Coming Soon: The Lion King Experience

TheLionKingExperienceHappy Halloween! Now that that’s out of the way, this post has nothing to do with Halloween. Why? Because I had another PD today for Disney Theatricals and what we learned was way more exciting than naughty nurses and candy corn, which is saying a lot. (Especially for those of you who know how much I love naughty nurses candy corn)

If you don’t like geeking out over education or The Lion King, then you shouldn’t read this post. What you should do instead is look in the mirror and try to figure out what’s wrong with you!

The Lion King Experience is Disney Theatricals newest and biggest educational initiative, and it’s incredible. The short version is this: when you purchase the rights to either The Lion King Kids or The Lion King Jr., you get The Lion King Experience FOR FREE! “But what is The Lion King Experience?”

I’m so glad you asked.

The Lion King Experience is an introduction to musical theatre, using the world of The Lion King as its foundation. While it would be incredibly exciting for the most experienced middle school drama teacher to use, it is equally exciting and accessible for someone to facilitate that has never worked on a show, ever!

Each lesson begins with a DVD featuring two actors from The Lion King tour. They introduce the lesson of the day, and the teacher then guides them through a group activity. Students then break into their prides, smaller groups that they will remain in throughout the experience. There is a group lesson, followed by a time of sharing, and then the individual students journal, finishing up the lesson on a more personal level. And each lesson, for lack of a better word, builds upon the last.

Confused? Try this in for size. There’s a unit on the role of the book writer of a show. After the video and group activity, each pride is given a one sentence topic for a scene which they then script together. The next lesson is on the role of the composer. The students go back to the scene they wrote in the previous session and find a moment that could be elevated into song, and the prides work together to write their lyrics. The next lesson? Choreography. You guessed it–the students are choreographing the songs they composed. So in three short lessons, students have written a scene, complete with an original, fully-choreographed song. They also learn about costume design, make-up and masks, sound design, and the list just goes on. And all of it takes place in the world of The Lion King. Can you imagine the knowledge these kids will have when they start rehearsals? And what a great way to get kids who may not be interested in performing excited about the show! One kid might shine when designing masks, and another might find the use and placement of microphones thrilling, and then you’ve got a team of tiny, little helpers ready to lend a hand.

For the PD, we broke into pairs and each group had one lesson to work with. We had twenty minutes to come up with a five minute presentation for the rest of the group, where we could either speed through, show some of the video, activate a group exercise, or any combination of the above. There is too much material for us all to ingest it in one sitting, so this was the best way for us to all leave with a good idea about the program. And I can’t tell you how excited and giddy we all were; a group of adults walking around the room like hyenas, beating djembes, and dancing like hornbills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love my job!

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

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Mnemosyne Technique and…the circus?

Circus backgroundToday was supposed to be my first day filming Mnemosyne Technique, but unfortunately we didn’t to shoot.  I met the director, Brett, and the actress playing my wife, Pooyah, at Starbucks.  Brett gave us some cash so Pooyah and I could get lunch and get to know each other, and it gave the crew a little more time to get set up.  Pooyah and I found a Shake Shack, which was a first for both of us, and had a blast getting to know each other.

When we arrived at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, where we were set to shoot, we hit a snag.  Brett got clearance to shoot at the hotel a while ago, but when he showed up and started setting up the camera, someone came down to the cafe area and told him that we had to wait for him to get clearance someone someone on the national level.  Apparently whoever gave Brett permission before didn’t have the authority to give permission.  And obviously, shooting a scene in the cafe of a hotel in Brooklyn was pretty low on the priority list for anyone that might check the voicemail the hotel manager left.  So we didn’t get to shoot.  But that’s not what this post is about.

I got a text from my buddy Danny saying “dammit Kevin, are you available or not?”  I had no idea what he was talking about until I remembered that I had an unheard voicemail from him. (I have the terrible habit of saying to myself “I’ll check it later.”)

Anyway, Danny is the bassist on the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Gold Unit, and it turns out, they need a keys 2 sub for a few weeks!  Months ago, thanks to Danny, I interviewed for the Keys 1 position, but after learning about the necessity to know synth programming, I told the conductor that I was pulling myself out of the race.  I was pretty sure he’d find someone more qualified, since I have yet to program a keyboard.  But apparently I made a pretty dandy impression, because Danny said that Robbie, the conductor, asked him to check in with me to see if I was available.

I just got off the phone with him, got some preliminary info, and now I’ve got to circle up with the conductor and chat a little more.  And obviously, look at my schedule and see if there is any possible way to make it work, which usually seems unlikely.  For some reason, though, I have a pretty good feeling about this!

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Newsies: The Final Performance on Broadway

Newsies-the-musical_143236This afternoon was the final Broadway performance of Newsies, and man, what an exit these boys made!  If you didn’t get to see the show, you definitely missed something great.  The energy on stage is unsurpassed, the choreography is thrilling, the voices are breathtaking.

Thanks to my friends at Disney Theatricals, all of the teaching artists were invited to the final show; it was a gift I was thrilled to receive. I literally giggled when I got the email invite and ran above ground from the subway platform so I could RSVP instantly before losing reception.

One of the things I loved most about Newsies is it turned these chorus boys into rock stars!  It’s the most ensemble-focused show I’ve seen and the audience goes wild for these guys.  If you just listened to an audio bootleg, you’d think you were at a One Direction concert.  And the autograph line at the stage door is unreal.  A lot of these guys are making their Broadway debuts, while others have been on Broadway since they were in elementary school.  And every single one of them now has a fan base like you wouldn’t believe!

Take that, the daily energy at the show, and multiply that by 50, when the house is packed to the brim with the most dedicated friends, family, and fansies Broadway has ever seen.  I lost track of how many standing ovations there were during the show.  After almost every number, when all the guys hit their final pose, the audience was on their feet, cheering and clapping.  All of the teaching artists were sitting near each other and we would just look at each other and laugh during these ovations because you’ve never seen or heard anything like that before.  And every jump, turn, split, barrel roll, and high note brought screams and applause from hundreds of fans.  Seriously, rock star level.

I brought my friend Arseniy as my +1, and he was in awe.  He’s a Russian cinematographer whose film I was in last year, and it was his first Broadway show.  While it was definitely a great one to start with, I hope he’s not disappointed the next time he goes to a show with expectations that the audience will be be on their feet cheering every seven minutes.  Maybe I should find a production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night to take him to so he can see the other end of the spectrum.

While I’m incredibly sad that I won’t be able to see this show on Broadway again, I am so thrilled that everyone involved with the production got the accolades they deserved, and more encouragement from an audience than they ever thought possible!

Seize The Day!

 

 

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The Katra Film Series

film-projectorTonight, I finally got to see Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid on a screen larger than my laptop.  I wasn’t able to attend the initial screening, and sadly couldn’t afford to catch it at Cannes, but thankfully Karen had been submitting the film to festivals in NYC.

The Katra Film series screens shorts by New York directors and then invites them up to chat a little about their film.  We had a couple drinks and then it was time to start watching.  There’s just something so exciting the second you see your film show up on screen. And of course, when you’re sitting with your cast, everyone around you just so happens to love the film and responds the way a perfect audience should…since they’re all in it.

But the most exciting part came not from the screening, but a conversation I had with the writer/director and dear friend of mine, Karen Goldfarb.

She told me that he next projects is going to be an animate short called Lucky and the Pirates, and she wants me to play Lucky, the shih tzu.  I’ve never done animation and I’ve never played an animal before so I’m already really excited and the script isn’t even finished yet.  But if there’s anyone that came make something happen, it’s Karen.  I mean, Here’s Lookin’ At You Kid was her first script, her first time directing and producing, and she got that baby in Cannes.  I can’t wait to see what happens with Lucky!

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The Bridges of Madison County

bridges setIt is always sad when a show closes, and this one was no different.  The Bridges of Madison County closes this evening after 37 previews, and only 100 performances.

I’ve musically directed two of the cast members previously: Aaron Ramey in The Night Of The Living Dead, and Whitney Bashor in Nevermore, so I definitely wanted to support them and all the hard work and intensity they bring to the stage.  I’ll also be in the chorus for a holiday concert this December at Carnegie Hall that Kelli O’Hara is headlining, alongside Matthew Morrison.

All I can say is that I am stunned that no one else will have the chance to see this beautifully moving production at The Schoenfeld Theatre.  This isn’t a review of the show, nor a criticism of the fact that for the first time, five shows could have been nominated for best musical, instead of four, and yet only four made the cut.

All I want to say is that from the second I stepped into the theatre, I was absolutely mesmerized; every detail was captivating.  The sets, the costumes, the score, the musicians, the actors’ voices and performances–it was an incredibly beautiful evening that I wish I could repeat.

I applaud everyone involved in bringing this production to Broadway, and am so thankful that I could be in the audience to share in the experience.  While this may be the end of Bridges Broadway run, I am certain the show will have many more lives on tour and in theatre across the globe!

 

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When Inspiration Knocks…

doorOpen the damn door!

This one’s going to be quick because I have got to get some sleep if I stand any chance of getting up in time for work tomorrow; the alarm is going off in just over four hours.  But I just needed to say that I am more excited than I have been in a long time.

Right before bed, I started thinking of parody lyrics for a song, just kind of a throw away idea I was having as I was willing myself to sleep.  I think I fell asleep around midnight, and at 1:15, woke up immediately with more lyrics going through my head.  Again, I tried to will myself to sleep, but my brain wouldn’t let it go.  So I decided to give in and see if I could write a couple quick verses.

Two hours later, I’m here on my fire escape, and I love what I’ve come up with!  It obviously needs a lot of work, but the basic outline is there with some really clever lines (if I do say so myself).  So now I think I can turn my brain off and get a few hours of sleep.  I wanted to write this post though, because it this turns out the way I want, I want to remember how it all started.

More later!

 

 

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Carrying The Banner with Newsies

newsies“It’s a fine life carrying the banner through it all.”

It’s no secret that Newsies is one of my favorite shows on Broadway, and it was also one of my favorite movies growing up.

Long before I knew Christian Bale as the naked guy running down the hallway with a chainsaw, I knew him as the guy riding a horse and singing about New Mexico.  Talk about versatility!

And now, thanks to Disney Theatricals, I get to work on Newsies.  We teach workshops for Aladdin, Newsies, and The Lion King.  While I absolutely love all of them, Newsies is my favorite.  I mean, how many get to wake up and say “today I’m gonna go to work and teach some excited tourists how to dance on newspapers while yelling ‘Strike! Strike! Strike!'”? (did I punctuate that correctly?)

This morning I was facilitating a workshop with my friend Steven, who is an incredible director, choreographer, and dancer.  After some introductory games and exercises, I teach them the music to Seize the Day, and then Steven teaches them the choreography.  And then for the big finish, we bring out the newspapers, adding that to the choreography.  I don’t know who’s more excited, me or the kids?  And if you’ve seen the show or at least a clip of the number online, it’s even more thrilling because that part of the dance is iconic!

To end the day, I was facilitating a talkback for Newsies after their evening show.  It was for a different group, and they loved the show.  And I love doing the talkbacks.  It’s always fun for me playing talk show host before the cast comes out because I get to ask them about their time in NYC, what their favorite moments were in the show, and get them all excited for the Newsies who are about to come out.  And then during the talkback, I always learn a lot, too.  Sometimes it’s something about the rehearsal process, or a cast member’s audition story, where they went to school, or a challenge they had to overcome.  Whatever is brought up during the talkback, it’s always inspiring.  There isn’t a single member of the cast that isn’t having the time of their life and it’s so infectious.  Seeing these guys living their dreams reminds you of all the reasons why you’re pursuing something similar, and it also pushes you to work a little harder.

And Tommy Bracco, who plays Spot Conlon in the show and is pictured above, is a friend of mine.  I musically directed him in High School Musical for Interlakes Theatre in Meredith, New Hampshire.  I had no idea at the time that it was his first ever musical.  And here he is, just a few years later, shining brighter than ever on Broadway!

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The New York Pops Gala

IMG_9458Carnegie Hall has never seen such a star-studded lineup as it did last night.  It was the New York Pops 31st Birthday Gala, and everyone was out to celebrate the orchestra, and the musical honorees, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman..  The theme this year was “make it big,” and that they did.

Martin Short, Christian Borle, Patti LuPone, Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee, Aaron Tveit, Laura Bell Bundy, Andrea Martin, Jane Krakowski.  And that’s just the beginning.

