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

The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

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PC: Caitlin McNaney

Rajiv Joseph is one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. I remember seeing his play A Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in Los Angeles and being blown away. It was political, yet personal. Surreal, yet plainspoken. It captured a place and a wonderment that I seek to find in my own writing.

In this Broadway.com interview on the occasion of his latest play Guards at the Taj, he describes a lesson he learned about collaboration: Continue reading The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

The “Jane Austen Writers Group” Buzzfeed Parody

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This wonderful buzzfeed “What If” created by contributor Shannon Reed is a hilarious read and hits a lot of great points.

The first, and most obvious, is the frequently useless critiques that writer’s groups provide. Between batches of patting one another on the back, there’s a tacet “I’m smarter than you” subtext that pervades their friendly notes.

And then there’s the endless harping on “Why.” Yes – we must understand the motivations of a character. But sometimes the motivations of a character are implicit in the actions themselves. We relate to their actions and thus we understand “why.” We do not need to be told, and not everything needs to be explained away.

But I think I’m most fascinated, on my subsequent reads of this article, at the (perhaps-not-so) subtle sexism. The labeling of “chick lit;” the constant comparisons to “superior” works by men (Chaucer, Shakespeare); the sexualization of Kitty; the criticizing of having too many women in the piece; and the suggestion that the active protagonists should be three men who discuss war, while Mrs. Bennet “lies unconscious in the background, holding a ribbon.”

Well parodied, Ms. Reed.

In more re-affirming news: Check out this article on new plays empowering young, Latina women!

Finishing the Draft!

It’s a difficult thing to balance two “careers” at once. For me, acting has always taken precedence because it’s my “bread-and-butter,” which I say while making a very ironic face.

But I love writing with the same passion as I love acting, so I can’t just do one and not the other. It just means I’ve had to accept that sometimes the writing is just gonna take longer. A looooot longer.
But this week I was able to finish the first draft of my musical Joe Shmoe Saves the World. Which thrills me to itty bitty little pieces.
Granted – it’s incomplete. That’s right. It’s an incomplete first draft. But it’s cohesive! And now that the first draft is written it means that the rewriting can begin. And so the cycle never ends.
Here’s a paragraph I’m particularly proud of. This comes from my own personal inspiration for writing this piece:
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Lincoln’s a Bitch

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As dramatic and historic a time as the Civil War was, attempting to dramatize the “struggle” of Abraham Lincoln is damned near impossible.

If you saw the recent Spielberg movie, you know that Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of the 16th President is sweet, subtle, and extremely endearing – all attributes that Lincoln was noted to have.  But the truth is, even 3-D glasses wouldn’t give this Lincoln any dimension.

Having written a play about Abraham Lincoln myself…
tumblr_m27hunmZoZ1qggv4ro1_500…I know a little bit about what Mr. Tony Kushner was dealing with. Continue reading Lincoln’s a Bitch

Draw Me to Life

My friend Kim blogged this post about Pixar director Mark Walsh, whose recent short Partysaurus Rex is playing before Finding Nemo in 3D.

Here’s a peek at Mark’s film.

I love animation.  Pixar in particular.  But something I miss – something I think a lot of my generation misses – are the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken animated movie musicals from the 90’s.  Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.  I’m gonna throw Lion King in there as well, though that’s Elton John and Tim Rice, and was the beginning of a drift away from true “musical structure.”

Howard Ashman

If you’ve seen Waking Sleeping Beauty, you know that Peter Schneider was the man who spearheaded Disney Animation’s journey back from the brink.  (Anecdote: I had the pleasure to work with Peter Schneider recently.  The man responsible for my childhood happiness. It was like meeting Willy Wonka.)

  It was Peter’s idea to hire musical theatre writer Howard Ashman to create these animated films.  And what Ashman brought with him was an impeccable sense of musical structure – literally, story-structure specific to musicals.

To me, nothing kills a musical like bad structure.  An “I Want” song has to be there.  HAS TO.  It can be disguised, it can be non traditional.  But you need a song that defines the main character(s) want.

If you think of a musical like a house, then this is, oh I don’t know, Dance of the Vampires:

And this is Beauty and the Beast:

But I digress.

My point is how much I love animation.  I love it because of the endless possibilities – because you can go to a spaceship where human being are fat slobs; or the bottom of the ocean where an orchestra of fish accompanies a singing crab, or a rat can become a great chef in Paris.  Even TV shows like Family Guy and South Park (and Simpsons before them) have characters randomly break out into musical numbers, or have characters graphically murdered, or all sorts of nonsensical things occur.

And these days, nonsense is the only way to really take a look at what’s happening around us.  We live in such absurd times.  We might as well be animated.