What happens when you cram 25 talented people into one room?

Broadway people are some of the hardest working people I know (or wish I knew). It takes an enormous amount of work to prepare a show from conception to first preview. And even after the excitement of opening night has worn off, theater still requires performers and artists to give their all, eight times a week. So it's pretty amazing that these same people find the time to plan and execute side concerts. It feels like yesterday that I was forced to experience the shows held at Joe's Pub and similar venues via YouTube. Of course, the high-quality videos that always seem to appear minutes after the concert ends are much, much appreciated, both by those who were unable to attend the show and by those who want to relive the night over and over again. But it is clearly impossible to convey the unique atmosphere inside the performance venue - the clink of glasses, the experience of squeezing through a teeny-tiny aisle to fit into your teeny-tiny seat, the palpable anticipation to hear a favorite performer sing an unexpected song, and the fact that every single member of the audience is there to support a talented individual whom they greatly admire.

And who could forget the savory dining options at Joe's Pub - fries and a Coke, all for the low price of $12?

In all seriousness, such shows truly celebrate the world of musical theater by allowing artists to display their passion for song in an intimate venue. Before the madness of finals week set in (well, kind of in the middle of the madness), Hillary and I had the pleasure to enjoy two such events, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that each will remain in our minds as some of the most exciting nights we've spent at a show.

Catching Matt Doyle's recent Wednesday night gig at Joe's Pub was a long time coming for me. He joined the cast of Spring Awakening right around the same time that I discovered the show, back in 2007, and following the path he's taken since his Broadway debut has been remarkable. After running into a tiny bit of traffic outside the Lincoln Tunnel, which extended our journey (as Megabus fondly refers to it) from Philadelphia by an hour, we finally made it to the doors of Joe's Pub...just as Mr. Doyle was finishing his first number. Boo. Luckily, our table reservation was still available, and we crammed into our seats to enjoy the rest of the night. His lineup of songs was a fantastic mix of songs, familiar and unfamiliar, as well as a few upbeat pop numbers.

Hearing Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "Last Week's Alcohol" live was a personal highlight, as I've been listening to recordings of it from various other performances that Mr. Doyle has done for a long time now. I was also thrilled to hear his rendition of "Run Away With Me"; the truly touching number has previously been performed by Aaron Tveit, Bobby Steggert, and the Spring Standards, and Mr. Doyle's beautiful voice and vulnerability did it justice. Ryan Scott Oliver's "Odyssey" is a fantastic song that concluded the night with intensity; it also allowed Mr. Doyle to feature the lovely Katie Gassert in the second half of the song.

We were very excited to hear Jennifer Damiano and Emma Hunton join Mr. Doyle for a few songs that we had never heard before. "What Remains," written by Drew Gasparini and sung by Matt and Jenn, is a gorgeous duet that encapsulates a relationship that is slowly falling apart; the depth of Ms. Damiano's tone brought a certain maturity to the piece. Ms. Hunton took the stage for a lively rendition of the Scissor Sisters' "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" (in which a mic stand nearly went tumbling into the audience), as well as "Touch Me" from Spring Awakening. A personal regret from my time following the show is that I never had the opportunity to see Mr. Doyle as Melchior, so it was fulfilling to hear him sing one of my favorite numbers.

If there are two songs I had never expected Mr. Doyle to sing, they would have been Chris Brown's "With You" and Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned." He rocked both, adding a dialogue about his experience auditioning for a boy band to the former which included some stellar dance moves and a strange, priceless sequence entitled "The Disney Clap." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, The Disney Clap. The integration of the song and story made it clear that Mr. Doyle is an excellent entertainer and can command the attention of an audience with ease.

Although we were logistically unable to attend the 11:30pm show, I feel the need to mention Mr. Doyle's beautiful rendition of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" with Wesley Taylor. His solo towards the end was clearly an unanticipated opportunity to shine...but he still sounded great, and the moment added a bit of personality to the number :)

After a memorable night at Joe's, our next trip brought us back to le Poisson Rouge (where we had attended the Spring Standards' album release show the weekend before) for the NewMusicalTheatre.com launch concert. We knew the night had begun when we were standing in line to get into the venue, and ended up holding the door open for Kelli O'Hara. (We're completely starstruck by people that most of our friends have never even heard of...it's cool.) I wrote a previous post about our discovery of the ever-expanding world of "underground" musical theater composers over the past year or so, and the concert was quite the culmination of our newfound love.

