shida plays at Ars Nova until the end of August-- buy your tickets here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing A Book for Cirque Du Soleil's QUIDAM

I've written before about my experiences seeing Cirque Du Soleil and how I am very curious about the shows' musical theatre tendencies without strongly committing to it. I get it-- the show is, at the end of the day, a circus. But as this latest revival of Pippin has proven, a circus can have a story, and a story can take place within a circus.


Last night, a friend and I had the privilege of being invited to see Cirque Du Soleil's latest tour in New York, Quidam. The acrobatics and physical performances were incredible, to be sure, but the story was hard to comprehend. I would say this doesn't matter, but even as people were building pyramids and unraveling from a sheet many feet in the air, there were always characters about, chasing one another in the background or descending from the ceiling as others performed. Clearly, there's enough of a story element there that they wanted to connect the scenes with, but what it tells is a mystery.

The only thing we can determine for sure is that there is a young girl who is ignored by her parents, so she dons a hat given to her by a headless stranger and enters a strange world of acrobats (Is that Quidam? Is Quidam a place? A state of mind? It certainly was sung several times over the stage bows). Beyond that premise, who knows what was happening half the time. Here are some theories to try to explain the book that tied together some of the things we saw:
  • My friend hypothesized that the imaginative world was hell in the first act, heaven in the second. Or I could argue that there was a Dante 9 circles-esque thing going throughout most of it, with the Mom, Dad and daughter calmly emerging on the other side at the end. Still, they seemed pretty chummy with all the cast members at the end so maybe it was more of a Labyrinth-type situation.
  • A group of minions dressed all in white (who also strangely act like seals) decide to separate the parents from the little girl so they can teach them the importance of acknowledging their child. 
  • A white cat-like creature that tumbles in and out of the scenes is a Cheshire Cat archetype meant to lead and simultaneously confuse everyone (most of all, me). 
  • A purple character named John is a creepy host figure. My friend hypothesizes he's the devil. I read somewhere he might be a father figure since he literally steals the dad's shoes and steps into them. 
  • Balloons symbolize innocence? There sure were a lot of them in there, and they were always held by the little girl. At one point someone tries to catch one in a cage? So maybe all these strange characters are trying to preserve her sense of wonder? 
  • At one point during the statue routine, where two acrobats were meticulously balancing on one another, some strange figures descended from the ceiling. Both wore white robes. One looked like it was crying blood. I'd like to say I have a theory on this one. Nope, I got nothing. That just happened. 
  • The last act of the night was the Banquine routine, with everyone dressed up like especially destitute Newsies. Newsies, in Quidam, don't just soak the competition. They throw young girls at them, and then subsequently catch them on their shoulders.
All joking aside, I will say that the physical feats and great production values of a Cirque Du Soleil show never fails to impress. Not to get all heavy, but especially in light of the performer who died in Ka in Las Vegas not too long ago, it's important that we not take for granted the immense talents people bring to these shows and the risks they take to share them. For those who can make it, enjoy Quidam and all the great stunts it has to offer. Just don't try too hard to decode why a girl in antlers might be chasing a guy with twig-woven wings around the stage during the interludes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gotta Love NOBODY LOVES YOU

While one of my favorite aspects of modern chamber musicals is the ease with which smaller, more dramatic stories are translating themselves to the stage, there are still shows that celebrate the pure joy and escapism that musicals uniquely are able to do. A shiny example of this, in fact, is Nobody Loves You, a new musical by Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses that just opened at Second Stage in NYC. After all, considering this show is a parody of a fictional reality dating television show by the same moniker, what is more escapist than a musical/reality TV mashup?


Nobody Loves You tells the story of Jeff, a grad student whose girlfriend recently dumped him after an argument about his lack of interests in her interest (i.e. her favorite reality dating television show). Determined to get her back (or at least make sure no one else can have her), Jeff auditions for the show. His sarcastic and caustic tape catches the eyes of producers who immediately pick him, even though his ex-girlfriend is nowhere in sight. Intrigued about the idea of continuing on with the show more as moral commentary than actual contestant, Jeff finds himself among a cast of lovable whackos, a preening host, and a production assistant he might have an actual connection with.


