2013 TOP 25 SONGS – Volume 3

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com

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We continue to roll our our Top 25 Songs, chosen by our wonderful celebrity guest judges (read more about that here).  Here are this week’s five songs.

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It’s Amazing the Things That Float

Music & Lyrics: Peter Mills
Peter Mills
Peter Mills

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

For over a hundred years, the Frye family has lived in the small Mississippi River town of Meyerville, Illinois.  In the summer of 1993, Susan is the last of the Fryes in Meyerville, struggling to keep the family farm solvent while working as a schoolteacher.  She often dreams of escaping from her small town existence, but feels that there are simply too many things that keep her tied to Meyerville.  And then the flood comes… In this scene from the second act of The Flood, Susan is returning to her flooded-out home to survey the wreckage.

What are you most proud of with this song?

This song felt like a lucky collision of several interesting ideas that ended up working well together.  I’m proud of the musical feel of this song — the accompaniment pattern, with it’s slightly ambiguous, “hemiola-ish” quality.  I like the harmonic world it lives in too… more on that in the next answer.  But most of all, I’m proud of the theatricality of the idea:  a moment of change and discovery for this character, when her whole world has quite literally been thrown into flux.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

This song was perhaps the only song I can think of where I wrote two completely different melodies for the same lyric.  I wrote this show, The Flood, in collaboration with Cara Reichel.  Some songs we wrote together; others, like this one, I went off and worked on on my own.  When I showed the first version of this to Cara, she said that something wasn’t right about the music for it.  Naturally, I got defensive and raged a bit… but ultimately, I knew she was right.  The music was too simple and “major key” sounding for this moment.  I went back to the piano… and eventually I found my way to the more ambivalent, more modal flavor of the present version.

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

Sometimes I wish I’d called the song “Float” — mostly on those occasions when I have to write it out by hand.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

How much of it there is!  It sometimes feels like every movie, every book, every straight play is being developed into a musical by someone… not to mention all the completely original shows. I foresee a day when every entry in Wikipedia will have a disambiguation page: did you mean Electron Transport Chain (scientific process) or Electron Transport Chain (musical)…?

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

Because of the aforementioned abundance, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle.  There is a lot of competition.  So many people are writing musicals, and yet ultimately, it is still a very tiny business in terms of actual production opportunities.  I hope that the demand for it can grow to keep up with the supply!  There seems to be so much passion and energy out there for creating new musicals.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been writing lyrics for a Broadway-aimed adaptation of The Honeymooners.  I also recently did a developmental production of a new piece about the Renaissance composer and murderer Carlo Gesualdo, called Death for Five Voices.

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

My website is www.pcmills.com.

For more information on this song, click here.

Lady of the Sea

Music: Chris Miller
Lyrics: Nathan Tysen
Nathan Tysen & Chris Miller
Nathan Tysen & Chris Miller

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

“Lady of the Sea” is a song from our adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s famous picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The book is a collection of fourteen disparate pencil drawings, each with a corresponding title and caption, supplied by the author.  It is up to the reader to make up the story, or in our case, a song.

What are you most proud of with this song?

We were once described as equal parts James Taylor and Stephen Sondheim, I think this song is a good representation of that comparison.  “Lady of the Sea” is an excellent folk ballad for a bari-tenor.  It is a favorite of performers as varied as Gavin Creel, Andy Mientus, and Michael McElroy.

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

Below is the picture, title and caption:

“CAPTAIN TORY”

He swung his lantern three times and slowly the schooner appeared.
He swung his lantern three times and slowly the schooner appeared.

 

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

The endless possibilities.  Contemporary musical theatre seems to have an open door policy when it comes to musical genre.  Love the fact that Once, Here Lies Love, and Natasha & Pierre are all successful musicals.

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

The waiting for things to happen, and the fact that you can’t actually make a living. But you have to be tenacious, persistent, and relentless always.

What are you currently working on?

Broadway-bound adaptation of Tuck Everlasting, and a circus for Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey.

