It’s hard to believe a little over a year ago Lorene Phillips and I were talking about starting this thing called The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers. The recent launch concert for our new(ish) website www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com was the best anniversary party we could have imagined. We’d like to share with you some reflections on planning the concert.
When we went through the initial submissions for The Directory, we flagged well over one hundred songs that highlighted superb craft and showed a wonderful breadth of styles currently represented in today’s musical theatre. We decided we could only feature 60 minutes worth of new songs before our audience tuned out. I put forth a collection of twenty-five songs from the one hundred plus we initially flagged and from this roster Lorene, our director Laura Josepher and musical director Matt Castle chose nineteen songs [one song was later cut because we couldn’t find the right performer for it. We look forward to featuring the writer’s work on a future concert].
Picking the performance order was perhaps the most challenging part of the whole experience. We tried to balance voice type, song type, key relationship, etc… It literally took hours to come to an order we felt worked. Of course, this changed slightly from the planning stages to the week leading up to the concert, but not by much. Here’s a PDF of the final program order.
We were all very clear that the launch concert had to be about one thing: the writer’s work. It’s very tempting with these types of events to try getting famous performers simply because they’re famous without really considering whether or not they’d be a good fit for the song. We worked with each of the writers to develop a short list of performers they envisioned singing their songs. Sometimes they had contact with their chosen performer. Sometimes we did. In the instance of Mary Testa, I simply e-mailed her, told her about the project and gave her Rachel Peter’s amazing song, “Mediocre Man.” She immediately responded saying she’d be happy to join us. We were all overjoyed! As The Concert took shape and other incredibly talented people saying “yes” to us, we realized the idea of having a night dedicated to a celebration of these writers was something big indeed.
The amazing thing is that, even with a couple casting challenges, the right people ended up singing the right songs. And the songs were beautifully served as a result.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Alexandra Foucard for connecting us to Mark Cortale, Seth Rudetsky’s manager. Given the talent we secured for the concert and the concept behind The Directory, Seth agreed to host the concert. He did a fantastic job – no one has a better sense of timing or knows how to banter with an audience like Seth. He was a perfect match for the evening.
When we began talking about the idea of doing the launch concert, we looked into renting out Joe’s Pub or (le) Poisson Rouge. We thought those spaces were a descent size and wouldn’t be too hard to sell out. But when I told my friend Jim Augustine of our plans, he insisted we weren’t thinking big enough. He told me we needed an actual theatre – that this event, like the idea for The Directory, was huge and deserved a big launch.
After pricing several places, we had a wonderful meeting with Jason Walters, Building Manager at Second Stage Theatre, and instantly knew this was the perfect venue for us. Jason and the entire staff were so helpful and genuinely interested in our project. Everyone there helped us through the process of putting the show together, from sound design to ticket sales. It was an incredibly positive experience, and we hope to build on that relationship with future events.
Lorene and I initially thought we would aim to do the launch concert around the actual launch of the website in mid November. Just as we were getting ready to sign a contract with Second Stage, they notified us that performing on the set of their current show wasn’t going to be possible. They offered us a date in January, after their production of WATER BY THE SPOONFUL opened.
This turned out to be the biggest blessing of them all. Looking back on it, there was no way we could have planned the launch concert in tandem with launching the website. I mean, Lorene and I are two pretty dedicated folks, but we’re still just two people!
We lucked out in securing January 21 at Second Stage. The set for WATER BY THE SPOONFUL beautifully matched needs. Many audience members assumed the set was designed for us – that it was all planned. We certainly had someone looking out for us, this much we know.
In celebrating our launch we wanted to make the evening about something a bit bigger than ourselves. Since supporting writers is a substantive part of our mission, we approached the Dramatist Guild Fund about making a donation to to support writers in need (thanks to Michael Gordon, who is on the board and helped us to make that connection). DGF Executive Director Rachel Routh was very enthusiastic and even helped us with some production items. The funds we donate to the Dramatist Guild Fund will be earmarked to support musical theatre writers in need.
The Final Product
It’s rare when a vision becomes a full technicolor reality, better than you could have imagined. For so many reasons, we could have failed. And yet, it was one of the most transformative evenings we’ve experienced. After the concert finished, people didn’t leave the theatre. They stayed and talked. For a long time. Talked about the great songs. About the ridiculously talented performers. About the band led by Matt Castle, and how they played a multitude of styles with total ease. About the power of seeing the phenomenal writers come forward to receive thunderous ovations.
Why did all this work? It’s simple: everyone made the day about the writers and their songs. From 8 AM when we loaded into the theatre to 12:30 AM the next morning when we shut down the after party at West Bank Café, it was a lovefest for contemporary musical theatre. There was no room for ego.
Below are some wonderful photos taken by our media sponsor Roberto Araujo Photography. We hope they reflect the joy and fun we experienced that night.
And if you want to see more pictures, click here to view broadwayworld.com’s photo coverage of the evening.
Video coverage of the concert is forthcoming and will live on our new media page at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com. This will only be available to subscribers, so join us today for this amazing content! Mary Testa, Nick Blaemire, Robin de Jesus, Jeff Blumenkrantz, John Bucchino and more performing live. Need we say more??
Thanks to all who shared this wonderful experience with us and to those who gave us significant financial support! We look forward to future concerts and events that bring together writers, teachers, students and musical theatre professionals.
But not for a while. Now we’re going to get back to basics: focusing on adding new writers, putting together amazing interviews and video blogs for you. There’s a lot to look forward to in the New Year!
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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.