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Entries in Michael Feinstein (3)

Wednesday
Aug082012

Steven Cagan: Love Songs: A Musical Interview

From musical director for the First National Company of "Dreamgirls," (starring the extraordinary Jennifer Holliday), to composing, arranging, and conducting for some of the great performers of our time, including Melissa Manchester, Bette Midler, Diahann Carroll, and Georgia Brown, to his work for film, television and Madison Avenue, Steven Cagan has done it all in the music world. He has worked with some of the theatrical giants of our time, including the legendary Michael Bennett, Lester Wilson, Michael Peters, Bob Avian, and Joe Layton. He is a classically trained musician, graduating from the esteemed New College at Hofstra University. His choral works were premiered there, as well as early theater pieces, some performed by his classmate, the late great theater and film star Madeline Kahn. He studied composition with Elie Seigmeister, David Diamond, Lukas Foss and George Rochberg, and arranging with Kermit Levinsky and Tommy Newsom.

Cast of "Love Songs: A Musical"Steven was in the inaugural class of the famed Lehman Engel B.M.I. Musical Theatre Workshop. At the same time, he launched one of the busiest commercial music companies on Madison Avenue. He wrote and arranged many popular jingles for television and radio for Chevrolet, Ford, State Farm Insurance, Coppertone, (which launched Melissa Manchester’s singing career when she was fifteen years old), and many others. Concurrently, he composed a number of ballet scores for Tony-winning choreographer-director Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Theatre Dance Collection. Among his early film assignments was as arranger and orchestrator for Woody Allen’s classic, "Take the Money and Run." Later, his original score for the film "The Cat and the Canary," starring Dame Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey, Wilfred Hude-White and Honor Blackman helped make it a cult favorite, and it was recently released in a 'classic package' DVD. He has scored countless TV series and specials, including those with "Spinal Tap," Robert Klein, Michael Keaton, Lainie Kazan and Rob Reiner.

He appeared as a guest musical director on the famed "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" numerous times. Steven has guest conducted the Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas and Honolulu Symphony Orchestras, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, the Houston Pops, and others.

Now, Steven is "previewing" his musical "Love Songs" at NYC's famed nightclub Feinstein's at Loews Regency from August 26-30. Starring Ashley Kate Adams, Kevin Spirtas, Debbie Gravitte, Ken Clark, Fleur Phillips and Bryce Ryness and directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, "Love Songs: A Musical" tells the tale of a wedding weekend at a luxury resort hotel. At the outset, the groom is stuck out of town on business and the bride has discovered that she's pregnant, while the other two couples, members of the wedding party, appear to be mismatched and ill-fated. As the piece runs its course, however, all is sorted out. Everything and everyone winds up in proper place for the nuptials. Happy ending!

"Love Songs: A Musical" will play Feinstein's at Loews Regency (540 Park Avenue at 61st Street) from August 26-30 at 8pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on the show visit http://www.lovesongs-amusical.com and follow them on Facebook!

1. Who or what inspired you to become an author, composer, and lyricist? 1957 I staggered into the Winter Garden Theatre as a young kid and experienced something called "West Side Story" and it changed my life. All I ever wanted to do was move an audience with music and words the way I was moved that day. And I've been chasing the dream ever since.

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? That's an interesting question. Pretty much like Sondheim, I'm a self-contained entity. I do my own music, my own lyrics, and my own book. I have worked with other book writers and lyricists in the past and I've found that I am my own best collaborator. I prefer to work alone. There are some great Broadway singers I'd love to hear sing my music like the Marin Mazzie's and Jason Danieley's of this world. I'd love to work with some great theatre directors like the James Lapines'.

3. What made you want to write "Love Songs: A Musical"? The way I work is a textbook case in how not to write a musical. I do things backwards. For me, the process starts with melody, the stringing together of the notes, but I'm a devout melodist, I think that's the ultimate pursuit in musical composition, so if I latch onto a melody that works for me and I think it's worthy then I will try to drape some lyrics around it and turn it into a song. The process with "Love Songs," was I written a few songs and Michael Feinstein had sampled one of them called "Carpe Diem," and I took a step back and said "Okay, these songs fit into an evening." So I conjured up a scheme to continue writing these songs and what came after the melody and lyrics came a concept for book and a concept for characters. Some writers will stagger into a movie house and say "Okay, lets turn this into a musical and sing some of this." My process it completely different. It begins, as I said, with melody.

