TOP 25 SONGS: VOLUME 7

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
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I’m Sitting Next To Estella

Music & Lyrics by: Sam Willmott

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

“I’m Sitting Next to Estella” is from Standardized Testing – The Musical!!!!.  During the multiple choice section of the biggest standardized test of her high school life, Claire finds herself in an unacceptable seating arrangement, and begins to free associate via musical internal monologue.

Did you write it for anyone in mind?

I sure did… Sam Tedaldi has always inspired me and I wanted to create a song that could showcase her amazing comedic chops.  I’ve heard the song done fantastically by many other talented people, but Sam was certainly the inspiration.  The song is also based on a real person and dear friend whose name I should withhold for obvious reasons.

What are you most proud of with this song?

Before writing this song, I hadn’t considered myself to be much of a lyricist; I wrote lyrics because I had to, not because I particularly enjoyed it or had a great understanding of how to approach it.  “Estella” took me three arduous months to write… I slaved over the lyrical content because I was determined to break through this artistic wall.  As a result, I ended up with what I consider to be my first solid lyric.  Today, I love writing lyrics, and it was this song that gave me the confidence to write with conviction.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I was determined that the subject’s name would be Estella, which doesn’t rhyme with terribly much… I didn’t even think about “salmonella” until month two or something.  I had to figure out how to slide her name into the song so that it felt hook-y but also didn’t require too many rhymes.

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

The bigger the choices the actress makes, the funnier the song is.  “I’m Sitting Next To Estella” is, in fact, not about Estella; it’s really about Claire, the singer.  We learn more about Claire and her obvious need for attention, her sensationalism, her cattiness, her sense of humor and her general level of crazy than we do about Estella (all of the stories could be exaggerated or flat-out lies).  The more the song becomes about Claire trying to tell the details in the most lurid, hyper-realistic way possible, the more it works.  That last high C is nothing but unbridled energy and excitement pouring out of Claire.  No choice is too big or wrong.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I think that there are some really tremendous early-career artists out there (performers, choreographers, writers, producers, etc) who are going to transform the way we see theater.  Many of them are “undiscovered”, so to speak, or currently flying under the radar. I’ve had the pleasure of stumbling across a couple in various projects and I’m keeping a list; they consistently blow me away and I can’t wait to see what their “big thing” will be.

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

Definitely the economics.  On the one hand, I can completely understand why people in the industry gravitate towards less “risky” projects (in terms of material, casting, production, orchestration, developmental procedures etc), especially when they are putting a lot of time and/or money on the line.  The catch-22 of it all, however, is that a certain amount of risk is essential in creating out-of-the-box, compelling, engaging and dangerous artwork.  To me, the prospect of putting forward a tepid piece of theater that may not truly galvanize an audience seems like a much riskier proposition in the long run.

What are you currently working on?

Oooh, that’s a secret.  Stay tuned, though… I’m excited about it.

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

I try to keep my personal website, samwillmott.com, updated with new projects, news, licensing opportunities, etc.  I also have a mailing list that you can join via the “Contact” page on my website.

It Just Wasn’t Meant to Happen & Saturday Alone

Music & Lyrics by: Barry Wyner

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

Both of these songs are from CALVIN BERGER (which you can license from Tams-Witmark, by the way). In “It Just Wasn’t Meant to Happen,” Calvin, age 17, was just asked by the girl he loves to speak to another boy on her behalf and ask if he likes her. He is crushed and sings this song. In “Saturday Alone”, Bret (a girl) wishes that her closest friend, Calvin, would view her as a potential girlfriend and not just a girl friend.

Did you write them for anyone in mind?

Neither of the songs was written for anyone specific. It was always my hope that this musical would be performed many times by many casts, so I was only thinking about the characters. They can embodied well by any number of talented actors. That’s part of the fun of theatre!

What are you most proud of with these songs?

I’m proud that while they sound natural coming from the mouths of teen characters, the music and lyrics have depth and sophistication. Teens are just as complex, if not more, than adults, and I don’t feel this is always reflected in high school-set pieces. My inspiration on this front was the filmmaker John Hughes.

What was the most difficult thing about writing these songs?

When writing the show, I knew both of these dramatic moments were song spots, and that the emotions were yearning and melancholy, but I did not want to write anything sappy. I didn’t want the audience to hear the familiar cliches of a ballad and go, “Oh, here comes the ballad.” So, in both cases I tried to keep the music moving, have the characters show optimism, and give them something to play other than “woe is me.”

What else would you like us to know about these songs?

I’d love for you to hear them sung on the original cast recording of CALVIN BERGER on Ghostlight Records. Both are performed excellently. That said, feel no pressure to emulate them. Songs can interpreted many different ways. In “Saturday Alone,” the phone call has 2 voices (both ends of the call) on the album, but when the song is performed as a stand-alone, we just see Bret’s end of the call and it works well. If the high D at the end is too high to sing strongly, consider taking the song down a step.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I feel there is a true desire by the theatre establishment to find good new shows, and that these shows WILL see the light of day. I was just in LA, where there is such an oversupply of good-looking talented actors, and it’s a known thing that fate will decide which get discovered and which will not. You can be just as hot as so-and-so and just as talented as so-and-so, but you still might not make it. But since writing a good musical is so ridiculously tough and rare, when the stars align and someone actually makes one, there is a high probability it will get done.

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

For me, the writing part comes naturally but the self-promotion part does not. My insecurity tends to kick in when it comes to marketing myself. A lot of writers are really excellent at creating internet buzz around themselves. Sometimes I wish I had that gene.

What are you currently working on?

The CALVIN BERGER cast album comes out next month and we are doing a release concert at Joe’s Pub. That project has taken a ton of my time. A TV movie may be on the horizon for the show. I recently finished a commissioned children’s musical on wellness and nutrition for George Street Playhouse. My current roster is a romantic comedy I’m writing with an actor friend, and a piece set in Detroit that deals with the former glory and current plight of that city. I’m also in discussions with Warner Brothers about possibly adapting one of their (in my opinion) best hit movies from recent years. My fingers are crossed!

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

My website is BarryWyner.com. I do my best to keep it up to date.

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