Michael Patrick Walker debut musical, "Altar Boyz," garnered him two Drama Desk nominations (shared with Gary Adler) for both "Outstanding Music" and "Outstanding Lyrics," won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical and ran for five years. His new musical, "The Distant Bells," was a finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Musical Theatre Festival and received a reading at the Roundabout Theatre in early 2011 starring Chita Rivera, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel York. He is currently writing an original new musical with book-writer Rick Elice ("Jersey Boys" and "Peter and the Starcatcher") and developing a dance musical with director Stafford Arima ("Carrie" and "Altar Boyz") and choreographer Andrew Palermo (artistic director of dre.dance). Beyond the world of theatre, he composed the new Rockette dance number "Humbugged!" for the 2011 Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and his music and lyrics can be heard on TV on the Disney Channel's "Johnny and the Sprites" and Nick JR's "Olivia." Recordings include the "Altar Boyz" cast album and several editions of BC/EFA's "Carols for a Cure."
Michael's debut CD "Out of Context" will be released this Tuesday, November 8, and will feature 13 songs from musicals he's written, musicals he's writing, or musicals he's going to write. Bringing his music to life is a roster of singers some only dream of getting: Cheyenne Jackson, Kelli O'Hara, Rachel York, Andy Karl, Michael Arden, Lisa Howard, Anne L. Nathan, Telly Lung, Kate Whetherhead, Natalie Venetia Belcon, and more.
Accompanying the release, will be a CD release concert this Monday, November 7 at 7pm at Birdland in NYC (315 West 44th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) as part of Jim Caruso's "Broadway at Birdland" Series. Scheduled to perform are Lauren Kennedy, Peter Friedman, Kenita Miller, John Tartaglia, Julie Foldesi, Noah Galvin, Andy Karl, Andy Mientus, Jim Stanek and Betsy Wolfe. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a composer? I started playing the piano when I was 4 years old, so I think the idea of telling a story with music and lyrics was always there even though I didn't really start writing until college. Then, and now, the thing that inspires me is seeing and feeling an audience connect with a piece of music. That a story can be told through music or through lyrics is such a powerful and cool thing that it never gets old. I was also majorly inspired by "Into the Woods" and "Falsettos" - still think they are two of the best musicals of the past several decades and watching or listening to the cast recordings of either of them helps me keep me fire lit.
2. Who is the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Hands down, Carol Burnett. I had the chance to meet her once shortly after I moved to NYC and she was amazingly nice to me even though she didn't have to be. I grew up watching her and think she's brilliant on every level. As a comedian, actress, singer and overall performer, I think she can basically do no wrong. I would jump at the chance to have her perform one of my songs or to have her be in a musical I wrote.
3. How did you come up with the title and concept for "Out of Context"? What do you hope listeners come away with after hearing these songs? The title came from making a potential negative into a positive. Most of the songs I write are part of a larger story - whether they're from a musical or not - and when I was trying to figure out what would be on the album I was worried people might not "get" the songs without the backstory. There was not way we could do liner notes to explain every song - and how boring would THAT have been anyway?! - so I just embraced the idea that all of these songs would be heard "Out of Context." From there, I was able to choose the songs I thought worked best on the album and let them live on their own. The funny part is, after I finalized the list of songs, I realized that all of them are sung by characters at moments in their lives where they also feel "out of context" - in good ways and in bad ways. So in a way the title works on two levels - though the second level is a bit of a happy accident.
First and foremost, I hope that listeners come away from the album having enjoyed hearing it and getting a better idea of the variety of songs I write! But I also hope they feel a connection to the emotions the characters are feeling - that, even without knowing the specifics of the "before" and "after" of each story, they can appreciate, enjoy and relate to the "now."