Going into the evening, I was very familiar with the work of Ryan Scott Oliver and Kerrigan and Lowdermilk; semi-familiar with Joe Iconis, Pasek and Paul, and Nick Blaemire; and not at all familiar with Adam Gwon. The combination of songs allowed each composer to have their moment in the spotlight, highlighted by a FABULOUS lineup of performers. It's ridiculously exciting that so many incredible young artists are so involved in the future of musical theater, and we really enjoy seeing so many of the same artists returning time and time again to perform the work of such talented composers.

Highlights by composer:

- Adam Gwon's "I'll Be Here," sung by Everyday Rapture's Betsy Wolfe, left my jaw hanging on the floor. Ms. Wolfe's endearing performance was so real, both in the song's tender beginning and painfully tragic ending.

- I had never gotten to see the talented Krysta Rodriguez perform live, besides in the ensemble of In The Heights, and her rendition of Joe Iconis's "Lisa" was gorgeous and powerful, and a nice addition to having heard Mr. Doyle sing the same song at his show. (Her abbreviated version within the opening number of "Blue Hair," a song she's performed in the past, was quite fierce as well.)

- Alex Brightman and Steven Booth delivered one of the more hilarious numbers of the night with Pasek and Paul's "Pretty Sweet Day." A male perspective on what it's like to watch your friends grow up provides an opportunity for heartfelt laughs, and the chemistry between Mr. Brightman and Mr. Booth emitted the aura of a true friendship.

- I was thrilled to hear "Open Road," one of my favorite numbers from Nick Blaemire's Glory Days, performed by the terrific Curt Hansen. His voice is deeper, and has a bit more of an edge to it, than Jesse Johnson, who originated the role and performs the song on the cast recording, which I really enjoyed.

- Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "Two Strangers" has been a favorite of mine since Morgan Karr, Jay Johnson, and Matt Doyle performed it at Birdland back in March, and is absolutely enrapturing live. Three of the most talented actors in the New York theater scene, performing an intensely beautiful song with incredible harmonies...what more could you ask for? We particularly enjoyed Mr. Karr's excellent diction on the line, "Whiskey makes you brooD, buT," as well as the acapella section of the song that ascends, fades, and reascends to the line, "We cannot sleep." Gorgeous.

- I'm honestly not sure that I can pick a favorite out of the three Ryan Scott Oliver songs from the night. We were not disappointed by Emma Hunton and Matt Doyle's premiere of "Twisted Teeth"; the lyrics and rhythms are dangerously suggestive, and the rhyming of "lovin'" and "coven" is pretty genius. Alex Brightman's "Lost Boy," shortened to fit into an integrated sequence with a video promotion for NewMusicalTheatre.com, left me with chills, particularly with the way he roughened his voice over the course of "These people aren't mine/This family isn't mine." And "The Ballad of Sara Berry"...what to say. We've been slightly obsessed with the song for months; it was insanely fierce, but we already knew that it would be. Mr. Johnson's addition of "What a bitch" leading into the climax of the song was BRILLIANT and had us doubled over in laughter. We were glad to have the opportunity to chat briefly with Lindsay Mendez after the show and express how much we enjoyed her performance of the song, as well as in Everyday Rapture.

Watching the entire cast and creative team take the stage for the encore of Joe Iconis's "The Goodbye Song," a song I'd grown fond of via John Gallagher Jr., was an overwhelming feeling of pride and sheer love for life. So many talented people in the same place (and the same place as us, no less) was hard to take in. Ms. Mendez and Mr. Johnson led the song with unabashed joy, and it was thrilling to hear Mr. Joe Iconis himself pick up a section of the song. I thought the stage floor would collapse when the entire cast rocked out the ending.

Now that I've rambled on about my love and appreciation for all of the individuals named above, and listened to "Chilling the Regrets" and "Not a Love Story" more times than I care to admit, I think I've broken our record for Longest Blog Post Ever. At least there could not be a more deserving topic for such a lengthy recap (bordering on love letter?). Watching the development of each and every composer and performer we've had the honor to see over the past few weeks is certain to carry us into the future of the theater world we care so much about.


Jenn252 said...

I'm going to Joe's Pub for the first time in a few weeks and cannot be more excited to finally see the atmosphere!

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