What a week this has been! There are so many fantastic songs out there that it was hard to pick just one a day. Thank you NYFOS for asking me to play this really fun game. Today’s selection is “Feeling Of”, written (and performed) by the super talented Melissa Lusk for her band BOY GIRL PARTY. Melissa is a frequent collaborator of mine, and this particular song was written for a show we did together 5 years ago by Chris Pena called “things i found on craigslist…” In the context of the show it carried dramatic weight, but outside of the show it’s a ditty about a time when relationships were fresh- very Empire Records. Melissa’s voice is so unique and beautiful. I hope you enjoy!
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This is one of my favorite conventions in theater—the character who has one (showstopping) song. This song from Jason Robert Brown’s incredible score is sung by Whitney Bashor, who plays the ex of the leading man. She only appears for this moment, but lends so much depth and realism to his backstory. Bashor has a really gorgeous voice and I look forward to hearing more from her soon!
Something sassy to get you through the middle of the week…
As my husband Justin says, “it’s the only song worth talking about right now.” I don’t know that I agree with that, but I do agree that everyone should have a diss-track for their frenemies. “Swish Swish” is Katy Perry’s diss track about Taylor Swift. It contains such lyrical gems as: “A tiger/don’t lose no sleep/don’t need opinions/from a shellfish or a sheep” and “Your game is tired/you should retire/you’re ’bout as cute as/an old coupon expired.” Profanity warning. Katy Perry is too hot to handle.
For a Tuesday, I thought something a little more serious (just a little though) could be in order. I have always loved the songs of Reynaldo Hahn and particularly love Susan Graham’s compilation of Hahn’s songs—”La Belle Epoque”. A particularly summery one is “Quand je fus pris au pavillon”, an upbeat memory song about losing your heart to a fancy lady in her pavillion. The piano captures the exhilaration of youthful love and Susan Graham’s voice sounds so honeyed and sweet.
Two themes are emerging in my week: nostalgia and repeated tunes!
This super creative setting of a teenage girl’s extracurricular activities by the UBER talented Kirsten Childs has come to mind because her new musical, Bella: An American Tall Tale has just opened at Playwrights Horizons and I’m dying to see it. The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, which was a total delight in the early 2000’s, had several of my all time favorite performers in it— Adriane Lenox, Darius DeHaas, Jerry Dixon, LaChanze. There are a lot of selections that bear listening to, but “The Skate” is one of my favorites, tonally—the way Childs builds on the initial vocal line is so inventive, fun and original. It’s a nostalgic song—the lead character, Vivica, describes the way her friends got together every Thursday to do a dance called “The Skate”. I went to an all-girls high school in CT where (as I was Jewish and from out of town) I was considered diverse. I definitely had major envy for anyone who lived in the city and was exposed to all the different cultures that Childs folds into this piece musically. Even today, I think that art/music/dance/ritual is the quickest way to bridge cultural connections.
I felt like a deep cut of a cool musical (that has a tinge of intersectional feminism) was the right way to kick off this week. It also gets stuck in your head like nothing else. Cannot wait to dig up some other favorites for the next 4 days!
“The Skate” from Kirsten Childs’ The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin
I guess it was inevitable. Wednesday was come-to-Jesus time, and on Thursday we welcomed Mary. Not the Sainted Mother, but stage director Mary Birnbaum, our Guest Artist this week. We’d all wanted some help staging the two group numbers and the two boys’ duets. I also nurtured a hidden desire that Mary might do a little laser surgery on the solo pieces.
Of course I got all my wishes. Kern’s “Enchanted Train” received a fizzy, charming, organized floor plan, and Mary also waved her magic wand over the encore, Bernstein’s “Some Other Time”—just one simple move in course of the piece, but the whole thing imbued with depth and emotion. For the duets Mary gave us a lot of ideas and staging, and I’m not sure we can keep all of it. The boys and I are unsure if the big band songs or the meeting hall space can bear that much theatricality. Still, it was like doing a shopping spree at Saks. You’re probably going to return a few things, but you come home with shopping bags filled with fabulous stuff. In the cold light of (Fri)day we’ll figure out what we can actually afford.
Mary gave amazingly insightful notes to the singers on their solo pieces. Once again I realized that artists need to hear things put in many different ways—and said by several different people—before they incorporate them. Yes, I admit I had a couple of moments where I thought, “I said the exact same thing yesterday!…” And there followed a moment of weird insecurity—“Maybe I can’t make myself clear any more…?” But Mary did something a visiting teacher can do more easily than a resident teacher: she cornered the singers into forming personal subtexts and sharing them out loud. It’s a lot for an artist to reveal, and since we are living and working in such close quarters I feel a certain discretion, a need to leave the singers some privacy. I think I am in their faces enough as it is. As a result, I try to corral a singer into finding a personal meaning in every song, but I don’t tend to make them blurt out, “This is like the time my grandmother poured scalding water on me,” or “This like when they took another soprano for the job because she was sleeping with the director.” I weave stories, lend scenarios, parse the poems, explain the cultural environment of the song, and make a framework. This is in fact a big help—and then I keep rehearsing until I feel the artists have taken ownership.
Mary is a bit bolder. And with the concert three days away, boldness was the right step. Mary, who studied mime in Paris, also has a keen eye for physical posture and gesture. She was only on board for one afternoon, but her art detonated with tremendous, benign force.
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