LOOK: Photos and Reaction to JOE SCHMOE

Earlier this month, Indiana University presented four workshop performances of Joe Schmoe Saves the World. The piece was provocative, empowering, and very well-received by a diverse audience of different ages and backgrounds.

Here’s some press response from the show:

Jennifer Pacenza, writing for “Bravo, Bloomington!” wrote

Sometimes a piece of art enters your life at the exact right moment. The experience brings your life and your place in the world into focus. Brett Ryback’s musical Joe Schmoe Saves the World is just such a piece. The mirror it holds up to modern American culture reflects back an all too real image that is at once critical and hopeful. With relatable characters, hard-hitting imagery, and a soundtrack I’ve been listening to on repeat for almost a week now, Joe Schmoe Saves the World transforms and inspires. 

George Walker, reporting for Indiana Public Radio, described it as

It’s a roughly polished workshop production with imaginative direction and a talented and committed cast…Music is central to the play’s plot and “Listen to the Music” comes in two parts. The first champions the space, the respite that music — lyrical moments, dance club beats, word rap and pop-rock — can offer. It returns with new fervor mixed with the chant of “no more silence” as an energizing and rallying cry for all, a call to say something.

In the Indiana Daily Student, writer Clark Gudas said of the music:

The live music and rap-rock vocals are fluid and natural. In some instances, the songs have a feeling similar to spoken verse and can even take on a conversational air.

Additionally, in the middle of our very short run, the head of The Center for the Study of the Middle East at IU came to the show and asked if they could buy a late sponsorship to be mentioned in the curtain speech the next two performances. It was a priceless endorsement of the show, and we were grateful to have brought extra funding to the program.

Photo credit: Amy Osajima

WATCH: New Song from Passing Through

Last Monday I hosted Musi-CAL, a bimonthly concert celebrating new works of Musical Theatre in Los Angeles. I premiered a new song from my musical-in-development Passing Through. It turned out to be perfect timing, as it was announced last week in the New York Times that my book writer Eric Ulloa and I were accepted to the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat to continue working on the piece this summer.

The song is sung by a 73-year-old ranch hand, Dennis, in New Mexico. Our main character, Andrew, is taken in by him for the night and begins to open up with Dennis about his conflict with his dad. In a very fatherly way, the old ranch hand shares his experience with Andrew, offering him a little perspective.

Ryback and Ulloa Accepted to Rhinebeck

Ryback and Ulloa’s new show PASSING THROUGH was one of 9 new musical selected for development at this summer’s Rhinebeck Writers Retreat.

Wanna watch a song from the show? Go here.

For nine consecutive weeks beginning July 2, each writing team will have a weeklong residency in the Hudson Valley, two hours north of New York City, to write their new musical.

Writers pay nothing to participate in Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, which takes no percentage of future royalties, and donors cover all the writers’ costs. Each writing team lives in a private home and is provided transportation, food, and a $500 stipend.

The 9 musicals were selected from 113 applications by a panel of new musical experts: Continue reading Ryback and Ulloa Accepted to Rhinebeck

How Musical Theatre Can Change the World

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the greater purpose of musical theatre. It’s been said that if you want to make a billion dollars you simply help a billion people. Now, who doesn’t want to make a billion dollars (especially if you’re an artist)? But the question then becomes how do you help a billion people?

In order to take big actions you have to set big goals. So I’ve begun considering how an artist – say a musical theater writer – can truly change the world. Here are some ways I’ve come up with. Continue reading How Musical Theatre Can Change the World

Eligibility and the Kleban Prize

There’s a certain pessimism that allows you to be blasé about not receiving the grants/awards you apply for as a writer. It’s the pessimism that says,  “Chances are I won’t win this, but I’ll try anyway.” Then when you aren’t selected you can say to yourself, “See, I thought so.” Or if you are, you can be pleasantly and genuinely surprised/honored.

I wrote my musical Joe Schmoe Saves the World in reaction to not winning the Richard Rodgers award one year, dissatisfied with the artists who had.  I thought of the Stravinsky quote: “The one true comment on a piece of music is another piece of music.” Resentment/bitterness/sour grapes can be transformed into something truly worthwhile.

Often I find I can learn a lot from people who receive grants/awards for which I also applied. It introduces me to a new type of work or a new way of thinking. It gives me inspiration to see other peers finally receive due attention. It forces me to pay attention to what people are responding to and strive for greatness in my own work.

On the other hand – sometimes it’s just down right frustrating. Continue reading Eligibility and the Kleban Prize

How to Write a Song for the Musical Theatre

PC: Dayne Topkin

Consistent writing with consistent quality requires consistent habit. There are always a lot of variables when you’re writing something new – new characters, new circumstances, new voices, new points of view. Given that there will always be lots of new unknowns, when it comes to your process you don’t want to have to always be reinventing the wheel.

When I’m writing a new song for a musical, I start by asking myself a series of questions. The order of the series is not important, and I will usually stop at whichever point I feel I’ve answered enough to begin writing the song. (I am taking for granted that at this point I’ve created a musical language for the world of the piece as well as the individual characters.)


1. What is the EVENT of the scene/moment? This is often but not always coupled with the second question on the list (What is the conflict of the scene/moment?) This question allows me to identify what the major dramatic event is. The story in a musical is communicated and moves forward via song, therefore Continue reading How to Write a Song for the Musical Theatre

When Life Hands You a Pile of Poo…

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There are people in your phone and they have something they’d like to sing to you.

That’s right – all those emojis you use to embellish or simplify your texts are people, too, and now there’s a brand new musical in the works about them. Yes, even the pile of poo.

Thankfully, their songs have music and lyrics by Keith Harrison and a book by Keith and Laura Harrison. (Yes, they’re married. And yes they’re adorable.)

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A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting an event called Musi-CAL. Presented by the Festival of New American Musicals, Musi-CAL is a bimonthly concert series featuring material from new and in-progress musicals written by Southern Californian composers, lyricists, and bookwriters.

The final presentation was Keith and Laura’s show, Emojiland. I can’t even describe the energy that filled the room with each song they presented. Everyone in attendance was blown away by the quality and production-value of their work. It was simply stellar.

I met Keith and Laura separately Continue reading When Life Hands You a Pile of Poo…

Michael Jackson Lives

In a recent post about Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre, I gave a shout out to Michael R. Jackson, a musical theatre composer/lyricist whose work I recently came to know, and who was telling stories about people of color in a way I’d never seen before.

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I had originally heard of Michael when I saw a song from his largely autobiographical musical A Strange Loop performed as part of William Finn’s Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Should cabaret at 54 Below. (Well – truth be told I think I originally originally heard of him when the pop-star Michael Jackson died, and he was forced to distinguish himself on Facebook as Michael “Living” Jackson, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I then got to meet him as we were both participants of the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at the Goodspeed Musical Theatre this past January. There I got to see more of his work on the show come to life.

A Strange Loop is, how shall I put it…graphic. Continue reading Michael Jackson Lives

Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre Writers

tumblr_n4stjge0TP1tpn084o7_1280I woke up recently to a video on Facebook advertising the cast and creative team of a new musical premiering this month at Arena Stage in Washingon, DC.

The musical is called Dear Evan Hansen and is written by the songwriting team Pasek & Paul, along with bookwriter Steven Levenson, and is directed by Michael Greif.

Let me say at the outset – this post is not about these people specifically. I have no personal beef with them. I respect the cast and team immensely and I’m sure the show is fantastic.

I am instead writing about my generation of musical theatre creators at large.

So here’s the video:

My first impression, even before PLAYING the video, was “Wow – look at all those white people.” Continue reading Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre Writers