TOP 25 SONGS: VOLUME 1

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
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Last month we announced the Top 25 Songs from The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers at the 2012 NATS Convention in Orlando, Florida.  Now it’s time for you to get up close and personal with the songs and writers that captivated our panel of musical theatre and voice professionals.

Below are two songs you must know if you’re interested in the very best of the very new.  Check back every couple days, as we’ll be releasing more great interviews with the writers of our Top 25 Songs.

All the Possibilities

 
Music by: Michael Wartofsky
Lyrics by: Kathleen Cahill
 

Tell us about your song. If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

KATHLEEN: “All the Possibilities” is from The Navigator, a musical inspired by the life and achievements of a 19th century genius named Nathaniel Bowditch, who more or less developed the 19th century’s version of GPS for navigators at sea.

The story dramatizes the magic of numbers and science, but there is also a tragic love story at the heart of the plot, which is expressed in this song, by Sarah, Nate’s true love. (People believe in true love in the 19th century, according to me.) Sarah is pregnant by another man and she has a premonition that she will not survive childbirth. But because of who she is, she expresses her faith in all the beautiful possibilities that will continue to exist even after she is gone.

MICHAEL: Sarah acts as a heroine and not a victim.  Despite her desperate circumstances, she still visualizes a better world and makes the world a better place having lived in it.  From the start, we decided that the ballad would have a rhythmic pulse under it, to represent Sarah’s determination, and that the lyrics would spring from her positive outlook.

Did you write it for anyone in mind?

KATHLEEN: When I wrote the lyrics, I was thinking about people who are not allowed to love who they love, people who are misjudged and have to suffer the consequences, but who prevail because of the force of life inside them.

MICHAEL: Almost every melody I write is with either Barbra Streisand or Chaka Khan in mind.  This one is a bit more of a Barbra tune.

What are you most proud of with this song?

KATHLEEN: It’s sensual and spiritual at the same time.

MICHAEL: “All the Possibilities” suits the dramatic moment in the show, and also stands alone, out of context.  It’s universal and timeless.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

KATHLEEN: Writing a tragic love song which has no whining or self pity in it.

MICHAEL: I can’t stop tweaking the piano accompaniment.  I think I’ve done five different versions by now.  But the actual melody and lyric practically wrote itself. There was something so organic and natural in the songwriting process with Kathleen.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

KATHLEEN: I always imagine that it can be sung in a political context.

MICHAEL: It’s been wonderful to hear both men and women interpret “All the Possibilities”, whether as a solo, or arranged for SATB, or the terrific Broadway Boys version arranged by Jesse Nager.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

KATHLEEN: When I was in graduate school at NYU in the early 1990’s, we were told that the structure of rock music didn’t fit with the necessary structure of a musical theatre song.  Well, along came “Spring Awakening.” And the rest is history.

MICHAEL: I love when story, character and music work as one.  I’m a fanatic for really well-written material in between songs, which many would call “recitative.” But when it’s really well done, it’s more like song fragments that maintain dramatic interest and build up to the next song moment.  Among my favorite extended song sequences are the number “What You Want” from Legally Blonde and the moment in “New Music” from Ragtime when Coalhouse calls Sarah down from upstairs and she can’t resist his song.

What do you find to be most challenging about this business?

KATHLEEN: Everything.  For a playwright, it is very difficult to have my imagination being interviewed all the time during the collaborative process.

MICHAEL: It makes all the difference to work with collaborators and performers whom you respect and admire.  But if I had to pick one thing, it would be choosing the right property to devote years and years of your life writing, and being willing to make changes as needed along the way.

What are you currently working on?

KATHLEEN: A musical, called PERDITA, which is the Winter’s Tale in Mexico.  And two plays:  THE LOWELL EXPERIMENT and a dark family comedy, MONSTERHEART.

