Apr 30, 2008

Moving Experience

Next week my employer, the Theatre Development Fund, will relocate its offices from the Paramount Building, at 1501 Broadway in the middle of the Times Square "bowtie," to 520 8th Avenue, the same building as a couple of other arts organizations. I've known 520 primarily as the home of Ripley-Grier rehearsal studios, where I've logged some hours on musical theatre projects, mostly for the BMI workshop. 520 is a brisk 10-minute walk from my office here in Times Square; so are a few other popular studios with piano rooms (Shetler, Nola).

Today, seeking a spot to hash out some ideas on short notice, my writing partner on a new musical suggested we use a room he has access to as a member of the Dramatists Guild. The address? 1501 Broadway, 7th floor! And all this time I'd been walking...and I'll be moving next week...D'oh!

Ample compensation: The Steinway I tinkered on today at the Guild used to belong to a no-talent slouch named Richard Rodgers. Is this city great or what?

"Appropriate Songs"

That's not the most superlative blurb from Martin Denton's extremely kind review of The Devil & Tom Walker, but it means a lot to me, in part because, in the best folk tradition, a number of the show's tunes could be considered not only appropriate but appropriated.

Apr 26, 2008

"Morality Musical"

The first review of The Devil and Tom Walker is in, and it's not only nice, it's almost eerily prescient--the critic's note about the intermission being in the wrong spot was independently noted and addressed a few previews after he saw it.

In semi-related news, Burkhard Bilger's absorbing piece in the recent New Yorker about the art of field recording (not online, but this is) mentions an old woman in Georgia who sings a "tune about an old lady so mean that the Devil kicked her out of Hell." Sounds like it's probably a variation of this chestnut, which happens to be one of the signature folks numbers I adapted for the show.

(Photo by Steven Lembark.)

Apr 24, 2008

Greig's List

I had the pleasure recently of chatting with Scottish playwright David Greig (pronounced "Grayg," rhymes with "Craig") for Time Out. New York audiences may remember his play An American Pilot at MTC a few years back; now he's bringing two plays to Brits Off Broadway, the teen thriller Yellow Moon and a rueful, witty cross-cultural romantic comedy, Damascus. For myself, I'm a fan of his play The cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union, which I saw in an uneven production in L.A. some years ago, and I spoke to him for the Taper program when his play Pyrenees bowed in L.A. a few years back. Nice bit of trivia: Greig was a friend, and even briefly a roommate, of pathbreaking British playwright Sarah Kane.

Apr 21, 2008

A Vision of Hell

Random people suddenly breaking into song in a public place? There's a reason this sort of thing was considered a curse in that famous Buffy episode. Some background on these musical-theater guerrillas here.

Quote for the Day

"I have never learned to read music and still don’t to this day. I have always depended on the kindness of arrangers."
--Suzanne Vega

Apr 11, 2008

In Love

As a student as well as a fan of the American musical at its best, I was impressed, bemused, and more or less totally enthralled by Bart Sher's new revival of South Pacific, a show I had unjustly underrated based on the execrable Josh Logan movie and a fine but hardly definitive high school production I saw in my youth. The cliche bears repeating: They just don't make 'em like this anymore, and while I'm not sure anyone should try, there's a lot of punch and heft, even grandeur, still left in these old scores. Unlike the countless great standards written by contemporaries who happened to introduce them in the theatre, in musicals that have notoriously variable shelf-lives, Rodgers & Hammerstein's masterful song- and scene-craft positively blossoms in its original habitat.

Particularly when it's given such a lavish, intent, judiciously but never coldly measured production. I for one watched a good part of it through a mist of tears, not least when the extraordinary Kelli O'Hara, as Nellie Forbush, cut loose with an almost dangerously emotional rendition of "A Wonderful Guy." The key lyric for her--and for me as I recall this moment, which snuck up on me and knocked me over--would have to be, "And you will note/There's a lump in my throat." Um, yeah.

In related news, I spoke to Danny Burstein, the production's charming Luther Billis, for TDF.

(Photo by Joan Marcus.)

Apr 7, 2008

Bloom Time

It's always an honor to pinch-hit for Newsday's estimable Linda Winer, who was briefly out of town last week. My review of Stephen Adly Guirguis' new play, The Little Flower of East Orange, is here.

Devil's Music

I met Yvonne Conybeare in a SITI workshop offered by Burning Wheel in L.A. a few years back. We stayed in touch when I moved East, and of late I've become a full-fledged collaborator with her on The Devil & Tom Walker, an adaptation of a Washington Irving short story. Yvonne conceived and directed the project, bringing in playwright Tony Pennino to artfully expand the Irving original into a full-length play, and yours truly to "do the music." I don't recall the exact point when the show went from being a "play with music," with a mere smattering of period folk songs dotting the narrative, to a more-or-less full-fledged "new musical" with more new material than old. But I'm sure glad it did. It runs at the Metropolitan Playhouse Apr. 18-May 18; here's NYTheatre.com's dandy podcast about it. End of plug!

Apr 3, 2008

"Bubble Boy" Lives On

My old pal from Arizona, Cinco Paul, continues to make lemonade out of the lemon that was his first major screenwriting credit, with partner Ken Daurio: the misbegotten 2001 film Bubble Boy. His musical adaptation of the movie, which starred a certain pre-famous Gyllenhaal, will be part of the ASCAP Foundation/Disney Musical Theater Workshop in Los Angeles starting next Monday, Apr. 7.

In other news, I join Isaac in praising the astute, reasonable, yet remarkably upbeat thoughts of Matt Freeman, whose blog belatedly joins my cobwebby blogroll.

The Injured Coast

An interesting round-up of L.A.-vs.-N.Y. theater pieces in today's LA Weekly. I'm quoted at some length in Steven Leigh Morris' piece, but this quote jumped out at me as being particularly relevant and eye-opening. Though I worked in Charles Isherwood's vicinity, and served as his assigning editor at Back Stage West for a while, I had never heard him put it this way:
“To be honest, L.A. is where I first fell in love with the theater,” he says. “It was in L.A. that I started going on a regular basis. In a weird way, because L.A. is not a great place — for lack of a better term — for high culture, because that’s not part of the general conversation, [that makes] the hunger for it greater in L.A., and you start to seek it out. I didn’t know a lot of people who went to a lot of theater in Los Angeles. That’s when I became really hooked on it.”

There's also a piece about Stew's love/hate relationship with his hometown. I have to say, in rehearsal for Devil and Tom Walker last night, I heard some casual L.A. bashing among the NY-based actors (not about the theater scene per se, but still). I really do have to pick the times and circumstances I feel like I can admit how much I love the place.

Apr 2, 2008

Apr 1, 2008

Where the Truth Lies

I was tipped off to this great blog by Isaac (can't find the original post that alerted me). Last week's post about artistic directors not sugarcoating their rejections rang true:
We all know that none of the notes, none of the restrictions about cast size, scenes changes, subject matter, none of that matters if the theatre (or, in most cases, the artistic director) loves the play enough. Come hell, high water or bad reviews, they will produce the play. And if they don't love it, no matter how many rewrites, revisions, alterations, they will never produce it.

A good back-stiffener.