Me: I like that your process is different than most people. I think that's what makes you special, that you do things differently than everyone else. This show will be my first introduction to your music, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Steven: Well, bless you for saying that. I think after listening to my music and seeing the piece, this conversation will make much more sense to you in retrospect.

Me: Yes, I think so too.

4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing "Love Songs: A Musical"? Tunes. I want melodies to stick. I want them to walk out humming the tunes. Remember Richard Rogers and all those guys Jerome Kern and Lerner and Loewe, it was all about leaving the theatre humming the tunes. I don't feel that is what musical theatre is today. I feel it's an E-ride at Disneyland and all about the spectacle, trickiness, and special effects. "Love Songs" is the opposite of that. The prototype for me writing "Love Songs," when I first started working on it, was a piece called "The Fantasticks," which basically is half-a-dozen characters who sing their hearts out and the piece can be done in its most simple form, with just gifted actors singing and a piano without the need for props and sets and costumes and special effects. Just barebones.

At the other end of the spectrum, after this run of "Love Songs" at Feinstein's, I'm envisioning this show in it's full two act form, in a theatre with a chorus, with an orchestra, which is to say this can be done as big or as small as we'd like it and that was all done by design, none of that is accidental. I wanted to make the show as cost effective as possible for anybody to produce it. My dream is that years from now "Love Songs" will be performed at schools and community theatres around the country. I hope it has that kind of life in it. I believe that all depends on the quality of the songs and whether or not they have value. I think they do and Michael Feinstein, God Bless him, is a huge champion of the work, which is why we are doing it at Feinstein's. I should add that, this is very unlike me, there was a very, very long time when I despaired that there was a place on this planet for my music and what I do and now it's quite the opposite, I'm convinced that there is not only a place for it, but a need for it. We need to get back to simple, beautiful, lovely, elegant melodies and words with honest emotion and affection. We'll find out that soon enough whether "Love Songs" has resonance with the audience when it takes off at Feinstein's at the end of August.

5. What excites about debuting some of the songs at Feinstein's? What made you want to have this "preview" of the show at Feinstein's? The quality of the audience. Feinstein's attracts people who are used to good songs. They are used to meaningful melodies and good impactful lyrics. Michael prides himself on having coined the term Great American Songbook and I am privileged and proud that he considers my work to be part of that package. That is his audience and I firmly believe that that is "Love Songs" audience as well.

I wanted the opportunity to get the songs in the air and heard by an audience. One of the greatest frustrations in doing what I do is that unless it's performed it doesn't exist. It's an interpretative art form and it needs voice. Unlike a painter or sculptor, who when finished, can walk away and their work is there. With music/songwriting it's different. If it's not performed, it might as well never have been written. So, just to have been given this opportunity to have my music heard is wonderful. Michael is my hero and I've been so grateful to him for all these years. He's a real champion of my work, so to be able to have this first incarnation at Feinstein's is very special to me.

6. What do you like about this cast that will be performing "Love Songs" at Feinstein's? I love their passion for the work. I've gotten some of the most glorious voices that there are. I am pleased to tell you that I did all the casting myself. In this day and age if somebody mentions a name, we're able to go to Youtube to see these people sing and that is pretty much how I cast this, purely by voice, who could best sing this music of mine. The best part is that everybody is grateful to sing my music because these voices don't get the chance anymore. They don't get to sing such songs. Their enthusiasm is so sky high and that is a reward with in of itself. I love this cast dearly for their commitment to "Love Songs."

