Songwriters Showcase – Amuse Bouches

I am still enjoying my memories of the recent 25th Annual NAMT Festival of New Musicals a couple of weeks ago in New York.

In the middle of Day 2 of the Festival, the schedule said “Songwriters Showcase 1:00 p.m. Stage 4″.  Sandwiched in after seeing seven 45-minute presentations of new musicals, and prior to seeing two more, the Songwriters Showcase was, for me as a first-time Festival attendee, an unexpected and glorious bonus to an already giddily fun-filled two days for a musical theatre lover.  For regulars, it’s a highly-anticipated event every year.

This year, NAMT Festival Producing Director Branden Huldeen had the inspired idea to ask a few veteran successful songwriters and songwriting teams (all Tony winners or nominees) to interview their current favorite up-and-coming songwriter to highlight (as well as sharing their own current work with us).   As a result, we got a sneak peek at eight more new musicals in various stages of creation, and to hear a song from each (with the help of talented singers and accompanists when needed).

We started with Joe DiPietro who talked about his new work Chasing The Song (like Memphis, also written with David Bryan of Bon Jovi) which will have its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse next season. DiPietro introduced Joe Iconis who is working on an untitled musical about Hunter S.Thompson.

Poster from 2012 LaGuardia H.S. Premiere

Poster from 2012
LaGuardia H.S. Premiere

We then moved on to perhaps one of the most fun foursomes you could have at a dinner party:  Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe, who wrote the lyrics and music to  Legally Blonde, and their friends, Jill Abramovitz and Brad Alexander, who are working on a musical called Bread & Roses, based on the 2000 film. Benjamin and O’Keefe have a new musical they wrote as a commission for the LaGuardia High School Opera Workshop that I found to be one of the top 2 most intriguing of the 8 morsels sampled in this Showcase. It’s called Life of the Party: A Light Opera For Dark Times  and is about Stalin commissioning a movie musical in the Soviet Union of 1953 —  really.  It seems to be both funny and thought-provoking and has already had its world premiere —  at La Guardia High School of Performing Arts (of “Fame” fame) in New York — but they may now be looking for a theatrical production.  I want to see it.

Lisa Lambert (The Drowsy Chaperone) is working on a musical version of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and sang us one of her trademark witty-lyric songs from that new work.

Sam Willmott

Sam Willmott

She also found a real treasure in young writer Sam Willmott who is awkward charm personified and looks exactly how I would envision the grown-up Charlie Bucket (from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”); this is relevant since I think he said he played Charlie in 4th grade, although it may have been that he played Willie Wonka.  In any case, he is writing a musical called Boy based on the weird but true story of the life of Roald Dahl and he sang a lovely song from that work in progress.

Our final group was the foursome made up of veterans Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer) who introduced Jordan Mann and Jeff Thomson. Sklar sang a pretty song called “Dance With You” from the untitled project he and Beguelin are working on and are “required by DreamWorks to be vague about”.  Mann and Thomson had a world premiere of their musical Trails at Village Theatre this year so they are hardly newcomers, but they were here to share a bit about their new mean-girl musical Jawbreaker.

Musical theatre is alive and very well.  Remember, these were just the bonus bites. Yumm.

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