TOP 25 SONGS: VOLUME 5

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
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He Needs Me & Like Donnie

Music by: Robert Maggio
Lyrics by: Kristin Maloney

Tell us about your songs. If they’re from a musical, set the songs up for us.  

In “He Needs Me” our leading lady is led to believe by a convincing source that her husband is having an affair.  She is blindsided.

In “Like Donnie,” a physical altercation during a dance session strips our secondary lead of his alpha male dance persona, leaving behind the lovable nerd with big dreams for a future in competitive dance.

Did you write the songs for anyone in mind? 

We did not have a particular performer in mind for “He Needs Me”, but we have been blown away with the talents who have interpreted the song in public performances (Jennifer Zimmerman) and recording (Karen Olivo).

Likewise, we watched in awe as Lee Zarrett and Aaron Kaburick have given thrilling and distinctive performances of “Like Donnie.”

What are you most proud of with these songs? 

With “He Needs Me,” I think we’re most pleased with how emotionally complex the song was able to be within a very economical structure: it’s a 32-bar AABA song with a little coda.

We feel we captured the heart of this person in “Like Donnie”. By the end of the song, we believe that the audience will sympathize with and cheer for this underdog.

Kristin: I am also a big fan of what Robert did musically in the bridge; it really is rousing.

What was the most difficult thing about writing these songs?  

Kristin: When Rob and I wrote “He Needs Me”, we were both married or newly married, and when we write we really try to dig in to the needs of the character in the moment, what is emotionally appropriate and true.  We both really “went there” in the process; and although it was difficult to imagine the hurt and anger that our leading lady would feel in that moment, I think it ultimately produced an authentic response.

Kristin: When it comes to “Like Donnie,” I spent a lot of time making sure the excited flow of words was sing-able, with no mental hiccups for the singer.

Rob: As this is a dance piece, we feel that a collaboration with a director and choreographer would take this song to a new level.  We can’t wait to see how the addition of dance would focus this number.

What else would you like us to know?  

Kristin: In the very first rehearsal of “He Needs Me” for BMI with the excellent Jennifer Zimmerman, Jen asked a lot of questions about each lyric as part of her process, and I had to be on my game with ready responses. It was an extremely valuable exercise, and it yielded a couple of clarifying changes that really improved the piece.  I learned then that if you can’t defend your lyric choices with 100% conviction, you have to make new ones.  For new works in development and workshop, it’s so important to listen to your actors (full disclosure: I am also an actor).  What they ask, what they say, and what they don’t say.  If it’s beyond repair, they probably won’t say anything.  Except possibly to each other at the bar after the reading.

Our dream version of “Like Donnie” includes an extended dance break! Staged with Donnie Burns video backsplash!

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.  

Kristin: We love having the ability to choose what we want to invest our creative energy in (but will work on commission!). We love the sheer amount of people it takes to mount a musical project, and the amount of creative passion and willpower and good will that each person in the process should have to make it a successful one.  Rob: Ditto to what Kristin said, and I am energized about the diversity of what’s happening on stage now. I am interested in writing so many different kinds of musicals that the idea that anything goes (no pun intended) is thrilling.

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

The uncomfortable tension between art and commerce. *Hums a few bars from Sondheim’s “Putting it Together”.*

What are you currently working on? 

Kristin: in the exploratory phase (my favorite one!) of two possible new projects.

Robert: Bling! and other O Henry adaptations/updates (with writer Matthew Hardy), Touch (with writer Amy Buchwald), and Touchtones (with writer Michael Hollinger). These three projects could not be more different stylistically and thematically from one another, and that excites me.

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

www.robertmaggio.com and www.kristinmaloney.com 

Hold My Hand & Why Can’t I Kiss You

Music & Lyrics by: Jeff Blumenkrantz

Tell us about your songs. If they’re from a musical, set them up for us.

“Hold My Hand” was written for a show (that’s since been abandoned) called HUSH. It was to be the first solo song for the main character, Miles Berlin, a neurotic, gay, Jewish, musical theatre composer. In its original context, it followed a phone call with his closeted ex-boyfriend, hence the yearning to hold hands in public.

“Why Can’t I Kiss You” was not written for a show, however when I wrote it, I was working on a Betty Boop musical, so I was in the habit of cranking out 30s-style songs. I love the music from that period, and I’m always happy to write a song that recalls that style.

Did you write them for anyone in mind?

Well, one answer is no. And the other answer is myself, of course. 🙂

What are you most proud of with these songs?

In “Hold My Hand” I’m proud of the unexpected joke in the last line, how it catches people off guard, and I like how the song overall dramatizes that very human phenomenon of simultaneous, conflicting emotions, in this instance hope, sadness, yearning, resignation, self-awareness, and self-deprecation.

With “Why Can’t I Kiss You” I’m proud to have captured the sound of that time, and I like that in the text, there’s a 30s kind of innocence with a somewhat more contemporary sensibility feathered in.

What was the most difficult thing about writing these songs?

I can’t remember any difficulties writing “Hold My Hand”. It was almost as if it wrote itself, and very quickly.

With “Why Can’t I Kiss You” the biggest challenge was creating the piano accompaniment. I wanted something rather lush, especially in the piano solo.

What else would you like us to know?

In “Hold My Hand” the use of the word “virtuosic” refers to Miles’ musical/piano abilities. Also, because the original context of the song was related to gay men’s internalized homophobia, I find it interesting that so many women have wanted to sing it. But I forget that there are straight guys out there who aren’t so comfortable with holding hands either.

“Why Can’t I Kiss You” is one of the few songs in my “canon” that was plucked directly from life. I was dating someone at the time and we couldn’t seem to achieve kiss lift-off. (We eventually did, FYI, but it wasn’t ultimately a love connection. In fact, he has no idea he inspired this song.)

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

It’s really the same thing that excites me about any musical theatre: I think the magical combination of song, dialogue, movement, and design is beautiful way to tell a story, to touch, move, and inspire people, and to illuminate the human experience.

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

Discovering stories that demand to be musicalized and creating collaborations that work.

What are you currently working on?

I’m co-adapting a short story by P.G. Wodehouse that tells the story of how Bertie Wooster came to hire his valet, Jeeves.

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

Thanks for asking! You can sign up for my email list at www.jeffblumenkrantz.com, like my Facebook page, or subscribe to my twitter feed (@blumietunes).

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