Jul 3, 2013

The Center Will Rock

Jeanine Tesori has long been something of a hero to menot because I've loved every score she's done (did anyone think Shrek was a great fit?) but because I feel a distinct affinity for her aesthetic, her sensibility, which is most clear in her scores with Tony Kushner (not just the agile, eclectic, deeply moving Caroline, or Change but her gravely underrated and still unrecorded score for his adaptation of Mother Courage).

So I was chuffed not only to hear that the old-musical-reviving program Encores! had tapped her to curate a new more-or-less-Off-Broadway version, called Off-Center, but to have that series as an excuse to meet and chat with her for a story in the Times. We had a bite at Apple Jack Diner and talked about one of my favorite topics, and apparently one of hers: the state of the art of the American musical, particularly its more outlying experiments, like her 1996 Violet, which will get a concert reading as part of the Off-Center series on July 17, with Sutton Foster in the lead. I was especially intrigued to hear about her background as a classically trained pianist who also concurrently learned pop musicwhich explains a lot about both the offhanded sophistication of her music and its openhearted affect, its blend of directness and subtlety.

And anyone who could sign up Sam Gold to direct another musical, as he will with next week's The Cradle Will Rock, deserves credit. After all, Gold, though best known for his new-naturalism work with Annie Baker, also directed Nick Jones' Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, not to mention a much-lauded and, from the looks of it, radical Juilliard staging of The Threepenny Opera. And this fall he'll direct Tesori's new musical with Lisa Kron, Fun Home. One thing that's clear about Tesori: If an artist can be measured by the quality of her collaborators, she's top-drawer. Among the playwrights she said she may work with on a musical in the future? Lynn Nottage.

Oh, there's one other scooplet I didn't have room for in my story: Tesori is a huge fan of Randy Newman's Faust (as was I) and may angle to get it into a future Off-Center program. Here's hoping "The March of the Protestants" one day reaches the Shriners' temple.


George Hunka said...

Glad to hear about Newman's "Faust," but want to recommend another as well, from Van Dyke Parks. His "Jump," a song cycle about the Uncle Remus stories, was originally conceived as a musical as well. Don Shewey, best known as a theatre critic, reviewed the album for Rolling Stone in 1984:


Worth a look and listen.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

In my own interview with Tesori, she brought up Elizabeth Swados' "Runaways," which I love: http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/theater/rediscovering_runaways_rt0sA1sCyGPjXsZkPn6t3N#axzz2Yk7SiHiB

Here's hoping to see it at City Center one day.

Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

I mentioned that show to her, too--largely because you'd championed it a few years back. I told her she'll have to get used to getting barraged with suggestions, like the Encores! folks do.