Friday, October 10, 2014

Bayside! The Musical from a Saved by the Bell Superfan

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything here, but it's been a pretty chaotic year. Still, when my friend Tatiana Levine, a hilarious writer and human being-- but also Saved by the Bell super fan-- offered to talk about the much-buzzed Bayside! The Musical, I knew I had to have her write her thoughts for this blog. Here's what she said about the show's current incantation, with Dustin Diamond of Screech fame:

My knowledge of Saved By The Bell is something I am super proud of. I've seen every episode that Zack Morris has ever been in. I know that Hot Sundae could've been huge if it wasn't for Jesse Spano's caffeine addiction. And I know Kelly and Zack were way too fucking young to get married during The College Years. But I've made my peace with their mistakes and I decided to put the past behind me and attend Bayside! The Musical. And I was not disappointed.

The show stayed true to SBTB's campy goodness. Every character was an extreme version of themselves which led to a lot of cackling and knee slapping from me. I didn't stop smiling until the intermission because my face needed a break, by the way. They made a reference to Jesse's stepbrother, Zack's wrestler girlfriend, and even to Kelly's nuch older boyfriend who dumped her at The Attic. Every single song was amazing. Especially Lisa's freestyle rap about white people.

Seth Blum, who played Tori AND Mr. Belding AND Max, was a standout performer. He was completely out of control as Tori (there was a condom tied in his wig). Another amazing performer was April Kidwell as Jessie Spano. She was the best thing about the musical. The caffeine addiction schtick never got old and it led to one of the funniest moments of the night. Dustin Diamond makes an appearance as himself which was really weird, but also kind of cool because DUSTIN DIAMOND.

If you're a fan of SBTB or you genuinely like trying not to piss your pants, I highly recommend seeing Bayside! The Musical. It was magical.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Steve's Quest: A Q&A with Chris Edgar

One of the reasons I most wanted to start this blog was to be able to create a dialog with other fans of the musical genre and foster a sense of community among those of us who want to know what the future of musical theatre is going to look like. It's been great getting to know the people who read this blog, and one great example of someone whose work I've gotten to know through the blog is Chris Edgar, the creator of the now-launched animated musical webseries Steve's Quest.

Telling the story of a software engineer with his head in the clouds and futuristic ambitions, Steve's Quest is an imaginative and tuneful new webseries written by Chris, who also provides the voice of the titular character. He also has been blogging for a while about the development of the webseries, documenting the process as he's developed songs and tested out logos. Chris was nice enough to answer some questions about Steve's Quest below:

Me: What is your background with musicals and writing songs?

Chris Edgar: I’ve written songs, and played drums and piano, for most of my life. I’ve run the gamut from being a surly, long-haired, fourteen-year-old drummer in a heavy metal band to playing percussion in the orchestra for musicals. I’d never written for a musical (or rock opera, animated song cycle, or whatever we should call this show) before this one.

Me: Where did the idea of Steve's Quest come from? Where did the story come from, and how did you assemble your production team?

Chris: One day, on a long flight (despite my dislike of flying, I always seem to get inspired on planes), I had the idea to make a video of white-collar workers doing mundane tasks like faxing and stapling, but with this out-of-control heavy metal music playing in the background. I was having so much fun with the idea that I started writing lyrics to the tune, which eventually became a song called “Maximized.” Then, I started coming up with a story (yeah, it was a super-long flight) featuring the characters described in the song, and more lyrical ideas. Most of the lyrics I wrote on that flight ended up on the cutting-room floor, but “Maximized” is still in the show.

As for the production team, I found them through a whole bunch of different sources. Just as a few examples, I actually met the animation team (who are, in their “day jobs,” comic-book artists) through someone in a yoga class I took. The musical director and guitarist, Tim, is my brother, and he was an obvious choice because I always appreciate chances to work with him. The most intimidating part of it was working with Gina Breedlove, who was in the original Broadway cast of The Lion King – she sings the part of the narrator in the first scene of Episode 1, so we basically did a duet.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jasper in Deadland: Being Dead Never Felt So Alive

Matt Doyle in Prospect Theater Company's Jasper in Deadland
Photo by Matt Murphy

I'm going to preface this write up by saying that I did have a bit of a bias coming to seeing Prospect Theater Company's production of Jasper in Deadland-- not so much because the book and music writer, Ryan Scott Oliver, is a colleague of mine (Crazytown represent), but because I have been a huge fan of his music for years now and couldn't help getting excited about a new production of his work.

Jasper, a tale loosely inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice, follows a high school boy who, upon finding out his best friend died after the two had a falling out, goes into the underworld on a quest to save her. The show features a book by Hunter Foster and is gorgeously and creatively staged in this production by Brandon Ivie. Jasper tackles a lot of interesting existential questions about life, memory, and sacrifice-- all ideas illustrated by a strange and kooky cast of characters with big numbers and wacky personalities, played to impressive effect by the ensemble of six. There are a lot of plot points to juggle-- an evil corporate head honcho looking to sell his memory-erasing products in the world of the living, Jasper's troubled home life and how it affects his withdrawn outlook on the world, the quest to reach the mythical Elysium to find paradise-- and it can be a lot at times, especially when everyone get their solos in the spotlight.

But beating at the heart of it all is a touching tale of best friends Jasper and Agnes, played affectingly by Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti. While the world falls down around them, sometimes literally, their bond helps them navigate both real world and underworld creations of hell. It's a really interesting exploration of a close friendship and how that bond can change in the face of romantic love. I almost wish this was explored a little more explicitly, as sometimes the central love story (both platonic and romantic) often takes a backseat to raging gods, mysterious riddles, and other plot twists.

