Finding Inspiration in England

October 25, 2008

Really, I mean no disrespect.  But after two months of working on this crazy TV schedule, I needed a break.

“America’s Got Talent” wrapped on a Wednesday.  (YAY and CONGRATS to winner Neal E. Boyd, whose life has now spun into hyperdrive.)  On Thursday morning, my daughter and I flew to New York.  On Saturday it was her birthday (Happy Birthday Molly!) and we threw her a little party.  On Sunday, my husband’s Broadway show opened.  (More on that below, but oh wow oh wow you really have got to go see it if you can.)  It was a big week.
Three days later I got on a plane and flew to London.  My UK agent Alastair picked me up at the airport and we were off and running.  Or, rather, off and driving.  We got in the car and drove to Oxford College, where we met a friend for lunch.  After lunch, we kept driving north.  I slept.  We talked and laughed and listened to bad 80s music.  And then, we arrived in Manchester, just in time for tea.  You know the Brits.  You can’t miss tea time.
On our agenda that first evening was a production of WEST SIDE STORY at the gorgeous new performing arts center in Manchester, The Lowry.  I was struggling to stay awake for some of the first act.  (It was jetlag, really, not the quality of the show!)  But the thing that kept pulling me back to attention was that score.  That amazing Leonard Bernstein music.  

Like so many of you, I know that show so well that I never think I’m going to be wowed by a production of it.  But this time the thing that got me was how much of the storytelling was done without words.  Music and dance.  A real ballet.  I spend so much of my time crafting lyrics and trying to get songs to be filled with layers and layers of meaning, but I sometimes forget how powerful it can be just to let the music open up and speak on its own.  Bernstein and Robbins knew that.  My mind started wandering, thinking about my own shows and how there might be ways to crack open the scores to allow room for more dance.  I started thinking about who the great choreographers of this generation might be, and whether or not there’s currently a place for them on Broadway.  What does it take for someone to be recognized as a visionary?  And before I knew it, Tony was dead (uh oh, did I spoil it?) and it was time to go to sleep.
The next day we drove back down south to Dudley College in the West Midlands, where I had been booked to teach a master class.  This was an amazing experience for me because the kids there were so well-versed in contemporary musical theater.  Not only did this group, in the middle of another country, know who I was, but they also had copies of my CD and my songbook and they had prepared some of my songs.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard your words sung in a thick Midlands accent.  I played for them.  They swooned.  It was very good for my ego.
The real reason for this trip, however, was the launch of the New Voices Collective in the UK.  I’ve written before about this group, led by my friend Artistic Director Joel Fram.  For several seasons in New York the New Voices Collective put on several concerts a year featuring the music of composers in New York who were making their livings in the pit orchestras of Broadway shows.  Most of us were writing songs that were not getting performed, and Joel — in conjunction with colleagues Doug Okerson and Jen Bender — created a concert series that recognized us and our work.  Knowing that we had deadlines and guaranteed performances made us write, and Joel often gave us specific tasks for the pieces he wanted written.
Anyway, New Voices was one of my favorite things about New York until Joel moved to London a few years ago.  After a bit of a hiatus, this month the Collective had its UK premiere performance of some of the “greatest hits” from concerts past, and some of my music was featured.  It was an astounding concert, rich with complex music, humor, glorious singers, a crazy-talented pianist (Mark Etherington), and some of the best songs I’ve ever heard.  Claire Moore’s performance of Joel Fram’s song “somewhere i have never travelled” actually made me cry.  I was so proud to be among that group of musicians and am so eager to see what they do for the next concert, scheduled for March.  

Finally, on my last day in London, I was a guest at the Guildford School of Acting where I spoke to and taught some of the most talented young musical theater kids in the country.  I love that place, and (shhh…) we are just beginning to discuss the possibility of working on something bigger together next spring.
After all that (and… a silly visit to the set of X-Factor where we stalked Simon Cowell a bit…), I came home renewed and ready to get back to work.  Thank you so much Alastair, Joel, Annette, Oliver, Mark, Tom, Martin, Jen, Kourtney and Simon, Ruth, Sara (potato), Ross, Chas and Chris, Alastair’s mum and dad, and Nigel for making the trip so much fun.  Can’t wait to come back!
1.  Go see “13” on Broadway.  Click here for the show’s website.
2.  VOTE!

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