The show is frothy and fun with a few particularly standout numbers and terrific performances all around. Heath Calvert is perfectly shiny as the show's vapid and golden-voiced host, and I am officially in love with Aleque Reid's voice, which should have every songwriter eager to give her their music (if I could do it, I would). A particularly genius structural decision was the character of Evan (played brilliantly by Rory O'Malley), a blogger who comments on the show through social media and eventually plays a larger role in the story when it's revealed that he is Jenny's roommate.

Overall, the story is campy fun-- less biting satire, and more playful delight in the ridiculousness of reality TV. Revel in the drama and absurd personalities, and soak up some clever songs with a bit of an electronic thump. This is a score I can especially see lending itself well to a cast album.

I've been a pretty big fan of Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses for a while, and this collaboration did not disappoint. Nobody Loves You runs at Second Stage until August 11. Grab your tickets here.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Way You Move: A Q&A with VOLLEYGIRLS Book Writer Rob Ackerman

Usually when I get wind of a new musical in development, my first exposure to it comes from a song in the show. However, in the case of upcoming NYMF selection Volleygirls (book by Rob Ackerman, music by Eli Bolin, and lyrics by Sam Forman), I happened to read the text first.


When I was working at play publisher Playscripts, Inc., I had the distinct pleasure of reading/helping edit Rob Ackerman's Volleygirls, which at the time was a full-length straight play. Having played competitive high school volleyball all four years of high school on a team that was favorited to win our state championships (Spoiler alert: we didn't. And trust me, there were tears. Oh, were there tears), I found the inspirational story of an all-girls team especially memorable. Fast forward a couple of years to when I saw that a musical was coming out with music from one of my favorite songwriting teams-- I was thrilled to find out about this adaptation. You can catch the show (with a killer cast including Susan Blackwell) at NYMF next month by buying tickets here. In the meantime, I chatted with Rob Ackerman about what it was like adapting his own work:

Me: What was the inspiration for the original Volleygirls play? Competitive Volleyball in general isn't exactly the sport of choice in media/pop culture.

Rob Ackerman: ACT commissioned me to write the play. The producer had let me know he was considering several other artists, and they were all big cheeses, so I thought he'd pick one of them. But he didn't. He chose me. Craig Slaight (along with Carey Perloff and Melissa Smith) wanted a drama that would include both the high-school actors in their ACT Young Conservatory and the adult actors in their MFA acting program. My daughters were in high school at the time. They both played volleyball, and their coach, Annie Gravel, was a friend. My idea was: this generous and experienced athlete would trust me to sit in on her team's practices and games, and watching what went on there would keep me honest. The folks at ACT loved that plan.

But I panicked. How was a middle-aged man going to create this big compelling collection of female characters? I called back and suggested writing a play about a boys' military school. That seemed safer. But ACT told me they really liked the idea of the play about the volleyball team.

Here's the thing. Fifteen years earlier, my friend Cathy, who'd been a varsity athlete in college, asked me to join her in a volleyball class at the Westside Y. And I mocked the idea. You don't have to take a class to play volleyball. It's a picnic game, right? Cathy gave me such a withering look my head nearly imploded. She signed us up, we took the class, and it changed my life. After several months in training with a guy named Jim who took the game as seriously as Cathy did, we formed a team called Tips Freedman that still thrives today.

The fact is: Volleyball is the greatest cooperative sport in the world. It absolutely forces players to work together. A team can only be as strong as its weakest player, so each person has to be ready, aware, watching, listening and communicating, tracking the ball by the microsecond. It's as if each participant were a cell in an organism, acting and reacting as one. The same can be said of theater, by the way. It takes devotion.

One last thing: popular sports like football and soccer don’t really fit on a stage, while there’s something perfectly theatrical about six women working in concert in the confines of a court.

"The Way You Move" sung by Allison Posner & Monica Raymund

Me: What made you decide to adapt the play into a musical? How did you end up working with Sam and Eli?

Rob: ACT flew me to San Francisco for a week of workshops of the play's first draft. The director, Dave Keith, worked with conservatory actors by day, and I rewrote the script by night. It was challenging, fun, and constructive, and by the end of the week, the story was starting to click.

When the show went into rehearsal, Dave emailed occasionally to ask for further rewrites, but the production evolved without my being in the room to see it. I saw some sketches and design ideas, but nothing prepared me for the beauty of the staging in a theater called The Zeum on the set by Liliana Duque-PiƱeiro. All conventional accouterments were stripped away, the cinder block walls of the building became the walls of a high school gym, the actors were living the story of this struggling team, and it dawned on me, pretty much right away: This is a musical.

