The Future of Musical Theatre

Tonight I went to the last of the year-two BMI Lehman auditions.  If they like you, you are accepted as a member of the BMI Lehman workshop for life.  If not, they shake your hand and send you on your way.  Five individuals auditioned tonight with four separate performances (one of the performances had a separate composer and lyricist) and it was a thrill to see and an excellent night.  The assignment for the second years is to write a musical based on existing material, film, television, book, etc., and so all the works followed suit.

The first auditioner was Jeff Ward, who had written a musical based on Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway.  Two songs really stood out for me: a love duet called “A New Bohemian” and a really really hilarious song called “People Don’t Talk Like That.”  The latter had me in stitches, while the former I found very lovely and sweet, especially as interpreted by the female vocalist.  The other songs were enjoyable, but i found those two the best, though the work as a whole was extremely well written and featured music that I can still hear bouncing around my head.

The second piece was based on Battlestar Galactica, one of my favorite television shows of all time.  The composer-lyricist was Eric March, who I commend for selecting such a difficult work to adapt.  While I found his music very haunting and beautiful, particular an unusual love song featuring the Cylon Six and the incredibly human Gaius Baltar, I wasn’t a huge fan of the lyrics and thought that the shows soap operatic qualities were negatively highlighted.  I think that if the musical were given a different setting and a larger, operatic cast, it could be very successful.  Play up the operatic aspects and the gravitas and play down the Broadway aspects and one could have a successful work.  Again, March was extremely ambitious, and I think he has the seeds of a successful work of art, but it just didn’t translate for me in the workshop setting.

Commander William Adama, President Laura Roslin, and Gaius Baltar will be performing a dance to "Steam Heat," from The Pajama Game.
Commander William Adama, President Laura Roslin, and Gaius Baltar will be performing a dance to "Steam Heat," from The Pajama Game.

The third auditioner, Stuart McMeans, presented songs from two works, one based on a zombie book called The Stupidest Angel and the second based on a book called No Way to Treat a First Lady. The zombie musical definitely played for laughs and for me, at least, succeeded, especially with a song called “I Could Eat” where a chorus of five zombies sings–and, in one case, zombie moans–about their desire for brains.  A love duet, sung while fighting zombies, was also quite lovely.  No Way to Treat a First Lady just featured one song, “I Did it All,” and the performer who sang it was fantastic.

The zombie musical was kind of like this, but with more jazz hands.
The zombie musical was kind of like this, but with more jazz hands.

The last audition was the one I had come to see: composer Philip Chernyak and lyricist Blake Hackler’s musical version of the 1960 film The Wasp Woman.  SO GOOD.  I mean what else can I say?  Phil’s music was fantastic, able to highlight both the humor of Blake’s lyrics while still maintaining beauty and complexity, while Blake’s lyrics were rat-tat-tat funny and extremely sharp.  Additionally they had the performer of the night in Gabrielle Gold’s interpretation of Mama, who sings a drunken rant about the omnipresence of death.  Brilliant! The song “Magic,” (which I assume is the Act I finale?) was really beautiful, but also a fantastic “eureka!” song in the legacy of “A Little Priest,” but without the puns–which is okay, because I can only take so many puns.  I am extremely proud of Phil, and excited to see more: Phil and Blake are presenting the songs seen tonight and additional songs from the show in a staged reading on Sunday, at the Algonquin Theatre on 24th between Park and Lexington.  The reading is at 2:00.  Very excited!

Wow, I love this movie poster.
Wow, I love this movie poster.

Anyhow, I really had a wonderful time at the audition tonight.  It was thrilling to see so much new work, and most of the people performing the work were extremely talented.  The writers and musicians I met were the kind of theatre person I love: kind, unassuming, and clearly in this for the love of theatre and the collaborative, creative process.  I had dinner with Phil and a few of his classmates and we talked about their experiences at BMI.  I also advertised my sister, and told them that they should use her as a performer when she moves to New York.  After all, the BMI folks are always looking for talented people to present their works.

Tomorrow I see a product of BMI alumni–Next to Normal.  I feel as though I’ll be coming full circle, and will see some of the fruits of this exciting and nurturing program.

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