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

www.MILLERandTYSEN.com.

For more information on this song, click here.

Never Knew

Music & Lyrics: Timothy Huang
Timothy Huang
Timothy Huang

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

“Never Knew” is part of a song cycle I wrote (and continue to write) back in 2008 called LINES.  The cycle itself incorporates the word “line” or “lines” within each song, and utilizes it differently every time.  When you put them end to end, you ideally recognize that what I’m doing is charting the progression we all make from Pleasure Principle to Reality Principle.  The characters each undergo a transformation from wanting immediate gratification to recognizing the value of delayed, longer lasting gratification.  In the case of Never Knew, the word literally appears when the singer mentions “laughter lines” in in a photo of her and her mother but metaphorically appears when you look at the song’s subtitle: Bloodline.  In this moment she recognizes her place in the mother/daughter cycle.

What are you most proud of with this song?

This is actually really cool – the other day, like two months ago, someone I don’t know started following me on Twitter (which in itself is unheard of) and quoted that song back to me.  And then the clouds parted, the sun shined down and it was a whole new world…

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

This song comes in two flavors – belty and legitty.  The challenge with either is the range.  For any other song I am usually happy to decrease the range.  I usually follow the edict that I only look good when my singers look good, so I try my best to accommodate them.  But in the case of Never Knew, something about each moment demanded that it be set where it was set.  So to answer your question, the difficult thing about writing this song was letting it remain, against my better instincts, a very hard song to sing.

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

Interestingly enough, people’s reactions to this song have differed greatly over the years, and I have to say the obvious reason didn’t come to me until recently: the determining factor seems to be whether or not you have children.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

That there’s room for me in it.  True story: I was at Matilda the other night with my girlfriend and saw this little Asian kid in the ensemble.  His name, I have come to know, is Ted Wilson.  First time ever I saw someone who looked like me who wasn’t playing a character that had a tiger mom, or a dad who was a G.I., or you know… a dancing martial artist… he was just a kid who loved to sing and dance.  It’s no exaggeration when I tell you that I’ve spent my whole life looking for someone on a Broadway stage who could have been me.  It’s kind of funny how I was just looking in the wrong direction.  I cried real tears, man.  Real tears.  Loved it so much I actually sent him a fan letter.  (he did not respond. sad face)

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

The thing I find most challenging about the business is navigating this competitive culture of artists who sometimes don’t realize they needn’t put someone else down in order to build themselves up.  I sometimes encounter people who don’t recognize that in a very tangible, measurable way, we ALL succeed when one of us succeeds.  I’m not hating or anything, I think a lot of external circumstances help foster that defensiveness.  But it’s always hard not knowing how to be more edifying when someone is like… standing right in front of you telling you how awesome they are.

What are you currently working on?

Presently, I am working on a full length called Peter and the Wall, which I started at the Dramatist Guild Fellowship last year and took to the Rhinebeck Retreat last month.  It’s the story of an American man who must travel to Japan to identify and claim the body of his dead husband, a Japanese American who was out there on business.  Since Japan doesn’t really have a metric to recognize same-sex marriage, he winds up having to overcome a lot of weird obstacles to get where he’s going.  It’s sort of my surreal take on a road-trip story, with a little bit of social commentary in there as well.  I’m also writing music and English lyrics for a Japanese show written for Tomoko Tokugaki by Ikko Ueda, called How To Be a Broadway Actress in Sixty Minutes.  So.. a lot of Japanese stuff.  (No, I’m not Japanese.)

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

Well, if we haven’t met in real life, and you friend me on FB without a proper hello message, I will ignore.  I know, it’s old school.  But I gotta be me.  That said, there’s a writer page on FB that I control, which is mostly just cool links to stuff I’m doing or did via youtube or twitter etc.,

For more information on this song, click here.