One of my favorite moments of the evening was Good Morning, Baltimore, from Hairspray.  Here’s what made it so special: the song opened with Marissa Jaret Winokur reprising her role from Broadway; then at the top of the second verse, Nikki Blonsky entered, reprising her role from the 2007 film; then lo and behold, enter Ricki Lake, reprising her role from the 1988 film.  Tracy, Tracy, and Tracy were in the house and in full voice.  My picture of the three of them with John Waters is one of my all-time favorites.

My other favorite moment was getting to tell Capathia Jenkins how I’ve admired her for years, and listed everything I’ve ever seen her in.  And when I told her how much I loved “Kiss and Make Up,” she said “I wasn’t in that one.”  When I started singing the song that she sang to effectively stop the show, titled “God and Pills.” a lightbulb turned on and she said “The fringe show?  You saw that.”  Oh yeah.  Twice.

And my final favorite moment (so many, I know) came when I had the chance to chat with Montego Glover.  Not only did I adore her in Memphis, but I am hopelessly addicted to The Following.  And while I tried my best to get her to spill some secrets, her lips were sealed.  So if anyone from Fox is reading this, your secrets are safe with her!

If you want to see the photos I took from the step and repeat as well as the dinner dance, you can see them on my photography blog here!

And don’t forget to see all the gems posted on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

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Even the pros take lessons

voicelessonOne of the things I love about being an accompanist is getting to play for voice lessons.  Not only is it a fun way to make a little extra money, but I always walk away with more knowledge than when I started.

This weekend, I accompanied five lessons for master teacher Kurt Robinson.  This guy definitely knows what he is doing.  It was mesmerizing to listen to the sounds he could get out of people in an hour, and the transformation from the time I entered to the time I left.  As soon as I finished each lesson, I went right to my notebook to write down everything I learned, so in essence, I had five voice lessons of my own that day.

And the most inspiring part of the day was when one of my Broadway idols walked into the room.  I don’t want to say her name on here and sound the Google alerts alarm, but let’s just say that if you know musical theatre, you know who she is.  You probably have a recording or two she’s starred on, and if you’re like me, you’ve spent countless hours on YouTube, watching every performance she’s ever given!

Obviously, I was cherishing every second I spent sitting at the piano accompanying her, while trying to maintain my composure and not just giggle with glee.  What impressed me the most was that this wasn’t any different from any other voice lesson.  When she had issues, Kurt called her out on it.  Part of me was thinking “how dare you say that wasn’t transformative, this woman is flawless!”  But she was there to work, and work she did!

I rode the elevator with her after her lesson was finished, and she mentioned that this particular piece was making her nervous.  She’ll be performing it for a July 4th concert, and she wanted to start working on it now.  And that is admirable.  This woman is an absolute star, and yet she doesn’t take anything for granted.  No wonder God named his garden after her. (wink, wink)

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Grateful for John Bucchino

grateful-watercolourLast night, I had the great pleasure for spending 2 1/2 hours in a rehearsal with John Bucchino.  A little over a year ago, I wrote an article about his body of work, and how great his music is for auditions, which you can read here!  A couple months after that, I audited a Master Class he was teaching in New York, where singers would perform his pieces for his critique, and then they’d perform them again, accompanied by John, himself.  When I got to the workshop, he remembered the article, and thanked me for writing it.  What a sweet man!

Last night was something completely different but equally exciting.  My buddy Jeremy Robin Lyons wrote an arrangement of Grateful, and a group of us were assembled to sing it through and workshop it with John to see what works and what might need to be tweaked before it gets published.  So we all assembled ourselves around the piano, singing Grateful, while Judy edited and conducted, and the composer himself listened and took notes.

It was really interesting to see the three of them working like this.  It wasn’t your typical rehearsal where the goal is a performance.  This was to work out all the details of the arrangement so that it can be published.  The length of notes, rhythmic changes, breath marks–all of this was discussed in regards to the arrangement.  If the majority of us were making the same mistake, they needed to look at it to see if there was a way to fix it; if we were all making that mistake, it’s like that other groups that purchase the arrangement will do the same.  Detail also had to be paid to the style guide of the publishing company, which is something I hadn’t ever considered before.  It makes sense, when you think about it, that every publishing company would have their own style guide.  And luckily, Judy know the ins and outs of all of them, so the music can be prepared just the way the publishing company likes.

And of course, the best part of the evening was after the rehearsal, when we had red velvet/chocolate chip cupcakes and wine!  Quite literally, the icing on the cake!

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