I didn't know many people in the musical theater world, but, as a sentimental dad, In the Heights had really spoken to me. I'd seen it three times and had met Tommy Kail, who had seen and liked my play Tabletop. So I sent Tommy the script, asked if he thought it was a musical, and he said yes. He also knew the perfect director.

Neil Patrick Stewart had worked with Tommy for years developing plays and musicals with a tiny troupe called Back House Productions. Neil had also played on a Texas high school volleyball team that won a tri-state championship. Neil didn't just like the story, he'd lived it, and he helped choose the ideal composer/lyricist team. Sam Forman and Eli Bolin went to Northwestern, the same school where I’d earned an MFA in Stage Directing. We'd studied with many of the same teachers and spoke the same language. The show took shape quickly because there was an unusual and instant level of trust.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spread the Love with the Story Pirates

Mr. Dela Cruz's class was probably the first class where I realized I liked writing. My favorite activity was writing in my journal, letting my imagination roam and also chronicling what I believed to be my very stressful fourth grade life. He wrote generous responses to the tales of my triumphs and plights, and I always felt that writing in that journal was a safe space. In fact, I still own it, and while many entries make me cringe, it always reminds me of the experiences that made me the writer I am today.


Fostering young talent, musical writers included, is essential to the future of the arts. It is for this reason that the Story Pirates, who I have mentioned on this blog before, are a group near and dear to my heart. Turning kids' stories into live stage plays and musicals (and shorts on their Youtube channel), Story Pirates not only encourage children to write, but they also show them how their words can come to life.


Story Pirates are currently doing a campaign called Spread the Love, where they are asking for donations to serve schools in the name of life-changing teachers. In exchange for the donation, they will give your teacher of choice a shout out through social media or a personal letter/show.

There will also be a benefit at the Peter Norton Symphony Space on June 7th at 8:00 pm. Any donation to their Causevox campaign over $25 will come with a code for a ticket to the big benefit, or you can just get tickets here.

Help out a wonderful organization while paying tribute to wonderful teachers. And, in case you needed a reminder of the amazing this that can come from a child's imagination, I leave you with this:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Seeing SPANDEX: My Body Is a Temple

Last year, writer Daniel F. Levin was kind enough to write a guest post for Emerging Musical Theatre about his new show, Spandex, a fun, energetic send-up to fitness and aerobics centering around the 1987 Crystal Light National Aerobic Competition, hosted by Alan Thicke. Since he was kind enough to share the behind-the-scenes journey the show had taken after a major industry reading, I'm happy to report that Spandex (with book and lyrics by Daniel, book also by Annie Grunow, and music by Julian Blackmore) is currently enjoying its first production Off-Broadway at the 777 Theater here in the city.


Telling the story of a housewife and an ex-gymnast who both find redemption in the uplifting exercise of aerobics, Spandex is both campy fun and a genuinely intriguing piece about community and personal growth/fitness. I had the pleasure of seeing the show on Sunday night, and what I found most fascinating about the show was realizing what a game changer aerobics was for women in America. While we now tend to dismiss aerobics as Richard Simmons-esque stuff, we forget how revolutionary the idea was that women could find an outlet to workout in the comfort of their own homes through tapes, or within a small social group at the gym. This definitely made the show more than just an opportunity to break out the moves-- it gave those moves purpose and said a lot about the female characters who are struggling to find strength within themselves.


I also have to note that the score is pretty awesome, and there are a few songs that I've had running in my head since seeing the show (big props to composer Julian Blackmore). 80s pop/rock tends to produce a lot of earworms, and this show is no exception. There are some wonderful ballads throughout, and I have to admit I got a lot of guilty pleasure out of a particularly lavish, testosterone-filled number complete with rifles that is referenced in the title of this post.

It's really exciting to see new writers hustling and bringing their work to the stage. If you're in the mood for a high-energy romantic comedy infused with aerobic dance (because... why not), Spandex is lots of fun. Congrats to Daniel and the team! (Get your tickets here)

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Banner Year: Three Cheers for Pasek and Paul

I remember I used to watch clips of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's song cycle, Edges, from my dorm room in Georgia my Freshman year of college, a turbulent time in my life when I found myself stuck in a college town but in desperate need of new life experiences and challenges. "Monticello" was a lifeline for me, and it's been a real joy over the years to see the show continue to change, get a professional production, and help Pasek and Paul carve out spaces for themselves in the theatre world.