One White Dress

Music & Lyrics: John Bucchino

John Bucchino
John Bucchino

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

“One White Dress” was written for the Broadway musical A Catered Affair with a book by Harvey Fierstein. In this scene, the daughter, Janey, finds herself in a bridal shop with her mother who’s pressured her into having a big wedding she doesn’t want. Janey is a self sufficient, no-nonsense type who’s never gone in for “girly” things. So, given her personality, I imagined what would happen when she puts on a wedding dress – the surprising effect it might have on her.

What are you most proud of with this song?

I how well it reflects the nature of the character who sings it. I also like the leaps in the chorus melody, and the quirky conversational rhythms – where the accented syllables sometimes fall on the offbeats.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I don’t recall it being difficult to write. However, it has been difficult to teach the correct vocal rhythms to singers with whom I work on it.

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

I thought of it as a simple little “nothing special” song, but several respected theatre songwriters list it as their favorite of mine. Who knew?

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

When the writing has a high level of craft combined with something fresh and surprising – either the subject matter, the perspective, the production elements – and when it makes me feel deeply.

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

Commerce vs. Art, how rarely they coincide, and how tragically often Commerce waylays Art.

What are you currently working on?

A Danish commissioned musical called Esaura. We’re getting ready for our first full production, in Fredericia, Denmark (in Danish, though we wrote it in English.) It will be directed by Broadway’s Susan Schulman, and orchestrated by the wonderful Bruce Coughlin. We open on Sept. 19th, and I’m very excited about the piece. It’s been a joyful collaboration, and I think we’ve made something quite beautiful.

I’m also finishing up a second solo piano recording – of improvisations on Beatle songs.

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

I keep thinking I’ll update my website with new info, but I just don’t do it. I’m much more active on my Facebook pages.

For more information on this song, click here.

Real New Yorkers

Music & Lyrics: Danny Abosch
Danny Abosch
Danny Abosch

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

“Real New Yorkers” was written for a concert entitled “Once Upon A Time In New York City” at Joe’s Pub. The theme for the concert was to write a song about someone who has changed your idea of New York City. This song is very much about my experience of moving to New York City from the Midwest at 22 years old. I had dreamed of being a real New Yorker all my life, and then when I got here, I encountered so many burned-out, jaded New Yorkers who were all too eager to squash my idealistic dreams. It scared me, because I couldn’t help but think, “someday will I be like that too?”

What are you most proud of with this song?

I’m constantly amazed by how something that is so specific to me seems to actually be universal. I was really just writing about my own experience, but so many people tell me now that the song describes their experience too.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I had SO much to say about the subject, and of course, only a short amount of space in which to say it. That’s always a challenge in writing a lyric, but especially so for this song. I could have written a 10 minute song and still not have said everything I wanted to say!

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

Don’t let the tempo drag! Resist the urge to over-sing it — it should feel conversational, and the most important thing is telling the story. The performer can be either male or female.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I love that it’s pushing boundaries, both in terms of subject matter and musical style. But I also love great work that doesn’t necessarily push boundaries — I think we need all of it.

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

The cost of producing a show now, and how that affects everyone from writers to audiences. Gone are the days where Broadway producers could take a chance on an exciting but risky show. This has also led to much longer gestation periods for shows, which can be crippling for writers. You could spend 10 years of your life working on a show before the show happens — or doesn’t. Simply put, everyone loses from this. Audiences get “safer” shows and higher ticket prices, producers have more trouble recouping, and writers find it impossible to actually make a living from writing. Nothing will get better until everyone comes together to do something about it. (We could learn a thing or two from London…it costs roughly half as much to produce the same musical in the West End.)

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on two new original musicals that started as thesis projects at the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. One is a romantic comedy based on the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa, and the other is a coming-of-age dramedy based on something crazy that happened to me a few years ago.

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

http://dannyabosch.com/ (and please sign up for my news updates!)

For more information on this song, click here.

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I know I’m not the only one that finds these Q&A’s incredibly fascinating. Be sure to check back next week to hear more about our next five songs from the writers themselves!

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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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