Parting Gifts: 10 Songs You’ll Thank Me For
All good things must come to an end.
I have had an absolute blast contributing to the NMT Green Room for the past few months. I’ve shared a few stories, expressed a few opinions, and tried to give you a glimpse of the world of Musical Theatre through my eyes—but most of all, I’ve sought to celebrate an art form and an institution that is incredibly near and dear to my heart. The Musical Theatre community is a vibrant collection of fascinating and unforgettable people and I am honored to count myself amongst your ranks—as a performer, as a playwright and lyricist, and now, thanks to this amazing opportunity, I can add “blogger” to that list.
I’d say I’m a pretty lucky guy.
The upcoming months will find me exploring a new opportunity in the Musical Theatre world—working on the 2015 NYMF production of my musical Spot on the Wall—but before I go and leave the “Green Room” behind, I have one parting gift. Well, that’s not true—I have ten parting gifts. This may seem like an ending, but the magic of New Musical Theatre is that innovation and development are always just beginning. Every time a new musical is conceived or a new writing team finds their voice, they contribute to the constantly changing kaleidoscope of colors and sounds that define the medium. As we listen to the musicals of today by the writers of tomorrow, we can hear the promise of a bright future for Contemporary Musical Theatre.
But you’re thinking, “Wait—didn’t he say he had gifts?”
I started this blogging journey with a list so it feels only right that I should end with one. So here, in no particular order, I present to you 10 Musical Theatre Songs that make me excited about the art form. If you’ve seen these, kudos to you; if you haven’t, you’re welcome. And if you’ve come along with me on my blogging journey over the past few months, thank you for the company. Now enjoy these clips, explore for more, and continue to support New Musical Theatre!
1. “I Wish I Could Forget You,”Passion: Judy Kuhn
I know that Sondheim has been around the block a few times in the world of Musical Theatre, but the 2013 Classic Stage Company revival of his darkly romantic masterpiece Passion seemed to breathe new energy and, well, passion into this often overlooked piece. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the final performances of this beautiful production where Judy Kuhn’s raw vulnerability and powerful voice electrified the room. Mr. Sondheim has undeniably been a catalyst for growth and development in the art form of Musical Theatre and this song shows us that regardless of the years, Sondheim’s work with always be remarkably contemporary.
2. “Killing Me,” The Hinterlands: Henry Nettleton, Eliza Palasz, Connor Russell and Brianne Wylie
I discovered this haunting piece by Michelle Elliot and Danny Larsen surfing through the fantastic selections offered by Contemporary Classics and I was immediately a fan. Taking on the important topic of bullying that has been permeating the media in the past few years, “Killing Me” gives beautiful voice to the plight of people who are targeted for being different. A great example of contemporary musical theatre’s ability to make relevant arguments in today’s top issues, this video also features great performances, most notably from the talented Connor Russell.
3. “Too Pretty”, R.R.E.D: Mariand Torres
Katie Thompson, a staple of the New Musical Theatre Cabaret circuit and a talented vocalist who has lent her voice to numerous recordings, is also quite an accomplished writer. In “Too Pretty,” Ms. Thompson gives voice to the fears and frustrations experienced by every performer who comes to NYC to chase their dreams—and pays for it by waiting tables. All of us have felt this way—and few of us have been able to vocalize it as beautifully as Mariand Torres. When your closing shift gets you down, let “Too Pretty” remind you of who you are and why you’re really here.
4. “Player Number Two,” Claudio Quest: A Videogame Musical: AJ Shively
Growing up in the 80s and early 90s, one of my and my brother’s favorite pastimes was definitely playing videogames together. Being two years older and better at everything, my brother Brian was always Player One. Hearing this song by Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet, all those memories came flooding back to me. I dedicate this song to my brother and all the brothers out there who built strong bonds and connections while beating 2-dimensional bad guys.
5. “Temporary”: Madison Stratton
I have always been a fan of John Bucchino’s music, but when I heard “Temporary” I knew that Mr. Bucchino is truly one of the underappreciated greats in Contemporary Musical Theatre. From the beginning chords, this song transports you into an intimate and heartbreaking moment between a mother and son who have both lost something but are trying to gain the hardest thing in this life—understanding. Immaculately performed by the unbelievably talented Madison Stratton, “Temporary” is a lesson we all should learn and a song everyone should hear.
6. “Hand in Hand”: Lindsay Mendez
“Hand in Hand,” a nod to the classic musicals of the golden age of Broadway, showcases not only the writing of Contemporary Musical Theatre favorites Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, but also the awe-inspiring vocal acrobatics of diva Lindsay Mendez. Ms. Mendez’s voice elegantly floats between jazzy warmth and contemporary belting with an ease and grace not seen in many other performers. It’s hard not to smile when this song comes on in your headphones, so with a list that is decidedly darker in tone, “Hand in Hand” is the right amount of fun and vocal excitement.
7. “I Won’t Mind,” The Other Franklin: Victoria Clark
I know that most of the people reading this list will know “I Won’t Mind” because it was made popular by the celebrated diva Audra McDonald in concerts and on her How Glory Goes recording. However, Jeff Blumenkrantz actually wrote the piece for his close friend Victoria Clark when she was looking for new audition material. Mr. Blumenkrantz was working with Annie Kessler and Libby Saines on a new musical (no longer in development) and “I Won’t Mind” was a piece at the emotional heart of the story. Ms. Clark has always been a remarkable singing actress and her version of this song truly breaks your heart in the best way possible.
8. “Meadowlark,” The Baker’s Wife: Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe
Any Broadway enthusiast knows “Meadowlark,” the Stephen Schwartz classic immortalized by Patti LuPone in the ill-fated musical The Baker’s Wife. The song has since become a concert standard for many divas and I’m sure that everyone has their favorite version at this point. However, this version from their duet concert (after their successful run in Everyday Rapture) has somehow squeezed more Diva Brilliance into the song than ever before. Their harmonies in this new duet arrangement of “Meadowlark” will send shivers down your spine—and earned Ms. Mendez her second spot on this list. Well done, ladies…Diva status well deserved.
9. “Hold My Hand,” Jeff Blumenkrantz
I discovered Jeff Blumenkrantz’s podcast during high school in Florida and I fell in love with his music. This piece, “Hold My Hand,” really resonated with me at the time and led to me purchasing his fantastic collection of contemporary musical theatre pieces. Mr. Blumenkrantz, a successful character actor for years, has found a way to marry character actor sentiments with leading man emotions. As a character actor who yearned for the emotional moment on stage, “Hold My Hand” earned a prized place in my audition book for years.
10. “Silence,” Spot on the Wall: Kyle Taylor Parker
And as my last entry into the NMT “Green Room” blog, I give you a preview of my musical, Spot on the Wall, an Official Selection of the 2015 NYMF Next Link Project. This piece was one of the very first songs that I wrote with my writing partner, Alex Mitchell, and it has since become a staple in our repertoire. Expertly performed by the fantastically-talented Kyle Taylor Parker (Kinky Boots, In the Heights), “Silence” delves into the isolation and fear of living a life where you can’t express who you truly are or what you truly feel. We are so excited to share our musical Spot on the Wall with the world and we can’t wait to unleash “Silence” on the contemporary musicals theatre audience. May we all find a way to break our own personal silences and share ourselves, whether it’s through a power ballad or not, and most importantly, may we continue to produce new and original material for this beautiful art form.