This past year (even these past couple of months) have been especially exciting for Pasek and Paul, as their work has not only had some major productions in 2012, but is now getting recognized in awards season. Next week, the duo will be celebrating the release of the cast recording of Second Stage's production of Dogfight at Joe's Pub-- though the album is already available for digital download and is well worth the early grab. I, sadly (and brokely), missed the Second Stage production (which just recently won the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical), but man, is Sh-K-Boom preserving some good stuff with the recording of this album. All the performers are top notch-- with Lindsay Mendez's voice a clearly ringing standout throughout, and the songs are ebullient and smart. If this is the future of musical theatre, the kids are alright. I dare you to watch the preview video below with a sample of "First Date/Last Night" and not get hooked.


Pasek and Paul are also up for a Tony for their score for A Christmas Story, which is thrilling. Also, their nomination made this wonderful little Q&A possible.


And last, but hardly least, Pasek and Paul song have been tearing it up on the notorious Smash.


So big congrats go out to Pasek and Paul-- and if you haven't had a chance to check out their music, you gotta get on it! There's no excuse anymore. They're out there killing it, and I couldn't be happier for their success.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My April Youtube Playlist

Hey, everyone! Long time no blog-- I know, I know. This has been the longest I've gone without writing on here since starting Emerging Musical Theatre. Sorry for the delay; life has been a bit cray cray. It's been about a month since I've last posted on here, so to help catch up, I thought I would share some of my favorite musical theatre-related videos/songs I've had on repeat in April:

Heather Headley singing "Memory" in an Andrew Lloyd Weber TV special

Holy cow, guys! You think you've heard this song, but the clarity of this version definitely breathes new life into an old favorite.

Megan Hilty singing "They Just Keep Moving The Line" in Smash

Any Smash politics aside-- this is just a damn good song and Hilty is flawless.

Jeremy Jordan singing "Drift" by Kooman and Dimond

Speaking of Smash...

Farah Alvin singing "Misery Loves My Company" by Daniel Mate

Daniel was the recipient of the 2013 Kleban Award, which was announced in April. Congrats!!

The original London cast of Matilda singing "Miracle"

I revisited Matilda this month and while I still maintain that the pacing is a bit off, I also find so much of this show delightful, especially the musical numbers. This opening is particularly thrilling (and a dreamy doctor doesn't hurt).

PigPen Theatre Company's TED Talk with a performance of "Just Like the Sea"

Yes, this includes a whole TED Talk (and it's good-- I promise!). But towards the end, when they perform a song from The Old Man in the Old Moon, you are watching them recreate one of my favorite things I've ever seen in a theater space.

Sierra Boggess and Julian Ovenden singing "If I Loved You" from Carousel in a BBC Proms recording

Can't. Stop. Watching. May need an intervention.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Winner of Tickets for THE MEMORY SHOW Is...

Thanks to everyone who entered to win tickets to see The Memory Show! The winner of the contest is... FranklinShepard! DM me on Twitter with your email, so I can get you your voucher.

Even if you didn't win tickets, I've still got a deal for you. Below are some codes so you can save on tickets:

THE MEMORY SHOW – SPECIAL OFFERS

EARLY BIRD OFFER (April 16 - 28 performances): $35 tickets
use code TMSRR1
OFFER #2 (May 1-18 performances): $45.50 tickets – use code TMSRR3

TO REDEEM:
ONLINE: CLICK HERE and use code from above
PHONE: Call 646.223.3010 and mention code from above



OFFER RESTRICTIONS: (Regularly $65) Subject to availability. Not valid on prior purchase. Offer cannot be combined with other discounts of promotions; blackout dates and restrictions may apply. No refunds or exchanges. Offer may be revoked at any time. Standard service fees apply to all phone and internet orders.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Win Tickets to See THE MEMORY SHOW


