ASCAP Songwriters Showcase
The Night’s Host: Andrea Marcovicci
“This is really the night to be here,” said cabaret star Andrea Marcovicci, emcee of the second annual ASCAP Songwriters Showcase, held Aug. 19 at the Gardenia in West Hollywood. ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
I couldn’t have agreed with Marcovicci more. After having attended last year’s ASCAP Songwriters Showcase, I knew this was the place to see some of this country’s best young talents. In fact, one of last year’s songwriters, Adam Gwon, has since won the $100,000 Kleban prize for most promising new lyricist.
So this year, Marcovicci started the program by singing “Young at Heart,” then saying, “When you see how young these people are, you sort of love/hate them.”
True, the songwriters may have been twenty and thirty-somethings, but their accomplishments were already considerable. All had seen their plays produced, if not on Broadway, then off-Broadway, or in other cities, or in one case, at sea – literally, on a cruise ship. And Marcovicci’s admiration for them soon became clear, as she praised the talented newcomers throughout the evening for the originality, wit and surprise in their lyrics. “And it all rhymes,” she said, “perfectly.”
First up was Tommy Newman, whose “Yellow Brick Road,” a Latin adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, ran off-Broadway this past summer. On the piano was Zachary Dietz, already a Broadway veteran, having conducted “Into the Heights” on Broadway. Newman’s program included jaunty, clever numbers from his musical “Band Geeks,” including, in one special highlight, “If I had a stage,” sung by Jason Graae as a high school music teacher who used to dream of writing a symphony.
Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner
Next came Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, whose musical, “Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story,” premiered on the Disney Cruise Line. Beginning with a fun lament about dating from their musical, “First Date,” they followed with an intricate delight about a sheik’s lack of wealth from “Secondhand Lions,” a musical version of the 2003 children’s film. The team is creating the latter musical with Rupert Holmes, who composed the Tony Award-winning, “Drood.”
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ended the program with their songs from “A Christmas Story,” “Edges” and “James and the Giant Peach.” Pasek and Paul are the youngest songwriters ever to win the Jonathan Larson Award, having nabbed the honor at age 21. Asked about their mentors, they named Michael Kerker, ASCAP’s director of musical theater, who produced the night’s showcase, and “Wicked” composer Stephen Schwartz. Paul said he handed the acclaimed songwriter of “Wicked,” the team’s CD after hearing Schwartz speak and a few months later, received his detailed analysis of their music.
To perform their songs, the composers shared the stage with Graae, Ginny Ashman, Kathy Deitch, Jenna Leigh Green and Max Sheldon, 18, the youngest of the evening’s talents. By coincidence, Sheldon won a 2011 Spotlight Awards from the Music Center of Los Angeles by singing “Monticello,” one of Pasek and Paul’s songs. Shelly Markham accompanied Marcovicci on the piano.
The evening was part of the LA Festival of New American Musicals, whose honorary co-chairs include Stephen Schwartz, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury and Jason Alexander. The summer-long series – now in its fourth year – has already presented more than 100 productions, (including a reading /singing of the new musical “Rocket Science,” also discussed on this site.)
Photo: Andrea Marcovicci surrounded by the young composers, from left to right: Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, Michael Weiner, Alan Zachary and Tommy Newman.
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ASCAP Songwriters Showcase
Published Aug. 29 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA