2013 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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We recently announced our 2013 Top 25 Songs at the International Congress of Voice Teachers Conference in Brisbane, Australia.  In the coming month, we’d like to introduce each song to you through the words of the writer.  This rich selection of songs showcases a high level of craft and the breadth of our current contemporary musical theatre landscape.  We know you’ll want to purchase these songs from the writers and perform them!

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Afternoon on a Hill

Music: Ben Bonnema
Poem: Edna St. Vincent Millay
Ben Bonnema
Ben Bonnema
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay

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

“Afternoon on a Hill” started as, funny enough, a grad school assignment. We were to write a song with a strong, trackable motive. The text, by Edna St. Vincent Millay, was given to us. I ended up writing the whole thing in one sitting in a practice room at Tisch (which is unheard of for me). And even though I didn’t plan for it to be a contemporary art song, alas – that’s what I was left with.

What are you most proud of with this song?

This is probably way more specific than what you’re going for, but I’m actually pretty proud of the chords in the “B” section, if only because I have no memory as to how they got there.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

Figuring out how to turn an three stanza poem into an AABA song. You have to decide what’s important enough to make into a whole section!

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

Though the demo has a male singing (hi Nick!), it can definitely be a female as well.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I know a lot of contemporary writers who are extremely talented, and simply haven’t had their work produced yet. They write incredibly well-crafted stories and songs. I have no doubt that they will be produced someday soon, which gives me extra hope for the future of musical theatre.

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

The fact that there’s always something else that demands your attention. Whether it’s your survival job, your friends, the new episode of “Radiolab,” or the need to catch up on “Game of Thrones.” You have to MAKE the time to write.

What are you currently working on?

Arianna Rose and I have have a workshop production of our musical The Lost Girl at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, directed by Rob Heller. It went up August 3rd, 4th, 5th in the Frederick Loewe theatre on the 2nd floor of 721 Broadway. Featuring students from Tischs’ New Studio musical theatre program, our show was one of three selected from 18 thesis musicals for this honor through a CDP Grant. The Lost Girl explores the lives of Wendy, John, and Michael Darling 25 years after Neverland. Tickets are free but require a reservation. For more info, email: bonnemarose@gmail.com.

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

Simple: www.benbonnema.com. I’d tell you to follow me on Twitter, but let’s be real – I don’t do career updates on Twitter. I retweet The Onion and FakeMTA.

Listen to the song here.  For more information on the song, click here.

All About Me

Music & Lyrics: Michael Patrick Walker
Michael Patrick Walker
Michael Patrick Walker

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

All About Me” is one of my trunk songs which became the lead-off track on my album “Out of Context: The Songs of Michael Patrick Walker”.  I originally wrote the song as the opening number of an untitled musical about a woman in her 40s who divorced her husband, left her family and pursued her abandoned dreams.  Because the song was the opening number, it doesn’t require much set-up other than to say I intended that the character would appear alone on a bare stage at the top of the song and that the stage would came alive (via lights and set) as she sang.  Ultimately, I shelved the musical, but I’ve always had a soft spot for “All About Me,”  so when I began to select material for my album, it was at the top of the list from day one.  I think, like most composers and lyricists, I have complicated feelings about the songs in my “trunk.”  Some I put there gladly and others with great sadness – but all for good reasons.  The fact that I’ve been able to resurrect “All About Me” makes me very happy and, most likely, gives my other lonely trunk songs hope!

What are you most proud of with this song?

Honestly – and at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory – I’m really proud of the lyrics for this song.  This is one of those songs where I was able to say exactly what I wanted to say while also being technically “clever” at the same time.  I’m all for clever and fun – internal rhymes, surprising turns of phrase, etc – but sometimes clever lyrics are jarring and are more about the lyricist showing off than about what’s right for the song and the character.  In “All About Me”, the character’s enthusiasm and excitement lead naturally to a snowballing rhyme scheme that was so much fun for me and every word seemed to just fit perfectly.  That kind of thing is very cool for me as a writer since things don’t always feel like they fit as perfectly as I want them to.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

This song actually came rather quickly and easily for me – and I only dare to say that because I have absolutely spent my share of time banging my head against a piano, a computer screen, a piece of paper, etc… wrestling with a difficult song.  With “All About Me,” for some reason, I knew what the character was saying and where I was going pretty much from the jump and, while it still took time and rewriting and all that good stuff to get to the finishes product, I didn’t have much in the way of difficulties popping up during the actual writing process.

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

I have a pretty definite idea of how I hear “All About Me” in my head, but even so, I love hearing what different singers bring to it.  As an example, I’ve personally played piano for 3 different singers to perform it – Anne L. Nathan on my album, Kenita Miller at Birdland in New York City and Kelly-Anne Gower at the Matcham Room in London.  All three women brought very different things to the song and all connected with it in their own way.  I’m particularly curious to hear what other singers – especially those I’ve never worked with – would bring to the song in performance.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

Telling stories.  It’s really that simple – and that horribly complicated!  Going from being all alone in a room writing the first bits of a show to working with collaborators (be they other writers, directors, producers, actors, musicians, etc…) to being in the rehearsal studio to moving into the theatre and, finally, experiencing the audience reaction – and how different that can be from night to night – is a thrill!  There are many ways to tell stories – and I enjoy them as well – but nothing is as immediate and visceral as live theatre.  I don’t feel restricted when I write for a musical.  I can write and try almost anything as long as it serves one cardinal rule.  It must help tell the story.  I love that.

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

What I find most challenging about this business is the big shift we seem to have taken toward emphasizing making money over everything else.  Don’t get me wrong – we all want and need to make money and commercial productions of a musical should have that as their goal.  But it should be one goal of many.  Some people in the industry have shifted – seemingly entirely – to looking for the next quick money-maker.  Is the title familiar?  What star is attached?  What market can we tap into?  Nothing wrong with considering all of that but, if the show isn’t good, none of that will matter and, ironically, you lose money anyway.  Start with the show.  Start with the story.  Make it good and factor in the rest.  Nothing is a guaranteed money-maker, but you have a way better shot if you start with a show that is good!  And, by the way, I’m not equating “good” with some random definition of “high art.”  Good can be a goofy, silly farce just as easily as a deep, meaningful piece – comedy can be way harder anyway.  But I wish we would do less “throw it on the stage because it looks good in a spreadsheet” shows.  Thankfully, there are producers and writers and directors and many others in the industry who feel the same way I do about that.  I just wonder how much longer there will be if we don’t all work harder at it.

What are you currently working on?

I’m very excited that one of my newest musicals, Dog and Pony (music and lyrics by me, book by Rick Elice), is about to have its world premiere at The Old Globe Theatre as part of their 2013-2014 season!  There will be a private industry reading very soon and tickets are already on sale for the full production at the Globe!  In addition, I’m writing a show called Land of Dreams with Brian Crawley of Violet fame, which we’re both very excited about.  We’re still early in the writing process, but we hope to release some more details about the future of the show in the coming months.  Also, I’m writing a show on my own called being theo – it’s been in development for a while, but it’s an exciting project and one I’m taking my time with to make sure I get it right!  Lastly, I have a few recording projects in the work – too early to say much about them, but one might be a follow-up album to “Out of Context: The Songs of Michael Patrick Walker.”

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

So many ways!  My web site at:  www.michaelpatrickwalker.com.  You can follow me on twitter at: @mpatrickwalker and find me on Facebook.  Thanks for being interested in what I’m up to!

For more information on the song, click here.

The Best Things in Life

Music & Lyrics by: Beth Falcone
 
 
Beth Falcone
Beth Falcone

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

“The Best Things in Life” is from the musical Love in the Age of Recycling. George lost his partner of almost thirty years in an auto accident. Over the past three years since this happened, he has turned toward collecting. But his house is becoming unmanageable, and his neighbors are beginning to complain as things are piling up and spilling into the yard… His son strongly suggests that George purge before there is real trouble. This is George’s response.

What are you most proud of with this song?

I think I am most proud that George takes a journey through this song. He has wants and needs that he does not fully understand at the beginning. He discovers, and we do along with him, what is really driving him. I am also very, very  proud that Jerry Lanning, a truly esteemed Broadway actor (google him!), really likes singing it!

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

Finding what it was about… Beyond the specific trinkets George is holding on to… What else is he holding on to? I’ve been discovering his story as I go…

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

That it’s not meant to be heavy from the beginning… He really likes his collecting, so there is a lightheartedness as he is defending his right to do something simple that makes him happy. It can be easy to get sucked in to a melancholy feeling, but it’s really about joy, so try and play against that when performing it, especially at the beginning.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

We all need stories that we see ourselves in… We can keep going back to old standards and old stories… And in fact, we should. There will always be value in the classics, from Shakespeare to Sondheim, that’s what makes them classics! But it’s important for people to see themselves on stage, dealing with contemporary problems, too, with references to the present day.

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

Schools and community theaters seem to want and need big shows to produce, so that they can get a lot of people involved! Big shows are produced less and less in NYC, so writers are in a tough spot. Does one write something small that is more likely to be produced professionally? Or do you write something large to meet the needs of the majority of people doing theater? If you do envision a large cast show, chances are that people won’t know about it unless you are getting produced on Broadway… It’s a tricky wicket!

What are you currently working on?

I have a number of projects brewing, but the one you’ll see showcased first is a small Off-Broadway type show called Love in the Age of Recycling.  I am also working on creating a cast album for Wanda’s World, a musical for the tween in all of us, and am proud to say that the show is available for licensing from Theatrical Rights Worldwide: www.theatricalrights.com!

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

I have a website: www.bethfcone.com that is due to be updated soon. And please write me and join my e-blast list!  beth@bethfalcone.com. Thanks for listening!

Listen to the song here. For more information on this song, click here.

Drive

Music & Lyrics: Andy Monroe
Andy Monroe
Andy Monroe

What are you most proud of with this song?

I’m most proud of the way I was able to do all that rhyming without ever having to simply put a rhyme in for rhyme’s sake.  I feel the entire lyric is in the language of the character and is easily understood by an audience on a single listen.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

The most difficult thing about writing this song was finding the lyric for the bridge.  I actually had two different public performances of it with two different sets of lyrics in the bridge section before finally arriving at the lyrics I have now.  So I’d say it took me about two years total of revising JUST THOSE LYRICS before finally finding them.

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

This is the title song and opening number from my musical, Drive.  In it, Ellis, a family man approaching 40, is singing while speeding on the freeway late at night. In the actual show, the ending of the song is interrupted by a phone call from the character’s wife, wondering where he is.  He tells her he’s just turning around now and will be home soon.  He then sings the words “I DRIVE” and the song ends with a blackout on the scene.  I modified it for this version so it works better as a stand alone song, ending it at the time when it would normally be interrupted by the phone call.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I’m excited by the diversity of subject matter that can now be fodder for musicals.  Who would have thought a musical about a schizophrenic bi-polar housewife could be a success?  But Next to Normal not only won the Pulitzer Prize, but is funny, thrilling, and moving entertainment as well.  Everywhere you turn, it seems the form is stretching to accommodate a huge range of new ideas and creativity.

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

As much as I like to believe that great work will always rise to the top regardless of any hype surrounding it, I’m realizing that those who do a hefty amount of self-promotion definitely reap a big advantage.  I SUCK at self-promotion and resent the time it takes away from actual writing, but those are the facts…

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on rewrites of my musical, Drive, as well as a new original chamber musical titled The Clearing.

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

I have a website: www.andymonroe.com.

Listen to the song here.  For more information on the song, click here.

Giant

Music & Lyrics: Joe Miloscia
 
Joe Miloscia
Joe Miloscia

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

“Giant” is from my musical, Boys Will Be Boys. Since the show is a gay musical revue, there isn’t really much of a set-up. The song simply comes after a threatening homophobic note is found by one of the characters in the show.

What are you most proud of with this song?

I am most proud of the emotional reaction the song elicits in people and the way it captures a reality still faced by LGBT individuals every day in communities all around the country – even liberal, progressive metropolitan centers.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I guess the most difficult thing about writing “Giant” was finding precise lyrics that would paint an evocative picture for this story, and tell it in a way that would resonate and move the listener.

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

I would love everyone to know that I have been honored to have the incomparable Cheyenne Jackson record a gorgeous rendition of this song, which can be heard here.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I love hearing all the exciting voices — established and emerging — that are keeping this art form exciting and relevant.

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

What I find most challenging is trying to find a way to make a living doing what I love (writing book and lyrics) and avoid cynicism.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished a production of Boys Will Be Boys that sold out its run at the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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

You can always follow me on Facebook or via my website: www.JoeMiloscia.com.

For more information about the song, click here.

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Be sure to check back each week in August, as we highlight five other songs from the Top 25!

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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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