Hey, guys! We're back with another contest to win free tickets-- this time, it's to see The Memory Show, a musical by Sara Cooper and Zach Redler that will be playing at The Duke on 42nd from April 16-May 18. I had the pleasure of getting to see a preview of this show at NAMT a few years ago, and it is a really beautiful, complex story of a daughter who moves back home to care for her aging mother. One of my favorite songs from the show is below, titled "Me and My Mother":


This new production stars powerhouses Catherine Cox and Leslie Krtizer and promises to be a powerful night of theatre. Want to see it for free? Here's all you need to do to enter:
  • To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post mentioning your favorite theatre memory by midnight on Saturday 4/6.
  • I will randomly draw one winner to receive a voucher for 2 tickets to a performance of his/her choice. Remember to check back here on this blog on Sunday night (4/7) to see if you've won.

CONTEST RESTRICTIONS: Winner receives a voucher redeemable for two tickets to a performance of their choice.  Voucher expires May 18, 2013.  Blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.

Here are more deets from the show:

Showing up is half the battle...and then there's the other half. When a daughter comes home to care for her aging mother, memory is only one land mine in this contemporary new musical. Conflicting versions of the past collide in this honest and darkly funny portrait of a mother, a daughter, and their inescapable relationship.

Drama Desk & OBIE Award winning Transport Group Theatre Company brings you the New York premiere of The Memory Show, with book & lyrics by Sara Cooper and music by Zach Redler. Directed by Lucille Lortel Award winner Joe Calarco (Shakespeare's R & J), The Memory Show stars Tony Award nominee Catherine Cox (Baby, Footloose) and Drama Desk Award nominee Leslie Kritzer (A Catered Affair, Rooms).

LIMITED ENGAGEMENT! APRIL 16 – MAY 18
The Duke on 42nd Street- 229 West 42nd Street

Monday, March 25, 2013

Listening to People You May Know

Many of the cabaret concerts covered on this blog are initiated by the songwriters themselves or by theatre companies specifically interested in showcasing new writing talent. People You May Know cabaret series is a collection of three actors-- Julia Burrows, Michael Deleget, and Leslie Henstock-- who choose three songwriters/songwriting teams to feature in each iteration of their concerts (their last was version 4.0).

People You May Know is an interesting glimpse into what it is about new work that inspires and interests actors, as the performers takes turns tackling some of the writers' songs and other songs that have influenced the writers' work. When it comes to the latter, sometimes this leads to a rousing cover of classics like "I Can't Make You Love Me," but other times it can lead to interesting new arrangements (usually by musical director Andrew Byrne) like a mashup of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and "One and Only." Overall, the shows are great for any musical theatre enthusiast because they welcome new interpretations of newer work, with a fresh stamp by the performers themselves.

I had the pleasure of attending People You May Know 4.0, which featured personal favorite writers of mine: Michael Mahler, Will Van Dyke, and Joe Iconis. Below are some highlights, but feel free to watch all the videos from the show on People You May Know's Youtube channel or on their website (there's videos from past shows too!)

Michael and Julia singing Michael Mahler's "Couldn't You Stay":


Michael singing Will Van Dyke's "Settle":


Leslie singing Joe Iconis' "The Actress":


And because it's too manic and delicious not to share, Julia singing Joe Iconis' "Ammonia":

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Discount to F#%KING UP EVERYTHING

Didn't win the pair of tickets to F#%king Up Everything? Didn't even know there was a contest going on? Want to see it anyway?

If you still want a deal on tickets, all preview tickets before the show begins March 15th are only $30 (no code required). But if you're not free this week, we do have a special promo code giving a discount to all performances beginning March 27th. Here's the offer:


SPECIAL OFFER: 
$39 tickets (beginning March 27th)

TO REDEEM:

ONLINE: CLICK HERE and use code RRM39
PHONE: Call 212-352-3101 and mention code RRM39

RESTRICTIONS:  Regularly $49. Offer may be revoked at anytime and is subject to availability.  Not valid on prior purchase. Offer cannot be combined with other discounts or promotions; blackout dates and restrictions may apply.  Maximum of 8 tickets total with offer.  
***CLICK HERE should hyperlink tohttps://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/920840/prm/RRM39

Thanks to everyone who entered! Be sure to check back in the future for other contests and coverage of new musicals!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Win Tickets to F#%KING UP EVERYTHING

Get Your Heart On
WIN TWO TICKETS A NEW ROCK MUSICAL COMEDY!

