For die-hard fans of musical theater, it seems like all the "cool" concerts by up-and-coming musical theater composers happen in New York. Those who want to hear new works are often forced to watch YouTube clips from concerts at 54 Below, Joe's Pub, and other similar venues - until recently.
Now, L.A. fans have an opportunity to see new musical theater songs in person, at A Little New Music at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Feliz. Produced by Luke Klipp and Chris Maikish (among others), and hosted by Tony-winner Daisy Eagan, Tuesday's concert featured works from fourteen sets of new composers, ranging from little-known to slightly-more-known, such as Kait Kerrigan & Brian Lowdermilk, whose "Run Away With Me" has been sung by pretty much every single young tenor in musical theater.
Eagan proved a delightful host, perfectly striking a balance between self-deprecating humor and charming quirkiness (she nearly brought the audience to tears with her inability to read the Roman numerals in the title of Henry IV). While not all the songs were products of the next Sondheim, the night was filled with enjoyable moments, and it's a treat to get to see them performed live.
Composers like Kerrigan & Lowdermilk and Sam Carner & Derek Gregor are already fairly well-established the musical theater community, with successful off-Broadway runs behind them, so the showcasing of their work here wasn't revelatory for hard-core fans, but it's still fun to hear it in person. Payson Lewis, a former contestant on NBC's a cappella TV show The Sing-Off and Peter in this past fall's L.A. pop opera Bare, was infectiously funny as a nosy neighbor in love with the woman next door in Carner & Gregor's jaunty "Wall Lovin.'" Other strong moments included Katherine Washington's touching performance of Carmel Dean and Sarah Underwood's "Camp Little Notch," a song about learning to love the things the people you care about love, and the darkly humorous "How the Apocalypse Came the Night We Fell in Love" - which is about exactly what you'd think it would be about - written by Joshua H. Cohen and performed by Heather Lake.
Maikish, one of the lead producers, started the series last May to find a bigger audience for musicals currently in development. In an interview after the show on Tuesday, he said people who know about new musicals is "a bit of a contained community, and we wanted to have something that would broaden that." So he partnered with Klipp and other producers (Bryan Blaskie, Mitchell Glaser, Kila Packett, Amy Francis Schott, and Peter Welkin) to get new musical theater work in front of new audiences.
The songs on the program are all submitted by the composers as MP3 files, and the producers sit down and determine which songs will be in the concert and which songs won't - though a rejection from one concert doesn't necessarily mean that a song won't appear in a later incarnation. "A number of songs that we did tonight are actually carryovers from submissions we had a couple months ago, that we said, 'It's not gonna work for September or December, but we really gotta get this song in at some point,'" he said. "We do look for things coming from book musicals, but [...] we're looking for songs that have standalone appeal."
Though the producers understand the need for bigger names to get butts in seats, they also try to get performers and composers who are more under-the-radar. One of the things Maikish is most adamant about, though, is that all the songs have to be performance-ready. Everyone involved in the show is volunteering their time, but they want everyone to be off-book.
"A lot of the shows that you see of new musical works, even in New York, [the performers have] got stands in front of them, and sheet music," he said. "We've pushed people to get that out of the way, because even when folks know it very well, if the music is there, they rely on it, and there's just a little moment of detachment from the audience."
The next A Little New Music will be June 10 at Rockwell Table & Stage. For more information, visit alittlenewmusic.org.
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