Dave Malloy, Marisa Michelson, Amanda Green converse and perform
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4
TACOMA, Wash. – Three significant composers of American musical theater are coming to Tacoma to discuss their influences, to perform and share excerpts of their work, and to engage in an intimate conversation about the changing world of staged musicals.
The free, public event at University of Puget Sound will feature Off-Broadway Theatre Award (OBIE) winner, composer, and performer Dave Malloy, who is on the brink of his Broadway debut with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812; Jonathan Larson Award-winning composer and performer Marisa Michelson, co-writer of the acclaimed musical Tamar of the River; and Tony-nominated lyricist, composer, and performer Amanda Green, the first woman recipient of the Frederic Loewe Award for Outstanding Composition.
The summit, The Changing Sound of American Musical Theatre, will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4, in Schneebeck Concert Hall on campus. Everyone is welcome and entry is free, with no tickets required.
The evening will move between short lectures, live performances from the guest artists, a video presentation, and a discussion between the guests and audience, moderated by Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Jess K Smith. The multimedia review of the three composers’ bodies of work and unique creative processes will aim to uncover some of the significant ways in which the sound, structure, and needs of American musical theater are continually evolving.
One example that Smith gives of the shifting musical theatre frontier came in 1996, when RENT opened off-Broadway. Audiences suddenly were seeing challenging themes such as AIDS and addiction at the center of a Broadway musical. Moreover, the score blended Puccini’s La Bohème with the rough timbre of classic rock, to create an entirely new sound on the Great White Way—the nickname for New York’s Midtown section of Broadway. The hit play changed the sound and scope of musical theater.
Summit speaker Dave Malloy, too, has pushed boundaries. His Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,slated for a highly anticipated Broadway run this fall, takes 70 pages from Tolstoy’s iconic War and Peace, and transforms it into an electropop opera. His earlier opera, Beowulf—A Thousand Years of Baggage, was named in The New Yorker’s “Best of the Year” list and featured original music combining Weillian cabaret, 1940s jazz harmony, punk, electronica, and Romantic Lieder, turning the stage into a cacophonous swirl.
Similarly, composer Marisa Michelson has transported audiences to spaces that can be at once familiar and eerily foreign. She has taken inspiration from the Bible, Sappho’s poetry, and The Arabian Nights, weaving together contemporary, Middle Eastern, and American musical influences, with patter song, electronics, Meredith Monk-inspired sound play, and the harmonics of traditional Tibetan singing bowls.
Tony-nominated lyricist and composer Amanda Green is known for striking a balance between honoring Broadway traditions and simultaneously expanding the form. Through diverse collaborations with artists such as legendary guitarist Trey Anastasio, of rock band Phish; Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton); and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights David Lindsay-Abaire and Doug Wright, Green has contributed significantly to the sound of modern American musical theatre, with shows such as Hands on a Hardbody, On the Twentieth Century, Bring it On, and High Fidelity.
All three of the participating composers’ work is influenced by their perspectives as performers, composers, and scholars. Below is further information on each of the presenters.
Dave Malloy is a composer, writer, performer, sound designer, musical director, and pianist. He has won numerous creative awards, including two OBIE (Off-Broadway Theater) Awards, a Richard Rodgers Award, and a Will Glickman Award. He wrote the music for eight full-length musicals, most recentlyGhost Quartet, which sold out at performances in Brooklyn and New York. In 2012 Malloy wrote and performed in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an electropop opera based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which received rave reviews and numerous awards. He co-createdThree Pianos, a drunken romp through Schubert’s Winterreise, and composed the highly acclaimed Beowulf—A Thousand Years of Baggage. Other musicals include Black Wizard/Blue Wizard, a philosophical musical fantasia with co-creator Eliza Bent; Beardo, a Russian-ballet inspired retelling of the Rasputin myth, written by Jason Craig and including a string quintet and 40-piece choir; and Ten Red Hen’s Clown Bible, a gypsy-jazz infused set of Bible stories, from Genesis to Revelation, told through clowns. Molloy has been a guest professor in devised music theater at Princeton University and Vassar College, and has worked with numerous theater groups.
Marisa Michelson is a Jonathan Larson Award-winning composer, singer, and voice teacher. The music for her experimental musical, Tamar of the River, written with Joshua H. Cohen and staged by Prospect Theater Companyin 2013, was called “exquisite” by The New York Times. The work also was produced as a theatrical oratorio by New York Theatre Barn and Choral Chameleon. Michelson composed the music for The Other Room, a musical theater piece that ran for a month at The Barrow Group theater. The music was praised by The New York Times as producing “real chills.” Musicals in development include Scheherazade—a musical adaptation of Jason Grote’s acclaimed play, 1001—and a new work, with playwright Dipika Guha, about the nuclear testing that took place in Las Vegas in the 1950s. Previous musical-theater pieces include Still Life with Toe Shoes; Hotel Sarajevo; and The Lovers. Michelson’s songs have been featured at New York venues including The Kennedy Center, York Theatre, New World Stages, and The Flea, and at Signature Theatre, in Virginia. Her recordings include Tamar of the River (Yellow Sound Label) and “All New,” sung by Nikki M. James (The Broadway Lullaby Project).
Amanda Green is a lyricist/composer and an award-winning performer. Her Broadway credits include her role as co-composer and lyricist for Hands on a Hardbody, in collaboration with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, which attracted four 2013 Tony Award nominations. She wrote the lyrics for the original musical An Americain Boy, collaborating with Olivier Award-winning British composer Richard Thomas, on a work directed by Tony-nominated director Leigh Silverman. She was the first woman awarded the Frederic Loewe Award for Outstanding Composition, from the Dramatists Guild of America, for her music for Hands on a Hardbody. For television Green wrote additional lyrics for NBC’s Peter Pan LIVE! and special lyrics for the Kennedy Center Honors on CBS (2014). She is developing an original dramatic series for television, co-writing with Tony winner Lisa Kron (Fun Home), for producer John Lyons (Sisters, The Young Pope). Green produces and performs in concerts of her work, alongside Broadway guest stars, in New York theater venues including Joe’s Pub, Birdland jazz club, Second Stage Theatre, and Feinstein’s 54 Below. She received MAC Awards both for outstanding musical comedy performer and for comedy song. She also received a Bistro Award for Outstanding Comedy Song.
The Changing Sound of American Musical Theatre is sponsored by the Matthew Norton Clapp Endowment for Visiting Artists, Department of Theatre Arts, and School of Music, at University of Puget Sound.
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