Two years ago we had a concert reading of "Love Songs" at The York Theatre, which was directed by Lynn Taylor-Corbett, who will be directing the piece again, and at that performance Robert Cuccioli sang the role of "Roy" for us and Robert was all set to do Feinstein's until two weeks ago when he got the call to go into "Spiderman" and God Bless him that is where he belongs, starring on Broadway. So, I had to reluctantly let him go, but the quality of the voice is what I am talking about, and I was lucky enough to get Kevin Spirtas to take over that particular role. A couple of the performers are reprising their roles from the York Theatre and earlier workshops and they've been dedicated to it and grateful for the chance to sing such music. That comes through in their performance.

7. You have worked with some of the biggest names in music/entertainment: Jennifer Holliday, Bette Midler, Melissa Manchester, and Diahann Carroll, just to name a few. What was the best part about getting to work with these legendary performers? The paycheck. Seriously, the work I did as an arranger/conductor/and sometimes pianist for these artists were very much work for hire. None of that satisfied my need to compose music; they were simply just jobs as if I were selling pianos or real estate. Some of those were more pleasurable than others.

8. While you were attending the New College at Hofstra University many of your choral works and early theater pieces premiered there. Some of the pieces were performed by your classmate, the late, great theater and film star Madeline Kahn. What do you remember most about working with her and what did you learn from working with her? Did you stay in touch with her after college? I learned two things. First of all, I learned how to be funny. Secondly, I learned how to laugh at what's funny. God Bless her may she rest in peace. She was one of the funniest people on earth with one of the greatest funny bones ever. She also taught me how to write for a coloratura soprano, which is what she was. I wrote certain things for her voice that only a coloratura could do, certain vocal enhancements, certain frills, ridiculous melodic intervals, etc. Maddy was up for all of it. She had those kinds of chops.

We did keep in touch after college, through "Blazing Saddles." I had a few friends that were in that movie with her. A couple of my buddies wrote the film. She unfortunately died much too young. The one thing I will always remember is how she kept me laughing.

9. Your music compositions have been featured in national commercials, films, and ballets. What does it mean to you have this kind of success? The truth is I haven't had success yet. I have had some performances, which is lovely, but nothing like success, success. Nobody knows Steven Cagan's music, but I'm hoping "Love Songs" is the success that finally gets my music heard.

Many years ago, I had written a song to Stephen Sondheim, who is my God, if I had a God (I'm an Atheist) called "Pitter Patter," which is an homage to Mr. Sondheim, and I wrote the song and sent it to him and ever since then, we've been writing letters back and forth. I'm hoping he'll come to a performance if he's in town. In his piece "Sunday in the Park with George," there is a song called "Children and Art," and those are the only two things we leave behind on this planet. I hope "Love Songs" becomes my legacy, my "Children and Art." I also hope it empowers me to write more because I need the positive reinforcement and validation of my work for me to proceed with my writing and I'm hoping "Love Songs" does that for me so I can get back to doing what I love, which is writing.

10. What have you learned about yourself from your illustrious career? 

Me: And I do consider it illustrious.

Steven: Well, thank you! I am flattered and honored you think that. What I found out about myself is that I have patience and persistence that I never knew I had. The lack of exposure of my music put me into therapy, rather intensely, and had me considering all kinds of things. I have chased this dream around the block for years and years and years, so learning that I have this patience and persistence in me is very rewarding. It all comes from a belief in the quality of the work and to me it's the quality of everything.

Me: It's good that you have that belief.

Steven: It's required I think. Somehow I have survived all those trials and tribulations and reached a great truth here, so we shall see if the work speaks for itself. That's all I ever wanted, was the chance. Unlike my colleagues, I want people there at this "preview," I want the critics, I want the feedback. I want to know what people think. Some think I'm crazy for that, but I want people to sit in judgment of what I do. I've earned it. I'm old enough and been at it long enough to want to know what the Ben Brantley's think of my work.

11. What's the best advice you've ever received? If you believe in it, persist.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I would love to spend some quality time with Leonard Bernstein. He's another one of my heroes. What a genius he was. He left some great music behind. I'm indebted to him.

13. Favorite way to spend your day off? Doing absolutely nothing. Lazing around the house, reading or doing crossword puzzles.

14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I'd like to be able to fly, particularly living out here in LA with all the traffic. It would be great to just leap of a building and be where you need to be...hahaha.

