This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to be able to see my friends performing in Broadway Rocks Kelly Clarkson at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Produced by my friend, Brandon Beynon (#beynton), it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Not only is Kelly Clarkson a fierce singer, she’s also a fierce songwriter. There is so much room for great songwriting in pop music and with Hamilton opening up the Grammys, musical theatre is definitely slipping into the mainstream again. How lucky we are to be alive right now. That’s a Hamilton reference. In case you didn’t know.
#Theatregeeksonfleek are winning! To be honest, since I was 21 years old, I always had a dream of starting my own theatre company where I can produce concerts, cabarets, seldom produced shows, and writers who need their voice to be heard. Not going to lie, every time I watch one of my friends perform, I get a little bit jealous on the inside. Not because I’m dyiiiiing to perform or I’m so thirsty for a #Tonty (it’s only a #Tonty if you’ve won one) but because art is fun. Theatre is fun. It’s cathartic, it’s meaningful, and it’s fun. I admire those artists who can push past the nerves, the fears, and live their truth on the stage of a theatre. More importantly, I admire the theatre companies and venues that are willing to produce work without knowing whether or not it’s going to be meaningful to someone, somewhere.
4th Wall Theatre in New Jersey is that place for me.
Sixteen Going on #Seventeent
There once a was a mahhhhhn who #lrrved a womayuuuun. No, that’s not how this story goes. I first auditioned for a theatre company named 4th Wall when I was about sixteen years old, if not seventeen. (“Fine, we’re damaged, truly damaged, but that doesn’t make it right. We’re not special, we’re not different, we don’t choose who lives or dies.” – “Seventeen,” Heathers the Musical.) Bob Cline (who cast me as Piragua Guy years later for the Montclair Operetta Club) was directing a production of Assassins and at the time, I was seeing a voice teacher in Montclair, NJ, who was helping me work on my legit sound. I took a voice lesson and then ran off to the auditions and saw my favorite musical director, Mr. Y, at the piano. I was so sure that I was going to get a role.
Well, I didn’t. I didn’t even get a callback. I did get an adjustment, though: “Can you try and sing ‘Not While I’m Around’ angrier? Like, make it really scary.” What? “Not While I’m Around”? At the time, I didn’t know much about Sondheim other than Into the Woods and a handful of other songs. I had seen a really bad youth production of Sweeney Todd two years prior and that was my only point of reference. I think the Sweeney had a lisp and Toby’s wig had also belonged to Baby June in their production of Gypsy the year before. However, the minute that I saw the audition notice go up for Assassins, I was immersed in a pocket of musical theatre that didn’t have to be pretty. It could be raw, scary, and revolutionary.
Regardless, I came out to support and that was the first time I saw a full production of Assassins and it was #frrking unreal. I had never seen a show that bent the rules of time, of story, and of heroism. In their minds, these Assassins were acting on behalf of their country. Although villainous in nature, Sondheim gave these characters an emotional truth that made them heroes. And I’m not mad about it.
Showgirls. Showguys. Showcase. (#AllComingBackToMeNoww)
The New Jersey theatre scene, on a non-professional level or a professional one, is the smallest of the small. Everyone knows each other, everyone talks about each other, everyone gets drunk at the Perrys (our version of the #Tontys). After I performed as The Piragua Guy, I auditioned for 4th Wall’s production of [title of show], which was being musically directed by none other than David Maglione. Dave and I were not writing partners at the time but we had become friendly since he was a pianist on Songs For A New World. Even though I wasn’t called back, I came to support and see the show. I had never seen [title of show] before and found myself crying in the seats, next to my ex-boyfriend who looked like he was staring out in the vastness of space and time. Dead eyes. Oof.
Many years later, I happened to get back in touch with 4th Wall through their artistic director, Kate Swan, who invited David and me to participate in a New Jersey Composers Showcase. At the time, Dave and I were already about a year and two concerts into the game. We had a big chip on our shoulder since we just finished the Wendy’s Shadow reading at The Irvington Town Hall Theatre and we were gearing up for Wendy’s Shadow In Concert. However, the fact that we could be among some of New Jersey’s hottest composers and be able to represent the Garden State through everyone’s mutual love of musical theatre was so important to us as a writing team. We said yes.
Well, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, our singer dropped out and Dave had to sing ‘Once Upon A Time’ to a huge crowd. Our boy Chris Frazier killed a heartfelt “What I Mean To Say” and we had a whole Wendy’s Shadow set that we bused a bunch of our New York baes to participate in. That night, I got a boot on my car because I was parked illegally in the same parking lot that everyone parks in but since it was around Christmastime, the gentleman was a gentle jerk and let me pay $50 instead of $100. Yayy!
However, watching my music getting performed in the same venue that I performed as The Piragua Guy in In the Heights two years prior to my journey beginning as a lyricist for a New Jersey audience has been one of the biggest gifts. New Jersey needs art. New Jersey needs 4th Wall.
Break All The Walls (#theatreswithamission)
4th Wall’s mission statement reads: “4th Wall Theatre sets the highest standards of excellence in producing diverse, seldom-performed and original productions, celebrating a wide spectrum of visions and voices in theatre. 4th Wall is committed to breaking through the wall of imagination, to make cutting edge works accessible and to foster a positive theatre experience for our artists and audience.” That’s definitely been the case in the shows I’ve seen there. Their production of Hands on a Hardbody was magic on a stage. Every time their hands would come off of the truck for a musical number, I could feel my heart in my chest sink. I cried maybe 3 times. And when I saw their production of The Last Five Years, I actually hated Jamie and learned to love Cathy. I don’t know how that happened but Kate Swan and 4th Wall did that for me. And they’ve got Big Fish coming along! Yay!
4th Wall, I thank you for being a theatre that exists to produce works that are rarely produced. I thank you for being a theatre company unafraid to represent Jersey artists who need a home. I wish that there were more theatre companies like you that can inspire a boy like me to audition for a musical when I was sixteen years old and twelve years later, you’d be featuring my work.
One day I might hit that stage again. I don’t know when. I don’t know how. But maybe one day, one some theatre stage, there will be a spot for me to get to share my emotional truth. Until then, I’ll just be dramatic at home. Or… I can just start my own theatre company. Won’t be as cool as 4th Wall but a boy can dream.
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