February 2008 Script
New Queer Musicals
Twist - Whipping (2007)
Whoa, the song is called "Whipping, " and did the line "please, sir, give me more" tell you the basis of that musical? That's the famous quote from the Dicken's classic "Oliver Twist," but it's never been so twisted.
This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and welcome to my February show, and it will be devoted to new gay musicals, and frankly until a few months ago I didn't think there were many recent gay-themed musicals worthy of much attention. That's changed, as I hope you'll find out on this show.
Let's start off with the musical called "Twist." It was nominated for a New York Drama Desk Award for 2007 and has had dazzling productions in New York and Los Angeles. One reviewer described it as a goth, pop-rock, queer musical, weaving Victorian erotica, dark comedy and gender bending. What's not to like? It's kind of a cross between "Oliver" and "Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Let's get to some music from the show, with this song, called "I Always Come Out on Top."
- I Always Come Out On Top (2007)
And the second song was "Clothing Makes the Man." I believe these tracks were done by the New York cast, but in L.A. the show featured Alexandra Billings. You may remember that Alexandra is the transgendered singer and actress who gave me a delightful interview on my show last June.
Coming up I'm going to share with you a new musical that really excited me, along with comments from its composer. But this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
I've not had a musical in a long time grab me immediately the way this one did. It's called "Bare," and that's spelled b-a-r-e. And to illustrate its impact I'll tell you that an advance copy of the show was sent to me. I had no liner notes, no press kit, I had no idea what the show was about, so I just put it into my car CD player and checked it out. And it grabbed me immediately. Right away I fell in love with the voices, the spirit, the story and of course the music.
very pleased to bring you an interview with the composer of the show,
- Epiphany (all "Bare" songs from 2007)
We just heard the two characters Jason & Peter, as sung by James Snyder and Matt Doyle. Damon, could you expand on the show a little?
Okay, let's see. "Bare" was born around 1998 and at the time I was just hearing in my head imaginary conversations between someone that was like a Peter and someone that was like a Jason, and from there I started composing without any words and then Jon came in and started putting words to the stuff, and basically began from that, writing very much from the inside out. You know, Jon came up with the triangle that is Peter, Jason and Ivy, and I threw in Nadia and Matt, and Jon created Sister Chantelle he knew her, actually. And so we just went in together; Jon and actually have a long relationship with the church, you know, I was an altar boy and I got my harmonic chops playing organ for years, till I was 17. I had a boyfriend in high school. We kept it very very very secret, so I was kind of doing the Jason thing as well. And Jon had girlfriends really throughout college. I was out at that time. I was really out at that time. And so Jon was also kind of living those kind of dual personalities and I think it was very much a reflection of what Jon was going through and what I having dealt with. So that's kind of what went into it, but I wouldn't say it was one singular inspiration for it. It was just like I was getting these tunes in my head or harmonic progressions in my head and I had to put them somewhere, so that is where "Bare the Musical" started.
Well the listeners need to know at this point that the Jon you've been talking about is Jon Hartmere, who wrote the lyrics.
How has your being gay influenced its creation, and has that helped or hindered the long journey to get the musical to its recent production?
Well, in terms of being an openly gay man I think it's influenced several aspects of "Bare" in the sense that I mean not only musically drawing on those feelings and drawing on those kind of trajectories that those characters go through but moreover in a practical sense, in terms of production, I think everyone would be pretty much surprised at how much general homophobia exists in this particular aspect of the I don't want to say the music business, but I guess, theatre. I definitely had to come to terms again with the fact that, you know, this show is very much an extension of activism. You know, people's activism manifests itself in different ways. This is how I can do it. I mean, it saddens me in one way, that it's a constant uphill battle.
And you also have to consider too not segregating yourself, you know, the gay and lesbian community now has a tendency to segregate itself when it's convenient, so that you end up playing to an all gay audience or an all lesbian audience, and I don't really buy into that. I think there's I think that Harvey Milk had the right idea of integration and constant integration. You know, you look at the very very successful African-American civil rights movement and the reason that it's so successful is because of the passionate and defiant methods of integration that have gone on, you know, really victorious. Now it just seems like we shoot ourselves in the foot by segregating ourselves away, so I'd say being gay definitely helped write the show, certainly, was not necessarily an asset in terms of its production, was not necessarily an asset in terms of the album production, so it's kind of a break-even type of score.
Early in the first act is a very amusing song done by Kelli Levkowitz. She plays Jason's sister Nadia, and the language doesn't quite allow me to include it in the radio version of the show. Here's just a little of "Plain Jane Fat Ass."