Friday
Oct152010

Tim Di Pasqua

With four Backstage Bistro Awards, seven MAC Nominations, and a New York Nightlife Award, Tim Di Pasqua is a performer to hear. Performing in some of New York's most famous clubs and halls (Birdland, Joe's Pub, Carnegie Hall, The Triad, Don't Tell Mama's, Tavern on the Green), Tim constantly plays to sold out audiences! Tim's show "Purpose of Love-A Tim Di Pasqua Songbook" earned him two of his Backstage Bistro Awards ("Outstanding Singer/Instrumentalist" and "Outstanding Special Performance") while his song "One" garnered his third Backstage Bistro Award "Outstanding Song of the Year" and his group Southern Comfort (comprised of Scott Coulter & Tom Anderson) received the fourth Backstage Bistro Award "Outstanding Duo or Group" as well as the New York Nightlife Award. His recordings include "Monster Under These Conditions," "Purpose of Love - A Tim Di Pasqua Songbook Volume 1," "Purpose of Love - A Tim Di Pasqua Songbook Volume 2," and "Synchronicity." In addition to writing and singing his own music, Tim was the music director and arranger for Jim Van Slyke's critically acclaimed "The Sedaka Show" which was presented at both the Laurie Beechman Theatre and Feinstein's at the Regency. Tim has also performed with five-time Grammy nominee and fellow "Adaumbelle's Quest" participant Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall in Michael's show "Now and Then" as well as performing and accompanying Oscar and Grammy Award winner Stephen Schwartz in his concert appearances. In addition to his music, Tim is a founding member of Third Eye Theater Company in New York City. For much more on Tim Di Pasqua, be sure to visit http://www.timdipasqua.com.

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? I know it's been said 1,000.000 times before.....Joni Mitchell, Stephen Sondheim.

2. What is the highest and lowest note you can sing? Low F or E / High A.

3. Who is the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Joni Mitchell.

4. What's the best advice you've ever received? When you go out on stage.....give your gift!

5. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about? I draw cartoon characters.

6. Favorite way to stay in shape? Walking everywhere, yoga, meditation, resistance training, sex.

7. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs when I am working out or wearing something thin/Boxers in bed when my boyfriend is tired, and none at all when he isn't.

8. Favorite play/musical? Musical: "Into The Woods"/"Sweeney Todd." Play: "GlengarryGlenRoss."

9. Favorite website? Anything with nude wrestling.

10. Superman or Wonder Woman? Superman.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. What's your proudest moment? I was performing at Carnegie Hall and I was playing a Sondheim song that I had mashed up with another Sondheim song. After the show, there was a knock at the dressing room door and it was Mr. Sondheim. I was stunned and started to rethink the entire evening to remember what I had done and whether he approved. A few days later I received a letter in the mail saying at first he was shocked by the mixing of the vamps and tunes, but that they worked.

12. Who do you consider to be your hero? I don't really have a hero, or that hero gene in me. I get inspired by everyday people, every day.

Sunday
Jul182010

Michael Feinstein

I had the distinct pleasure of getting to interview Michael Feinstein this past June after seeing him perform live at Feinstein's in his show "Cool Swing." He was genuine, funny, and excited to answer my questions. Known as one of the greatest preservers and interpreters of The American Song Book, Michael Feinstein is a multi-platinium selling recording artist as well as a five-time Grammy Award nominee. He has performed in some of the most prestigious venues around the world such as Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl as well as the White House and Buckingham Palace. Michael is nationally recognized for his commitment to the American popular song, both celebrating its art and preserving its legacy for the next generation.

