Festival of New American Musicals Closing Party

John Stamos, Kristen Bell, Rita Wilson, Drew Carey Sing for Festival of New American Musicals Closing Party


This year’s Festival of New American Musicals ended on a high note, as Hollywood stars, award-winning songwriters and some of today’s brightest new talents converged upon Eric Vetro’s home in Toluca Lake to serenade supporters at the Festival of New American Musicals Closing Party. Vetro is a noted vocal coach, his walls lined with gold records and photos of famous clients.   

Judging from all the new musicals previewed, and the enthusiasm of the day’s singers, who included Kristen Bell, Rita Wilson, John Stamos, Drew Carey, Chip Esten, Marissa Jaret Winokur and others, Broadway may soon see some brilliant and original new productions.   

“Musicals are my first love,” Bell said before the Sept. 10 show began, explaining that she trained as an opera singer before discovering she related more to theater songs. And so, with an introduction by composer David Zippel, (he won a Tony for “Angels in America”) and “American Idol’s” Michael Orland on the piano, Bell sang Zippel’s “Another Mr. Right.”

Accompanied by Todd Schroeder on the piano, Rita Wilson sang romantic songs from her new CD, which is scheduled for release before Valentine’s Day. A woman of many talents, aside from acting, Wilson produced “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and the musical film, “Mamma Mia.”  

Explaining her new animated children’s TV show, “MJ’s Big Adventure,” Marissa Jaret Winokur called her character broad, brassy and bound for Broadway. “I can guarantee you I’m not going to sing a ballad,” she said, before belting out “I’m On.” 

Drew Carey and Chip Esten improvised, as they do on TV’s “Whose Line is It Anyway?” and invited Stamos to the stage to help create a Broadway tune. Although protesting his lack of singing skills, Stamos joined in, achieving a result that was perhaps not Grammy material, but fun nonetheless. And with regard to Stamos’ vocal abilities, please note that he, Carey and Winokur all received critical acclaim for their starring roles in August in “Hairspray” at the Hollywood Bowl.  

Following an introduction by Frances Fisher of “Titanic,” Desmond Child discussed two of his musicals, including “Lucy and Viv,” in which Fisher is scheduled to star as Lucille Ball. “I was a latch key child,” he said before the show. “I grew up watching Lucy on TV. She was a surrogate mother to me.”

Child then introduced James Carpinello, David Burnham, Brooke Adams and Kelly Levesque who sang from “Cuba Libre,” his musical about his family in pre- and post-revolutionary Cuba. Child is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Levesque also teamed up with Tyler Hamilton, her partner in “Due Voci” to sing “Un-Break My Heart” by Diane Warren – another Songwriters Hall of Famer.

Certainly, there was no shortage of acclaimed composers at this party. Backed by award-winning composer Michele Brourman, another award-winner – Amanda McBroom – sang her classic, “The Rose.”

Sophie B, Hawkins seated herself atop the piano for selections from “Susquehanna,” written in conjunction with Gigi Gaston. Gaston later said her mother began writing the play in 1949. (And I thought that at ten years-plus in development, “Next to Normal,” had a long wait for Broadway.

A song from a new musical about “Alice in Wonderland,” sung by Molly Gordon and Ben Platt as Alice and the white rabbit, came from the team behind “Spring Awakening,

The TV show, “Glee,” was represented by Stamos, last season’s singing dentist, as well as the show’s pianist Brad Ellis, who played songs from season one and two. “Season three is a secret,” Ellis said.  

In more highlights, Nolan Gerard Funk, about to star in the film, “Evidence,” sang his own composition about a marriage proposal. Graham Phillips, with Gerald Sternbach on the piano, sang about a geek, in a tune cut from the musical, “Thirteen.”

To update a 1960s Neil Sedaka tune, Eamonn McCrystal ditched the “dum-doobie-doo” bounce from “Breaking Up in Hard to Do,” in favor of a ballad pace. And before the program ended, Kim Huber, Penelope Yates and Sue Goodman sang a new version of “Meadowlark.”

The youngest talents on the bill: 16 year-old Alexa Russo and Garrison Hall from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts sang their jaunty original composition, “Today’s the Day.” Rather than reveal further details and ruin the song’s surprise, I’ll just say that the crowd gave them a standing ovation.

Bob Klein, Marcia Seligson and Linda Shusett are co-executive producers of the Festival of New American Musicals, which in its four years has presented 132 shows, including 16 world-premieres, in 83 venues from Santa Maria to San Diego, “in large theaters, smaller theaters, colleges, high schools, elementary schools,” said Klein. “Wherever somebody wants to do  a new musical, we’re there with them.” 

Stories about “Rocket Science” and the ASCAP Songwriters Showcase from this summer’s Festival of New American Musicals can be found on this site, as well as more details about the closing party in my LA Times Culture Monster story here. 

Photos from top, from left: Drew Carey, John Stamos and Chip Esten improvise a Broadway tune (photo: Daniel G. Lam); Voice coach Eric Vetro with Kristen Bell, left, and Rita Wilson; Festival co-executive producers, left to right: Linda Shusett, Marcia Seligson and Bob Klein (photo: Daniel G. Lam) 

The album of 40 photos from the Festival of New American Musicals closing party can be found here.  



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Festival of New American Musicals Closing Party

Published Sept. 15, 2011 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA