Monday, February 02, 2009

Top 5 Discoveries of 2008

The last few weeks have been, shall we say, tumultuous and as a result of said turmoil I have had a minimal presence in the blogosphere. However, yesterday was Superbowl Sunday. As a no/low-sports family, the Superbowl is honored in our house by muting or fast-forwarding the game, watching the commercials and eating kick-ass snack foods. I made use of the time by hopping back on the bloggy horse in order to provide the last of my round-up lists… The Top 5 up-and-comers on today’s musical theatre scene.


Loyal readers should find no surprise in the fact that my top discovery of 2008 is Joe Iconis and his unruly troupe of musical theatre punks. Joe is so sick with talent that, despite the troubled economy darkening several New York marquees, he saw three fully-realized productions of his musicals in 2008: The Black Suits, The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks and ReWrite. This past year also saw the critically-acclaimed return of Iconis' signature concert, Things To Ruin, as well as gigs at Joe’s Pub, Sardi’s and the West Bank CafĂ©.

Joe's songs tell stories. Good stories. Songs that people relate to. Songs about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Each tale told with the perfectly blended cocktail of honesty, irreverence and dirty words. But what intoxicates you are those contagious melodies, euphonious harmonies and pulsating rhythms that make people want to sing them. And sing them. And sing them.

And stomp a hole in the floorboards.


I first stumbled upon Scott Alan via a YouTube search that ended with a video of Jonathan Groff singing a beautiful ballad about a telephone call. That led to Danny Calvert killing you softly with this heartbreaking tale of divorce. Which led to song after song of Broadway celebrities singing Scott's beautiful compositions. Not long after, I downloaded Scott's release Dreaming Wide Awake from iTunes.

Like Iconis, Scott has a knack for writing songs that tell a story. Where Iconis' songs tend to tell stories more about the idiosyncratic, Scott's songs are inclined to explore those universal chords that strike in relationships. His follow-up release, Keys, won my heart with "Blessing" and "The Dress". In addition to his incredible talent, Scott also champions the work of other up-and-coming artists through his Monday Nights, New Voices program, which has featured several of the composers featured in my sidebar.

All of my exposure to Scott's music has been through his releases and YouTube. I haven't made it to a live show yet but plan to as soon as schedule and budget allow. I also count myself among those anticipating the staging of his musical Piece. I love it when a composer's music, like Scott's, stands on its own, so I am always anxious to see their music in the context of a book musical. And something tells me when that happens, I won't be disappointed.


2008 marks the year that the multitalented Nick Blaemire hit my radar. The first I'd heard of Nick came in April or so, when the theatre community was abuzz about this kid, who was making his Broadway performing debut in Cry-Baby and, at the same time, preparing for his Broadway debut as a composer/lyricist with the coming-of-age musical Glory Days. I did see Cry-Baby and was nonplussed. I did not see Glory Days but wish I had. Both shows shuttered quickly but Blaemire certainly did not walk away defeated. A streak of performances to round out 2008 followed: in Iconis' The Black Suits at The Public's Summer Play Festival, in Mazzaferri's Green Eyes at the NY Fringe, in the return of Iconis' Things To Ruin and in the debut of Iconis' musical triptych ReWrite. Nick is an energetic and dynamic performer with a savage rock tenor voice. And you are hard-pressed to find a performer with a higher likeability factor. He's sort of the Ferris Buehler of musical theatre.

Expect great things from Nick. More great performances, certainly, but look out for his next writing project, which partners him again with his Glory Days co-writer James Gardiner. Nick played a selection from the commissioned project at a concert a few months back and I feel confident saying that he has not seen the last of his "glory days".


If you want a composer who is on the cusp of greatness then you need look no further than 2008 Jonathan Larson Grant winner Gaby Alter. As with the other composers on this list, Gaby writes a kick-ass story song set to some fiercely catchy melodies. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not walk away humming. Gaby is a prolific writer with many works in development, including my personal favorite, 29. In January 2009, Gaby and his writing partners Tommy Newman and Mark Allen had their musical Band Geeks! featured as part of Goodspeed Opera House's 4th Annual Festival of New Artists.

I had the privilege of hearing Gaby perform one his compositions at The Secret Show back in the fall. But his talent won't be a secret for long. Before long Gaby will break through in a big way and you can say that you heard it here first. And you'll be able say something similar to what I say to my friends when they finally discover Facebook: "Yeah, I started that addiction 2 years ago!"


2008 saw many memorable Broadway/YouTube marriages (think [tos], Legally Brown, Cubby Bernstein). Not to be outdone, fresh-faced and fancy-footed Jake Wilson leapt right onto that bandwagon with The Battery’s Down. This "online tv series" chronicles Jake's life as a struggling actor in New York, complete with fancy Broadway guesties and big splashy musical numbers. Bear in mind that this YouTube jewel is a ship captained primarily by Jake, who wears the hats of director, writer, cinematographer, actor and choreographer. It helps, too, that he runs with a talented crowd who help out as his supporting cast. The professional quality of TBD, combined with Jake's unbelievable charm and business sense, as heard in this Playbill Radio interview, will most assuredly propel him swiftly to the limelight.

But the bottom line is this: Jake has talent. Well, many talents. In fact, while The Battery’s Down was on filming hiatus, that talent landed him a role in a production of Hair out West. But fret not, the tours and out-of-town gigs are over and the cast and crew of TBD are back at it for Season 2, premiering March 1st. And they should be around until the next gig surfaces, which is pretty much assured with this bunch.


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