Hello friends! I hope you all are having busy times with just enough downtime to enjoy a barbecue or a trip to the beach. This summer has been an explosion of new experiences and new friends for me, one of which seems to be this Patterson that's quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of my day. Definitely a blog post coming out about that later this month.
One of the most gratifying projects I've been a part of this summer was working as a musician for An American Hero: A World War II Musical as a part of the New York Musical Festival, or NYMF. The festival itself is a showcase of many new productions that submit from throughout the country. This one was a production that was featured as part of the season at Southeast Missouri State University, which has an extensive musical theatre program. Kenneth L. Stilson did a great job writing a book that makes you feel like you're hanging out in a time from long ago, and Cody Cole wrote music that is funny, dramatic, and haunting at times. He pulls from many sources of inspiration, and melds them together pretty seamlessly.
I have a special spot in my heart for musicals that deal with darker subject matter. Maybe it's the fact that I grew up in the '80s as a child of movies like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story, which are largely pretty dark. Maybe it's because I was obsessed with the anniversary recording of Les Miserables from Royal Albert Hall when it came out in the '90s. And maybe it's more self-serving than that, because where a sad scene can be found, there is often a gorgeous horn solo! In any case, I find it refreshing that these kinds of shows exist. If you watch any kind of TV show, then you know that this is often being referred to as "the Golden Age of TV". Even the traditional summer blockbuster is wrought with tension and drama, and to see it on stage fleshed out with music feels more like everything else I watch these days. It also allows for better music, as many of the dramatic scenes need that weight to really land a moment. Again, maybe a self-serving preference because it means I get to play more great music.
The music itself takes you on the journey of the protagonist of the show, who is a bright-eyed Irish immigrant who celebrates his heritage, acclimates to a new culture, and ends up "more American than anyone I know". Irish jigs turn into Jazz songs, which then turn to these soft melodies that are more reminiscent of Irish folk tunes than anything else. The underscores to the elaborate fight scenes are militaristic and threatening by way of rhythm and harmony, and the show wraps in a full company front that feels both moving and still, again driven by juxtaposing moving notes against a harmonic progression that is actually quite slow. There were quite a bit of sound effects involved, but the music is written in a way that you experience an almost orchestral sound despite the fact that there were only five musicians in the "pit".
Hunched in a corner and facing a wall, there we were cranking out sound and, in my case, maneuvering my bell for carefully marked stage exits and fight scenes. The MD, Dr. Jenna Lee Moore, is a professor at SEMU and really knew the show inside and out. Despite music directing, navigating foreign patches, turning her own pages, and serving as an entire percussion section on keyboard, she was super easy to work with and open-minded to anything that would help us play better. Joel Lambdin did a gorgeous job of imitating an Irish fiddle on a classical violin, and Greg Germann was basically our lifeline to Jenna as we were fighting to hear downbeats through gunshot effects and flashing lights. Josh Johnson was our Irish whistle to boot, and Steve Sensenig was clever in his orchestrations by using the horn to fill out sound. A large portion of our books was taceted, but I get chills thinking about what would happen with a Broadway-sized budget and more orchestrated music. It's always nice when the charts are impeccable, too.
The week I spent with the production simply went by too fast. There was a band call, a sitz, a tech day, and five shows that ended too quickly. I can't express in words how great it was to work with the young cast and fabulous musicians at the Acorn Theatre. And what a treat to wake up today and see that the show won NYMF Best of Festival for 2018! I am so happy for the company and so happy that I could help them in their victory in a small way. Congratulations to all of you, and I hope you all have bright futures and more performances of this show. It's moving, funny, and makes you think about what's happening in the world that lies outside of the theater you just sat in for two hours, which is what the best theater is about. It wouldn't have sung to the rest of us without the talent and work that you brought to it.
And special, special thanks to Steven Cohen and Sarah Boxmeyer, two great hornists and longtime friends who helped me out by watching the book and sitting in for me. Great job!