PASSING THROUGH Plays Goodspeed Festival

My newest musical, Passing Through, with a book by Eric Ulloa and based on the memoir “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel will be presented at Goodspeed’s 13th Annual Festival of New Musicals in January.

We’re super excited to hear the piece aloud with a cast of actors and have it play in front of audiences. It’s a big opportunity, and we couldn’t be happier.

Under the leadership of Executive Director, Michael Gennaro, Goodspeed Musicals is dedicated to the preservation, development and advancement of musical theatre and is the first theatre in the nation to receive two Tony Awards (for outstanding achievement). Passing Through was developed over the course of two years at Goodspeed’s Johnny Mercer Writers Colony, and the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat.

Tickets are available here and are very cheap if you’re interested in coming up for the weekend or even the day. Our presentation is on Sunday January 14th at 1pm.

Click below to listen to “Cut You Out” – a song from the show.

Defying Misery: How WICKED Got Me Through the Election of Donald Trump

Every now and then I get the opportunity to play piano for the Wicked auditions in Los Angeles. I haven’t done it too often, but it struck me this week as I played 16 bars for nearly 200 singers, that the last time I did was a year ago.

A year ago. Election week 2016.

I remember it vividly. I played two days that week. Monday and Wednesday.

When I left on Monday, the mood was exuberant. “See you after we elect our first female president!” I probably said leaving the room, skipping. Everything was possible. I skipped everywhere back in those days.

Sure Hillary wasn’t always a Popular candidate. People feared and mistrusted her simply because of who she was. Some even called her a witch. But though she was guarded, wonkish, and at times inaccessible, one thing she definitely was not is green. She had a lifetime of experience. When it came to running the country, I knew Hillary would be a Wizard and I was so excited to vote for her.

Then Election Night happened. Continue reading Defying Misery: How WICKED Got Me Through the Election of Donald Trump

The Sheet Music Whisperer

Few parts of the job of a composer are as boring or tedious as music preparation, also known as copy work. And yet, when it comes to communicating your ideas to the other people who must execute them, no job is more important.

Copy work can be described as the visual presentation of music on the page. The people who do this work professionally are called copyists. In musical theatre, copyists are typically the LAST people to touch the sheet music. After the music has been composed, arranged, and orchestrated, the copyist will craft the individual charts that each musician will play from.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to be on a production where you can work with a copyist. Most of the time the task falls to the composer, the music director, or sometimes the musicians themselves.

The problems arise when these people have little to no experience in writing good charts. They may know how to write a vocal lead sheet, or a piano part, but what happens when they have to write a string part? A drum part? A GUITAR PART?? (Seriously you guys, guitar parts are the worst. Unless you play guitar yourself, give up. It’s a hopeless enterprise.)

Fortunately, I just stumbled upon the BEST THING EVER. Continue reading The Sheet Music Whisperer

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: Continue reading LOOK: Photos and Reaction to JOE SCHMOE

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…