What I love about Jasper is that it looks at the afterlife not through the lens of Dante's Inferno or angels at the pearly gates (though there are allusions to both), but through a very real eternal existence. The show begs the question: What is the meaning of life if you already knows what comes after? Does seeing your eternal fate changes your very real, immediate one? Perhaps Jasper doesn't have all the answers, but if this production affirms the life of new musical theatre (which it does), then it's more than fulfilled a worthy purpose here on earth.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Musical Theatre You Should Know

There is a wealth of new musical theatre concerts happening this time of year, from benefits to Cutting Edge Composers, from Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know to Songs You Should Know. It's always a welcome thing to find yourself with an abundance of new musical theatre presentations, but when your budget and time are limited, how do you decide on what to see?

Last night I had the immense pleasure of attending Libra Theater Company's tuneful evening of new songs, conveniently titled, Songs You Should Know. And while admittedly (and in a good way) a lot of the writers are no longer people to know but people we already know and love, I realized through Libra's presentation what makes for a good musical concert of new songs.

The main thing is just that they're new. Fresh. That they give an indication of who the composers are and, more importantly, what they're working on next. As I listened to Caleb Hoyer's "If I Had Met You First," sung by Max Chernin, I was reminded of that feeling that I love when I see a new show-- that desire to have a single song last forever, or at least long enough so you can peel back the layers and live inside it for a little while.

I knew very few of the songs presented last night, but perhaps if you played them for me with no introduction, I could've made a guess and at least gotten kind of close. Miller and Tysen's "Town Goes Boom" was so specific to place and culture, a fresh slice of life delivered in a song as only they can. Joe Iconis' "Michael in the Bathroom" was a deliciously endearing geek-rock song that captured his brand of misfit like none other. And Amanda Green's haunting "Nowhere" and righteously angry "Waiting on My Thank You" demonstrated her great writing for self-aware, engrossing characters. It was also very cool to hear Amy Molewski and Nick Luckenbaugh's music make its 54 Below debut with "Rising Fire" and "Fall."

The evening was tied together by hilarious host Lauren Marcus, whose use of PowerPoint was better than half the things I've seen on Shark Tank. Her proof that she and Katie Thompson are basically the same person from behind was also quite compelling. The best part was that the evening felt very casual, very homey, a sense that I'm starting to get from a lot of Libra's productions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Musical Theatre Music Videos: A Q&A with Annie Simpson

Hey, all! Here we are in 2014-- where did the time go?

With the new year come lots of new beginnings and hopefully a lot of great new theatre. One of my biggest resolutions this year is just that I want to create, to make more stuff, whether it be art, writing, or putting my work out there into the universe. On a similar wavelength, performer Annie Simpson recently got in touch with me about a new project she's working on: making good old fashioned music videos for new musical theatre writers' songs. With the pilot project being a video for Pasek and Paul's "Lying There," I was curious to know how Annie and her collaborator, Terrance Jackson, would approach other musical numbers and what place they hoped their videos would have in the musical theatre universe. Here's what Annie had to say:

Me: Where did the idea to make Musical Theatre Music Videos come from?

Annie Simpson: Like most musical theatre nerds, I spend a lot of time watching every theater related video I can get my hands on. One of my very best friends, Terrance Jackson, and I spend many nights on YouTube admiring what other artists are out there doing! Some of the greatest, most riveting, and heart-filled music belongs to musical theatre and yet, few people besides "theater people" ever experience it. Terrance and I want to change that. There are too many beautiful stories in musicals that some people will never even know about. That's when we realized that some sort of action needed to be taken. We started to wonder what would happen if we combined really great storytelling in music videos with the music of musical theatre? Perhaps if there was a someone who wouldn't be interested in sitting down and listening to a musical theatre song, they might be willing to watch a music video. If they were impacted by the music video, maybe they might want to watch another one or go see a live show someday. Musical theatre has done so much for my life and I want others to have that opportunity as well.

Me: How did you decide to do "Lying There" as your inaugural project? What was the process like concepting and shooting the video?

Annie: It all started one evening when Terrance and I were trying to decide what to do for the rest of the night. We are on tour right now and had a cancellation of a show we were scheduled to do the next day due to weather. Terrance and I are kind of like golden retrievers who can't sit still for very long at a time. One thing we have in common is a strong desire to create. We are always looking for new artistic endeavors that will challenge us! "Lying There" from Edges kind of found us. We both adore Pasek and Paul and love "Lying There". We listened to the song together and knew immediately it was perfect for our inaugural project. We were off to the races and the whole project was completed in less than 24 hours. We began by recording my voice on an accompaniment track at about 12:30 AM that night. We got up the next day and started to brainstorm how to storyboard this video. We decided midway through the storyboard process to cut straight to filming. "Lying There" is so beautifully crafted that the story we wanted to tell was jumping out at us and we were thinking too much and getting in the way! Our awesome friend, Barrett Guyton, was on board to make an appearance in this video and we totally improvised just about all of the footage. We would play the song in the background and let it speak to us. Terrance is an incredible director and was amazing at taking whatever impulses Barrett and I had and figuring out how to best capture those on film. Then we began the editing process which was surprisingly difficult. We had so much great footage that it was hard to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. It's amazing how if you seek to serve the piece of art you are creating, it will end up guiding you to exactly what it needs to be. And I hope that we were able to do that for this video!

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.