4. How did you decide which performers you wanted to sing your work for the album? What made you want to release this album on Yellow Sound Label? Honestly, I just shot for the moon with performers - some I knew before and some I didn't, but I just asked and was amazed - and still am - how many said yes with no hesitation. I'm really lucky to hear these great people sing my songs and I'm reminded of that every time I listen to the CD. In some cases, I had a song already in mind I knew I wanted to use and that lead me to think of the singer - that was the case for both Kelli O'Hara and Cheyenne Jackson - they were both just perfect for a song I knew I wanted on the album. And, in some cases, I knew I wanted a singer on the album and that lead to my choice of song. But no matter what, it all came down to the actor fitting the song and I couldn't be happier with how well they all did and do.
As for doing the album with Yellow Sound Label, it's really the perfect fit. I've worked with them before on other projects and their commitment to composers' and artists' albums is exactly what I was looking for. Making an album is always a stressful experience - especially when it's an album of all your material - but I just knew it would still be fun and sound amazing doing with YSL - and I was right about that!
5. What excites you about your upcoming concert at Birdland on November 7? The concert is very exciting to me! First because it represents the release of the album - but also because it's the first time most of these songs will be performed in a show like this. Birdland is a place that I've performed before but I've never done my own show of my own songs. I'm just so excited to "let the cat out of the bag" as it were and to be on stage with these amazing singers and musicians.
6. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing music/lyrics? Where is your favorite place to write? 99% of the time, I write music and lyrics together - the cadence of the lyrical thought will inform the melody in the first verse which then informs the lyric in the second verse and so on. One of the coolest part of writing is when something comes together in a way that makes it seem pre-ordained - how the perfect lyrical thought will exactly fit the rhythm in the final verse - a lyrical thought you didn't even consciously know you were headed to when you started. That's a very cool thing and makes the times when things don't come as easily or as perfectly worth the effort.
I most often write in my apartment - at the piano or laying on the couch. When I can, I LOVE writing in an empty rehearsal studio - something about that which always inspires me. Sometimes, if I'm re-writing or polishing a lyric, I'll go sit in Central Park but that only works certain times of year!
7. What have you learned about yourself from being a composer? I guess I've learned that maybe I'm not as weird as I thought. Or that I am, but that plenty of other people out there are just as weird. Or that, in the end, weird is way more interesting than "not weird" and that, all things being equal, I'll take weird over boring and be very happy with it!
8. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever received basically boils down to this: "Jump!" The idea that, sometimes, you just need to go for it and see what happens. Don't be stupid about it - think it through a bit - but don't spend all your time thinking about it. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't but it's good advice for me to keep in the back of my head - "Jump!"
9. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Hmmm - does it sound stalker-y to say "Carol Burnett" again?
10. Looking back, what was the best part about "Altar Boyz"? What will be the one memory you will always cherish? The best part about it was and always will be standing at the back of the house and watching and listening to an audience respond to the show. Laughing, applauding, screaming and, sometimes, crying - that's a rush that I think all writers long for and love and it is an amazing feeling.
The one memory I'll always cherish - there are so many of them, but the one that jumps to mind is actually a bittersweet moment. It was when I was standing at the back of the house on the final performance that our original cast did - it was Tyler Maynard's last show and the last time I would see Scott Porter, Tyler Maynard, Ryan Duncan, Andy Karl and David Josefsberg do the show together. I was so proud of the show and that cast and the energy in the theatre, but I also was a bit of a mess when "Epiphany" was over. The show was performed by many talented actors during it's long run, but there's something special about the chemistry of the original cast I will always cherish.
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? Favorite way to spend your day off? I'm not sure I DO stay in shape! But I do like to ride my bike up and down the Hudson or around Central Park. When I actually have a day off, I tend to be very lazy - watch TV, relax, have a drink or dinner with friends. It's low-key but VERY nicce!
12. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer briefs actually - a little bit of grip without a strangle hold.
13. Favorite website? I suppose it would be whore-ish to say my own...(www.michaelpatrickwalker.com)...I do really enjoy www.overheardinnewyork.com. Not sure if it's half made up or not, but I often laugh out loud.
14. "Glinda" or "Elphaba"? Always been more of a "flying monkey" kinda guy...