9 Things I Loved In 2014

Everyone does an end-of-year list, right? Some “top 10” or “best of”- as part of our obsession with ranking things chronologically. Look – I’m not judging. I like a good top 10 list as much as the next guy! As this will be my final NMT post for 2014, I wanted to take some time to take stock of the musical theatre-related moments that excited me this year and made me feel energized about the direction of the art form and things to come in 2015. The list below is by no means exhaustive but it is selective. So in no particular order, here are just 9 (to avoid the cliché 10, of course) highlights of my 2014 theatrical year:

1. “Take It With Me When I Go” from BETTY BUCKLEY’s GHOSTLIGHT – Ms. Buckley’s latest effort with producer T Bone Burnett is exquisite in very way. Every track is a revelation. But it was “Take It With Me When I Go” that had me hitting repeat all fall. It is a stunning work from Ms. Buckley’s glorious vocal chops to the flawless arrangement. Truly one of the best recordings of any kind all year long.

Jennifer Ashley Tepper's The Untold Stories Of Broadway, Volume 2.

Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s The Untold Stories Of Broadway, Volume 2.

2. JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER’S THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY VOL. 2 – Ms. Tepper seems to be everywhere these days. She is the woman behind the scenes of 54 Below’s remarkable (and often mind-blowing) line-up, Broadway’s resident historian, a passionate champion for new musical theatre writers everywhere, and the author of two volumes of Broadway stories that simply can’t be put down. Each passing interview seems to trump the last. As I read, I can actually picture Ms. Tepper sitting giddy as she speaks to theatre’s legends – and this is, after all, what we love about her. She is the amalgam of every kid sitting alone in his living room listening to cast albums dreaming of the Great White Way – she is the best of us.

3. “CHOOSE TO LIVE” – DREW GASPARINI’S AUGUST NMT GREEN ROOM POST – I read a lot of blogs, reviews, commentary – and what we all know is that everyone has an opinion. So you learn to skim sometimes. And then every once in awhile you read something that stops you in your tracks. I am currently working on a musical concert called THE ANXIETY PROJECT with composer Rachel Dean that was partially inspired by the bravery of Drew’s post. I won’t go into great detail here because if you haven’t read it, you need to read it. May 2015 be the year we are ALL brave enough to tell our stories so that someone else might live that much better. Thank you, Drew.

4. “DEAD MAN’S BOOTS” from STING’S THE LAST SHIP – If there was any doubt that Sting could tell stories on Broadway before, this song surely solidifies it. The lyric is so incredibly smart and the emotional arc runs the gamut of sadness to anger to regret so fluidly, the song is almost a show in and of itself:

These dead man’s boots know their way down the hill,
They can walk there themselves and they most likely will.
But they won’t walk with me ‘cos I’m off the other way,
I’ve had it up to here, I’m gonna have my say.
When all ye’ve got left is that cross on the wall?
I want nothing from you, I want nothing at all.
Not a pension, nor a pittance, when your whole life is through,
Get this through your head, I’m nothing like you,
I’m done with all the arguments, there’ll be no more dispute,
And ye’ll die before ye see me in your dead man’s boots.

5. PETER PAN LIVE! on NBC – Let me say first that Peter Pan is not one of my favorite musicals. Honestly, it’s not even one of my favorite stories. Just a personal preference. But when Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced this it would serve as their follow-up to last year’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE!, I thought it was a brilliant choice. And as the cast began to come together and the show began to take shape, I thought most of all about how this is changing the industry. Think of it: a live musical in its entirety airing during the primetime-iest of primetimes (NBC’s Thursday night). After watching Alison Williams and the entire remarkable cast (including nearly every Newsie, yes?), I still don’t love “I’m Flying” any more that I did before. But I DID come away very proud to be part of an industry where this can happen again – these brilliant people doing passionate work in front of millions of television viewers. The door for original musicals on film and television just opened a bit wider and we are all grateful. (SIDE NOTE: Kelli O’Hara’s performance of “Tender Shepherd” is unbelievable. Here’s an analogy for clarification: Meryl Streep is to American Cinema as Kelli O’Hara is to American Musicals.)

Kooman & Dimond's The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes at the Human Race Theatre.

Kooman & Dimond’s The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes at the Human Race Theatre.

6. THE NOTEWORTHY LIFE OF HOWARD BARNES by KOOMAN AND DIMONDIt’s a simple idea, really. A man wakes up to find his life is a musical and then embarks on a quest to get out. To be fair, the Human Race Theatre Company’s workshop was in 2013, not 2014, but the show continues to resonate. In addition to being a beautiful and charming love letter to Broadway, it’s also just a damn good musical. Kooman and Dimond’s “Requiem For A Bear” from DANI GIRL is forever on my playlist, so it’s no surprise their latest show is lyrically smart and loaded with melody. If you get a chance, see it. I can see this becoming a staple of regional theatres across the country.

7. “LEARN TO LIVE WITHOUT” from IF/THENThe lyric is devastating. The melody is sing-able and still allows for the character to have some freedom. Idina’s performance of it will wreck you. The song everyone talked about – the Tony Award/talk show circuit go-to song from this Kitt-Yorkey show was “Always Starting Over” – Act 2’s belty anthem. And that IS a great song, but for me, “Learn To Live Without” is about quiet hurt – ready to burst. This is when IF/THEN is at its best.

8. THE LAST FIVE YEARS CLIP FEATURING ANNA KENDRICKThis one is a little unfair, as the new film adaptation of The Last Five Years isn’t set to release until February 2015, but the clip of Ms. Kendrick wooing Jeremy Jordan with JRB’s “I Can Do Better Than That” told me two things: 1. Anna Kendrick can handle this role and the score and will be amazing in this film and 2. The release of The Last Five Years on film opens the door for something less than a Blockbuster serving as a source material for a film. And THAT is good news.

9. FIVE SIX SEVEN NATE by TIM FEDERLE – The continuing adventures of Nate Foster and the fate of the musical adaptation of ET: The Extra Terrestrial is one of the most amazing reads of 2014. Tim Federle’s hilarious and touching series has all the fun of Judy Blume with all the heart of Lois Lowry. It’s a very unique select group of us who would understand using Broadway flops as cuss words and being overwhelmed by NYC, but then Federle’s stories make us feel like we are all there – part of this amazing embracing community. In so doing, there are a lot of ‘Nate Fosters’ all over the country who feel a little less alone. Thank you, Tim.

(A special thank you to everyone at NMT Green Room for being one of the major highlights of my personal year as well.)

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