Bare - Plain Jane Fat Ass
Tell us about the song "Best Kept Secret"
"Best Kept" has been around since the original, original draft of the show, and after the rave Jon and I felt that Peter and Jason needed to have you know ultimately what was an uncomfortable conversation, especially for Peter, so "Best Kept Secret" is that song. You can hear my affinity for the Max Martin style of writing that informs so much of the pop music of the mid-90s, just this little tune the bridge is the whole actually, I'm in front of my piano, so (plays) that's also the bridge to "Warning," where Clare's going "what if I like the song I heard before", that type of thing I don't really sing so that made sense to me, and Peter turns to Jason and is like trying to convince him that everything is okay and then Claire in a similar situation is trying to convince herself, you know, she's talking to the two sides of herself, in there and "Warning" and so that is the story of "Best Kept Secret."
Bare - Best Kept Secret
I've got another question about a Jason & Peter duet, not only because they are the gay characters, but because I love the voices of those two actors. Tell us about the song "Ever After"
"Ever After" has been in the show since 1999. It was a moment that didn't exist before, and it was about getting Peter to that point where he couldn't, you know, he knew that he had to address with Jason his unhappiness you know, I really feel for Peter in this moment because Peter really has it made. You know, I mean, to have someone like Jason in your life, at any age, is fantastic, but to have someone like that your Junior and Senior year Peter must really be unhappy to even tempt fate here. I don't think Peter is expecting this, obviously, and his reaction in the lyrics is pretty evident kind of saying in the lyrics "I don't know who you are anymore" and "all that I wanted was you" and it's sad, obviously, and the progression is based on what I call the fairy tale thread in "Bare," and it's basically these (plays) eight chords of the song.
Bare - Ever After
One of the dramatic and telling songs was between Peter and his mother Claire.
The song "See Me" has been in the show as long as the show's been around, and it's the song in the second act where Peter gets the where-with-all, the courage, or maybe just the fear is eating inside of him too much, I don't know, he tries to come out to his mother Claire. Claire is not hearing it. She knows what's going on obviously in the song, but like most moms, just doesn't want to hear it or converse about it at any rate. I remember when I did this conversation both Jon and I have done this conversation with our mothers I think this is probably a little more literal, his interpretation, because the way the song is written. I actually was living with a guy that I was going to marry, and so that's kind of why I did it, at age 19, my mom didn't speak for me for like ten days.
So, "See Me" the rift was written (plays) that whole thing existed and Jon, he didn't really write lyrics to it, I just kind of made them work and married them to it, and it's very multi-metered, obviously it goes into I think 9 or 11 time signatures throughout. I did that before it was more conversational and I didn't really feel like restricting us to a, you know, 2,3 or 4-4 or you know, 4-8 or 3-8 or 6-8 for that matter, and obviously there's a lot of, I mean, a lot of thematic material gets answered by this song. Anyway, so "See Me" is Peter's coming out moment and it isn't beautiful really. It isn't perfect and that is definitely how I remember mine.
Bare - See Me
Tell us about the song "Bare"
Ah, the song "Bare" has had many many lyrical incarnations. It's been in many different keys. Basically it's just your, you know, (plays) starts out with a kind of 6-8 kind of waltzy feel. I tried to put that motific idea as much as I could in the score because I kind of like to lead up to that. There's also vocally Peter and Jason find themselves competing, as they do in "You and I" and "Best Kept Secret" and kind of seeing where that climb in the bridge (plays) where they're doing that stuff, and I think Peter goes "each of us standing bare, yeah, high g-sharp, so it's nice that Peter goes out on that stage with that hope, that idea at the end where they're the whole "from the star" thing, which Matt and James do so beautifully on the record. It's like Peter's going out on that stage with a little more hope than I think that he would have otherwise.
Bare - Bare
song seems to get the most acclaim from audiences?
I have been asked many times to pick my favorite, which is weird when you're the composer, it's a little self-congratulatory, but I think in terms of just being in the moment and the experience of the experience, I'd have to probably say "Queen Mab" is my favorite, just because you know I like tragedy and I like there's no turning back after that moment.
Bare - Queen Mab
And the same can be said for "Cross." I don't like, really, like when I used to play other shows I hated coming to "Cross" because as the composer and co-bookwriter you're putting Jason through this thing every night you're putting him through. I'm not talking about the actor, I mean the character. You know where it's going and you can't really stop it, and I always get really sad and serious when I was playing "Cross" and then obviously to go "Two Households", "Bare" to "Queen Mab" it was very silent back there when we were playing than we used to make jokes during the rest of the show but in terms of playing it is tough. I've never sat and watched the show really, and not been involved with it in some aspect of it, either the composer or musical director or producer, so I still have yet to experience it, just as an audience member, coming to this experience as an audience member. And I will probably do that one day, I just don't know when yet.
Is there a song that is taking on a life of its own outside of the musical?
Is there a song that is taking on a life of its own outside of the musical? Sure, I mean, I can't be real specific but people do whatever they want with the songs, you know, I don't have any control over that, nor would I want any, you know, that's the point of music, to share it and hear it in different manifestations. I remember when I I flew up to Boise, Idaho or Billings, Montana I can't remember, I'm a pilot, I think I was running out of gas and I landed somewhere up there, from like Reno. And I stayed overnight and I went to some coffee show it had to have been Boise, no, maybe it was Billings, and some guy was playing "Touch My Soul" on his guitar at just an acoustic coffee shop night, which I thought was very coincidental, and weird, I mean because we didn't have an album out at that time and in 2005 there was not really any legitimate sheet music, although I know it's found its way into the hands of many an auditioner.
So there's that and yeah, I'm happy when the songs take on a life outside of the show itself. I mean, you know, it is a modern operatic form so there definitely I would never present them outside of that context, you know, what other people do with them is their business, but as the person who composed the work I would never do like a highlights record I mean, I say that now, but who knows or a shortened version of it because it just wouldn't make sense. It just wouldn't really work. You know, the songs have really legitimate and strong relationships with each other so yeah, certainly, I'm glad people are finding, creating different manifestations of the songs outside of the theatre that it's playing at.
I want to mention the unique packaging for the CD release. It comes in a DVD case with the two-CD set from the show, and also on a DVD a fascinating documentary about the genesis of "Bare"
What is next for "Bare the Musical"?
What is next for "Bare the Musical"? Oh, not the film question. Well, you know, Theatrical Rights Worldwide owns the exclusive stage rights, so they have been very great in getting the show out there and I'm really flattered and happy with how many different companies are doing it in different parts of the United States and indeed the world. To have it in Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, Cincinnati, it's neat. It's definitely special to both Jon and myself, so I think that is what's next for it. I think rushing into anything I've learned to accept that when you have a completely original story you have to take a really original way and an original route in terms of in terms of having your work accessible to other people, and TRW, this company is really great in thinking outside of the box and really helped us put the album together the way we wanted to do it, and were great in terms of having the score the way I wanted it orchestrated. So I don't really have an answer for what is next for it. I'm enjoying what it's doing now, which is the record is getting to people's hand and their ears and the shows are getting mounted and put up with all types of different directors and different castings and different imaginations of, you know, song scenarios and stuff. And that "Bare Movie" certainly has been thrown around for a number of years and I'm sure will come again, will once again come to the surface, and I mean, we'll see. There's no sense in rushing into something without being really happy doing it, but I'm really happy with how it seems to be going so far, so we will definitely see.
I'm down to the last song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to especially thank Damon Intrabartolo for the wonderful interview.
I admit I was a bit unsure about how to pronounce his name, so I got him to help me on that.
How to say my name. This is like the scene in "Private Parts" between Howard Stern and Paul Giamatti, where he's like w-n-b-c, so here you go, ready? INtrabarTOLo. Just like it's spelt. INtrabarTOLo. INtrabarTOLo. Not IntraBARTalo, not intrabartolietbowl. INtrabarTOLo. Thank you, by the way, for having me speak on Queer Music Heritage, I'm very flattered, so thank you very much again.
You can find out more about the show at their website www.barethemusical.com and of course at my site, www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
Now, I know I've not done justice to the music of "Bare." There were many many other outstanding songs, and the show also showcases several female characters and their stories, all done wonderfully by the talented cast. And in the show, at the Catholic high school they are staging a production of "Romeo and Juliet," which parallels the tragedy in the plot. Yes, the story does not end happy, but I wanted to end this show with perhaps the most upbeat number in the production. In it Sister Chantelle is overseeing the play rehearsals and has this conversation with Peter. From "Bare the Musical," the track is called "God Don't Make No Trash"
Bare - God Don't Make No Trash
...and, the rest of the cast:
[ Instrumental tracks under the interview are by William Watson, from his 1999 album "Burnham Woods"]