MICHAEL: In my day job as Professor at Berklee College of Music, I’ve been building up a musical theater writing program with several semesters worth of curriculum.  As freelance composer, I just finished music for two shows that ran in Boston this summer:  Cupcake [www.cupcakethemusical.com] and Car Talk: TheMusical!!!  [www.centralsquaretheater.org] which has been extended twice and is running through September 2012.  I’m also in process on music and lyrics for Running Back, co-written with Marcus Gardley, about a legendary football player at the top of his game who makes a very public marriage proposal to his boyfriend.  But the most immediate project is to build a personal website so that I can provide a less embarrassing answer to your next question.

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

KATHLEEN You can send an e-mail to kathleencahill10@comcast.net or write to me on Facebook.  I have a hate-hate relationship with self-promotion.

MICHAEL: For now, www.youtube.com/mwartofsky and maybe one day soon www.michaelwartofsky.com.

All There Is to Say

Brad Alexander
Adam Mathias
Music by: Brad Alexander
Lyrics by: Adam Mathias

Tell us about your song. If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

“All There Is To Say” is from SEE ROCK CITY & OTHER DESTINATIONS, a collection of short stories set at tourist destinations across America.  In this piece, Lauren takes her ‘Grampy’ for their annual visit to the Alamo on the anniversary of the day he met her grandmother there.  According to the family legend, this was where Grampy and Gram heard the “voice” singing from the sky, predicting the life-long love that they would share—a difficult example for Lauren to live up to.  Still, Lauren brings Grampy back every year, even though Gram died several years ago and Grampy has since suffered a stroke that has left him unable to fully communicate.  Lauren tries to explain to Grampy that she is happy despite not having found her own perfect love.  Grampy tries to protest, but is quickly aggravated by his inability to speak.

Did you write it for anyone in mind?

No one in particular, though I’m sure we were channeling some friends and acquaintances who share some of Lauren’s qualities and feelings about love.

What are you most proud of with this song?

As was the case with most of the songs in this score, the music and lyrics were written together, in the same room, which we think helped us musicalize Lauren’s innate buoyancy being sort of tamped down by an accumulated bitterness from years of failed relationships. Once we found the “hook” of the song, the rest of it poured forth.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

For Brad, making peace with the melody’s residing in a lower range.  It made perfect sense to us from a writing standpoint but we couldn’t deny the challenge it might pose for a vocalist.  But we’ve been lucky enough to have the best singers in town perform the song with flying colors.  And it turns out that the lower notes serve the emotional arc of the tune as well.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

The amazing Sally Wilfert will be performing the song on the upcoming Original Off-Broadway Cast Album of See Rock City… being produced by Mike Croiter on the Yellow Sound Label. Also, the sheet music for the song is available at www.newmusicaltheatre.com!

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

It’s not only exciting to bring contemporary sounds into today’s musical theatre but also to try and be a little ahead of the curve, both musically and lyrically.  We’re always pushing ourselves for new ideas but it takes a show so long to be produced – sometimes 10 years or more – that what might have been a fresh sound upon completion of a score can become a bit stale by opening night.  The challenge is to find the balance between timeless and brand spanking new.

What do you find to be most challenging about this business?

Most challenging for us is the business part of this business.  If we could spend half as much time writing as we do on marketing, sales, rights research/acquisition and promotion, we’d be most happy fellas.

What are you currently working on?

Brad is currently putting the finishing touches on a show for Theatreworks USA called MARTHA SPEAKS (lyrics by Jill Abramovitz, book by Kevin Del Aguila) which tours the country this fall.  And Jill and Brad are adapting the Ken Loach / Paul Laverty film BREAD & ROSES into a musical.

Adam is creating a new original musical, A HISTORY OF SUMMER, with music by Jonathan Monro about America’s earliest established gay communities Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines. He’s also writing book for a musical adaptation of DANCES WITH WOLVES for Matt Murphy Productions with music by Marc Cohn.

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

bradalexander.com
adamup.com
or find us on Facebook or Twitter!
 

[Editorial Note: Adam & Brad are currently fundraising to record the cast album of SEE ROCK CITY & OTHER DESTINATIONS.  Having seen a wonderful production of the show, I can tell you it is very worthy of support.  If you’re interested in donating to their fundraising campaign, click here.]

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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 180 contemporary musical theatre writers and 550+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

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