Why Venice takes place in an unreal world
Venice is set in Venice, but not the Venice you’d expect.
The hip-hop musical, now in previews at the Public Theater, unfolds sometime in the future, when terrorist attacks have torn the city apart, leaving the privileged to create their own private colony far away from the rubble. Meanwhile, everyone else survives in the ruins, and we join the story when a freedom fighter tries to unite his people with the elite.
“We knew we wanted to set the play in a place that was not referring to any other: We didn’t want to say it was in Europe or in the year 2087 on the continent of Anarctica,” says Eric Rosen, who wrote the book, co-wrote the lyrics, and directs. “We wanted to create a world that sampled from many styles that were around us, but still created its own rules.”
June 5, 2013 2 Comments
Inside Sheik’s score for “Caucasian Chalk Circle”
When he composes for the theatre, Duncan Sheik almost always works with a lyricist. Typically, though, the lyricist is still alive.
Recently, however, Sheik—who shared a Tony with lyricist Steven Sater for the score to Spring Awakening-–composed music for a revival of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, currently at Classic Stage Company. If he has a question, he can’t exactly call Brecht for an answer. Still, he says his process is essentially the same, explaining, “It’s my normal practice to set music to existing words.”
Brecht wrote the play, a parable about justice within feuding Russian communes, in 1944. This translation is by James and Tania Stern, with Brecht’s lyrics translated by the late W.H. Auden. While writing the music, Sheik listened to the record Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares by the Bulgarian State Television Female Choir.
“I didn’t necessarily have a choir to work with, but I was thinking about some of that tonality and some of those harmonies and the idea of merging middle European folk music with a certain kind of late 19th century classism, which you would have heard in that region at that time,” he says.
June 4, 2013 No Comments
Composer Scott Frankel and Lyricist Michael Korie on How They Created Their New Musical
It seems so innocuous. Just a song about plants. But it prepares us for the most resonant themes in Far From Heaven.
“Sun and Shade” arrives halfway through the first act of the new musical, which adapts the 2002 film and is now at Playwrights Horizons. It charts an early meeting between 1950s Connecticut housewife Cathy Whitaker (Kelli O’Hara) and her African-American gardener Raymond Deagan (Isaiah Johnson.) Eventually, Cathy will find her husband Frank (Steven Pasquale) with another man and cause scandal in her lily-white community when she looks to Raymond for comfort, but at this point in the show, she can’t imagine those sharp edges. She just wants to be civil to the man in her garden, so they have a conversation about plants.
“They’re trying to figure out how to talk to each other, and there are so many things that are unclear,” says composer Scott Frankel. “They’re employer/employee, woman/man, white/black. They end up talking about the gardening equivalent of the weather.”
But we can hear more than the characters can. Lyricist Michael Korie, who also teamed with Frankel on the musical Grey Gardens, says, “It’s a way of letting the audience figure out the subtext. You know they’re not just singing about plants.”
Underneath the alkali and perennials, “Sun and Shade” deals with living in daylight or in shadow, of being free or being hidden. That theme haunts both the housewife and the gardener, and as the show progresses, they sing more explicitly about their isolation. By the end of the first act, they even share a fervent duet called “Miro,” where their mutual love of modern art reveals a shared desire to express themselves.
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May 31, 2013 No Comments
Ayub Khan Din’s strange journey with his new musical at The New Group
It sounds like something out of an old Hollywood screwball comedy: A madcap new musical is about to bow on the boards, but after just a few preview performances, the lead injures himself and is forced to quit. The creative team frantically convenes. They have two choices: Cancel the show, or get the writer to go on.
That’s exactly what happened last month when doctors ordered actor Erick Avari to withdraw from the New Group’s Bunty Berman Presents. Left with no other options, book writer/lyricist/co-composer Ayub Khan Din stepped into the title role.
Unlike most playwrights, however, Din is no stranger to acting. Best known for his autobiographical dramedy East is East, about culture clashes within a Pakistani-British family, Din first came to prominence as a performer. After studying drama at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, he starred in the controversial 1987 indie Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, as well as a number of British television series. But he traded acting for writing in the late ’90s and hasn’t appeared on stage in more than two decades.
May 2, 2013 No Comments
Inside the Choreography of “Here Lies Love”
Choreographer Annie-B Parson, who founded Big Dance Theater in New York City, creates with a post-modern style all her own, and while she was influenced by dance giants like Merce Cunningham, she was also inspired by another giant from the world of pop music. “I’ve always been a huge fan of David Byrne’s gigantic, imaginative powers and omnivorous appetite,” she says. “When I was at Connecticut College and first heard his music, I was enamored by his particular aesthetic of detachment, a blend of nobility and paranoia that thrilled me. When I went to his concerts, his music totally rocked. Everything was factual and functional with a sense of being what it was, not an illusion. And, the way he danced, with a fantastic, detached quality in terms of how his limbs related to his torso with a separate grace. In my young mind, this was it.”
As fate would have it, admiration led to collaboration. Parson eventually choreographed two of Byrne’s world tours, and now, she’s choreographing Here Lies Love, a musical based on Filipina First Lady Imelda Marco’s life that is playing at the Public Theater.
April 26, 2013 No Comments