I first heard of F#%king Up Everything when it was at NYMF a couple of years ago. It got rave reviews from friends as an indie rock musical with a lot of heart and a stellar team behind it (music and lyrics by David Eric Davis and book by David Eric Davis and Sam Forman). If you, like me, missed this show at NYMF, you have the opportunity to rectify the situation by catching it Off-Broadway at the Elektra Theatre with a sparkling cast, starting March 15th. And, dear reader, I am here to offer you a chance to score 2 tickets for free:

To enter, all you have to do is:
CONTEST RESTRICTIONS: Winner will receive a ticket voucher redeemable for two tickets to a performance of his/her choice through April 27, 2013.  Blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.

Here are more deets from the show:


F#%KING UP EVERYTHING is a rock musical comedy with bongs, thongs and indie rock songs. It's also an old-fashioned boy-meets-girl love story. When these Brooklyn hipsters aren’t true to who they are, they ruin everything. Especially children’s puppeteer Christian Schwartzelberg when he meets singer-songwriter Juliana, the girl of his dreams.

Featuring a young cast of Broadway's rising stars including Max Crumm (Grease), Jason Gotay (Bring It On), George Salazar (Godspell), and Dawn Cantwell (NYMF's Next Broadway Sensation), a score that rocks the house, and an award winning book by David Eric Davis and Sam Forman, F#%KING UP EVERYTHING will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you with a “heart on” for days on end.


"This musical stands out as a fun, rocking show!" 
Backstage


PERFORMANCES BEGIN MARCH 15th!

The Elektra Theatre
669 8th Avenue @ 42nd Street

Check Out The Show On

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Uncharted Musical Territory

Ars Nova has continually been the place to be when you're looking for new, exciting theatrical works of genius. Their Uncharted series, concerts presenting the work of up-and-coming composers, was often a go-to source for discovering new writers. This year, Uncharted comes in the form of a development incubator, a writers group based on their playwriting meet-up, PlayGroup. With artistic director Jason Eagan's promise of beer and pizza and regular meetings, the four selected writing teams to participate in the inaugural writers group will develop new works to be presented and showcased over the course of the next year.

If you read the blog, many of these names will sound familiar. Still, here are the writers and some songs they performed at the kick-off concert:

Shaina Taub -- Shaina Taub is known for her smoky vocals, folksy melodies, and whimsical lyrics. Her Greek song cycle The Daughters features some banging tunes for female powerhouses, and her EP, What Otters Do, is a common selection on my iPod.


Charles Vincent Burwell and James D. Sasser -- I was probably least familiar with Sasser and Burwell going into this concert, but the songs they played from their modern day Cuban musical, Cubamor, quickly made an impression. With some diverse styles of music and bilingual lyrics, I'm most curious to hear what comes from this team next.


Anna K. Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson -- She wrote the critically acclaimed Warhol musical POP!; he's known for his subversive subject matter and deliciously complex songs. Together, they're writing an adaptation of independent horror film Teeth, which should prove interesting.


Gordon Leary and Julia Meinwald -- This duo never fails to produce rich songs for complicated characters, and their musical Pregnancy Pact never fails to showcase this. Excitingly, there seem to be a few new projects on the horizon for them, so here's hoping for more new work soon.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Bunnicula on the loose

Yes, I was well-aware that when I decided to see Bunnicula at the DR2 Kids Theatre for a 1:00 matinee that my friend and I would be one of the older audience members without a tiny tot in tow. Still, with a book by Charles Busch (and music by Sam Davis, lyrics by Mark Waldrop), I couldn't resist checking out a musical version of the most popular book at my elementary school growing up.


Bunnicula is a strange creature-- and not just because the title character sucks the nutrients out of vegetables. The books are interesting because they set up a horror premise, even though the story's big, bad villain is not really bad at all, just eccentric in his eating habits. Therefore, this adaptation's emphasis is put squarely on the other two household pets, Harold the dog and Chester the cat, as a lot of palling around leads to some jealousy and a rather unexpected confidence makeover-- the latter resulting in Harold the dog parading around in "salad drag." I heard a kid repeat this phrase in the lobby to his mom on my way out of the theater and figured that even if this is all Charles Busch accomplishes with this show, it's still a pretty big win in my book.

It's strange seeing a play specifically for kids as an adult. As much as I appreciated modern references thrown in and a lot of timed humor that was pretty sophisticated, this was a show squarely aimed for the child-set. And it actually took me back to when I would see a lot of community theatre on field trips in Hawaii, an education that I think has really shaped my outlook on the world. I feel very lucky to be a part of an industry that continues to build that kind of programming for young minds, and Bunnicula is a fun example of that.

And, while there are no videos from Bunnicula on the interwebs at the moment, I thought I would leave you with a clip from another Charles Busch show (not for kids), The Divine Sister:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Weekend Viewing

Need a soundtrack for your weekend? Missing the charm of live performance? Want to see a group of attractive men singing some killer, evocative folk songs?

You don't even have to answer out loud. I'll just leave this video here of PigPen Theatre Co. doing what they do best in this recording of their full Joe's Pub concert, and you can do with it what you will (watch it!!). Also, if you want to see all of this live, check out their website for details of their upcoming Northeast tour.

Monday, February 4, 2013

On Being a New Yorker

While there were no projections of multiplying Beyonces or major reunions of Destiny's Child members, there were much more intimate fireworks over at Joe's Pub in the second installment of Once Upon a Time in NYC, an evening of brand new songs from musical theatre composers about New York City. The timing of this show uncannily comes around my fifth anniversary since moving to this city, and it was wonderful to get a musical perspective of New York from such a wide range of New Yorkers, whether they have since moved, have lived here their whole lives, or are just starting their journeys. Organized by Jennifer Ashley Tepper and Caleb Hoyer, this concert was clearly a labor of love, and it was such a lovely opportunity for writers to be able to celebrate and eulogize their experiences in song. We should all be so lucky to be able to distill something so special in such a perfect, compact way.

Below are some highlights, though all the songs are well worth a listen to and can be found here.

George Salazar with Michael Gioia, Will Roland, Yaniv Zarif singing Sam Salmond's "Walk Wrong":

Krysta Rodriguez singing Amanda Green's "A New York City Prayer":

Benjamin Howes singing Joseph Church's "Walking Shoes":

Jessica Phillips singing Amanda Yesnowitz and Doug Katsaros' "The Thing About Dylan":

Elanna White singing David Are's "All Over 28th Street":

And perhaps my favorite of the night (thought it's hard to choose): Jeff Blumenkrantz singing his own "Aunt Betty":

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Playing a Game of Catchup

Hey, all! I know there's been a lot of radio silence on the blog lately; unfortunately, some of my other writing projects have been taking up a lot of my time and I haven't had a chance to really dive into the musical theatre scene yet this year. One of the biggest things on my plate was working on putting together a reading of my own work, The Memory Queen, which I'm happy to say went well last week. It was a great experience, though something that originally made me feel like this:


Made me also feel like this right beforehand:


Still, I survived and learned a lot and will hopefully be on the scene again blogging for you. That being said, there's a lot of new musical theatre stuff going on right now on the interwebs that has been doing my job for me. Here are some links to check out:
  • On Crazytown, Michael Ruby has started an interview series with a bunch of great new composers.
  • On NYTimes.com, Lynn Ahrens, Joe Iconis, and Marcy Heisler write songs about Mayor Bloomberg in celebration of Encores! Fiorello!
  • Kerrigan and Lowdermilk had their first West Coast show! Watch songs from the concert here.
  • Smash this season will feature songs from Drew Gasparini, Pasek and Paul, and Joe Iconis. Read about them here, and see "Broadway Here I Come" from the first episode of the new season.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Every Seven

Welcome to the new year, guys! We made it to 2013-- and while the future is still unknown, it's hard to ignore a new year ready for us to barrel on through. While I'll be one of the first to admit that I'm not sure what direction this year is going to take, I am thrilled to point out one great thing that has already come with this new season. As a part of a resolution to be less of a perfectionist, songstress Valerie Vigoda has launched the "Every Seven" project, where she will post a song (old, new, revamped) every seven days, all year long. This is a great opportunity to hear a wide range of work from Valerie, Valerie and Brendan Milburn, and GrooveLily as a whole.

Check back to Valerie's Youtube channel every 7 days for new posts. To get things started, here's their first post, "Desert With Lights," an upbeat tribute to LA (performed in front of a green screen...oooohhh):