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.