Michael's most recent recordings include "The Sinatra Project" which earned him his fifth Grammy Award Nomination and "The Power of Two" recorded with Broadway's very own Cheyenne Jackson. His many other recordings include "Remember: Michael Feinstein Sings Irving Berlin," "Isn't It Romantic," "The MGM Album," "Michael Feinstein Sings The Burton Lane Songbook, Vol. 1," "Michael Feinstein Sings The Jule Styne Songbook," "Pure Imagination," "Michael Feinstein Sings The Burton Lane Songbook, Vol. II," "Michael Feinstein Sings The Jerry Herman Songbook," "Forever," "Michael Feinstein Sings The Hugh Martin Songbook," "Such Sweet Sorrow," "Nice Work If You Can Get It: Songs By The Gershwins," "Michael & George: Feinstein Sings Gershwin," "Big City Rhythms," "Romance on Film, Romance on Broadway," "Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra," "The Michael Feinstein Anthology," "Livingston And Evans Songbook Featuring Michael Feinstein," "Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb," "Hopeless Romantics Michael Feinstein & George Shearing."

In addition to being a successful recording artist, Michael has also lent his talents to Broadway. This past spring he starred in the new Broadway Show "All About Me" with Dame Edna and he has written the score for two upcoming stage musicals: "The Night They Saved Macy's Parade" and "The Gold Room." He is also currently developing "The Thomas Crown Affair" into a Broadway musical with MGM Onstage.

This October be sure to catch Michael's new three-part documentary series on PBS entitled "Michael Feinstein's American Songbook" (October 6, 13, and 20). In 2011, Michael will serve as the Artistic Director of the Carmel Performing Arts Center  in Carmel, Indiana. This $160 million, three-theatre performing arts center will host an annual international Great American Songbook festival, along with diverse live programming and a museum to house Michael's rare memorabilia and manuscripts. For much more on Michael, be sure to visit http://www.michaelfeinstein.com.

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? My early inspirations were Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Al Jolson, and watching variety television such as Carol Burnett, the corny Mitch Miller Show, the Lawrence Welk Show. When I was a kid, my parents always had these music shows on so I was indoctrinated with the music, fell in love with it, and it became such a part of my life that I wanted to make a living doing it. I didn't necessarily want to become a performer right off the bat, but I wanted to be involved in music.

2. Who is the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Well most of the people I would have liked to work with are dead, but of those that are still alive, I would have liked to work with Doris Day. I asked Doris Day to sing with me 20 years ago and she's well retired and was very, very sweet, but resistant and that would be a dream because I think she is one of the greatest living vocalists.

2a. Who dead would you have liked to work with? I would have loved to work and collaborate with many of idols such as Ethel Waters, George Gershwin (and been accompanied by him), Oscar Levant, and Fred Astaire. I knew Peggy Lee, but I never got to work with her which would have been great to have done. She was a funny, funny lady.

3. What is the highest and lowest note you can sing? That's a difficult question to answer because early in the morning I'm a basso profundo and I can sing very, very low notes that don't stay with me during the day. In high school chorus, I was a second tenor and I can sing falsetto up to C's & D flats, but my range isn't great. I discovered a lot of singers whose work I admired didn't necessarily have the biggest range, so I take that as some form of solace.

4. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? It's funny because most of the dreams I dream about are dreams about old Hollywood, old performers, the old studios, and being part of that, so maybe I had a past life there. Romantically there are probably many movie stars I could dream about, but no one in particular.

5. What's your proudest moment? I think my proudest moment was buying my parents a house. They had retired and moved to Las Vegas. They had a house and sold it and I persuaded them to come back to California. I was able to buy a house for them near me and that was something that felt wonderful.

6. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that no one knows about? I can make my eyes change color at will. I can make them change from shades of green to shades of blue back and forth. I asked a opthamologist once if it was possible and he said it wasn't clinically possible, but he's seen other people do it.

7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Sex would be the favorite, I don't know if it keeps you in shape, but that's my favorite. Seriously though, the way I do mainly stay in shape is the treadmill with listening to music or watching television. That's the primary way, even though when I'm in Los Angeles, I love hiking in the hills of Griffith Park it's very solitary and the air is so crisp.

8. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs. I don't think I've ever worn boxers, but now you got me thinking I should try them.

9. Favorite website? I go on IMDB a lot.

10. "Mary" or "Rhoda"? Phyllis.

BONUS QUESTION:

11. Favorite hobby? I love going to flea markets. I love archiving music. I love taking old '78s and '33s and digitizing them and preserving them.