A playwright, lyricist, children’s author, television writer, and theatre producer, Eileen Bluestone Sherman wrote her first musical for young audiences for Hallmark’s Coterie Theatre in 1982. Since then, her many plays entertained audiences around the country, and her books delighted readers around the world.
Eileen's latest project is her new CD Perfect Picture, a studio cast recording of the new musical inspired by the life of Norman Rockwell, featuring such Broadway favorites as Debbie Gravitte, Ron Holgate, Judy Kaye, Mark Jacoby, Beth Leavel, Andrea McArdle, Emily Skinner, Randy Skinner, Bob Stillman, Tom Wopat, Lillias White, and Karen Ziemba. Perfect Picture releases later in October, available at the Broadway Cares Online Store, but musical theatre fans can enjoy a pre-release concert on Monday night, October 7th when cast members present selections at the Drama League (32 Avenue of the Americas). Click here for tickets!
For more on Eileen be sure to visit http://ebsoriginals.xbuild.com!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? First, Adam, I would like to thank you for your interest in Perfect Picture. I'm really excited about our CD's debut. Now, you may or may not know that I am also a young adult novelist. However, growing up, I never considered a career in writing, although I was an avid reader. I skipped most of the standard children's literature and, at nine years old, graduated from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women to Harold Robbins' A Stone For Danny Fisher. Yes, I know that's quite a leap! Of course, musical theatre was my first love. I was that kid who sang and danced around the living room while I blasted the albums from Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Gypsy and Fiorella over and over and over and over again!! Just by coincidence, when I moved to Kansas City with my husband, I happened to notice an audition notice in The Kansas City Star for a relatively new family theater called "The Coterie." On a whim, I auditioned. Afterward, the director inquired where she might find my monologue. When I told her I wrote it, she asked if I would be interested in writing a musical for her new company. Without missing a beat, I said, "SURE!" That year I made the most amazing self- discovery. I learned that what I love about theatre is the art of storytelling. I really think it goes back to my impressionable years reading Harold Robbins.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Perfect Picture is my second CD to feature an incredible all-star Broadway cast. My first, The Odd Potato: The Broadway Album included 20 Tony Award Winners with cameos from the legendary Hal Prince and Elaine Stritch. Honestly, I listen to BOTH albums and pinch myself. Broadway's greatest talents have performed my work. That said, I still have a growing list of favorites. The VERY short answer? Hugh Jackman.
3. What made you want to be part of the creative team for Perfect Picture? I think the more accurate question is what made me want to write Perfect Picture. I really credit my husband. Years ago, we were enjoying a family vacation in New England, and we discovered a tiny Norman Rockwell gallery in Arlington, Vermont. We learned that all the volunteers at the gallery were former neighbors of the Rockwell family and that they or their family members posed for the artist. I was intrigued, but once we returned home to Kansas City, I didn't give Mr. Rockwell another thought. Then, one day, my husband returned home from the public library with a book called Norman Rockwell: My Adventures As An Illustrator, an autobiography by Norman Rockwell as told to his son, Thomas Rockwell. The writing was lyrical. Titles of songs popped off the page. The opening description at a seedy side-show, featuring a larger than life carnival performer named "Amy the Wild Woman," was pure musical theatre. Of course, what fascinated me most was the lesson Norman learned as a 10 year old kid at that side-show. "Don't show life as it really is, but how folks want it to be." The artist admitted that theme guided the spirit of his early work resulting in fabulous fame and fortune but costing him dearly among the art elite. Curiously enough, even his book glossed over more painful and even shocking details about his personal life. What he did reveal was totally unexpected. Needless to say, I decided hidden in the text was a fabulous musical and poignant love story. At the time, my sister, Gail C. Bluestone, and I were writing musicals for a Chicago television series for kids called The Magic Door. I called her and told her about our next project. It's been quite an adventure and a true family endeavor.
4. What was it like to write lyrics about a well-known public figure? It's funny. I never thought about it that way. I simply tried to tell a compelling, memorable, and authentic tale. Obviously, the lyrics have to serve the story. Mr. Rockwell was heroic, passionate, fiercely loyal, and determined. Still, like all of us, he was flawed, and at times, those flaws created serious conflict…….but for our purposes, great drama. Really, he's an ideal protagonist.
5. You wrote the lyrics, while your sister wrote the music for Perfect Picture. What was the best part about working with your sister on this project? How did your relationship strengthen as a result? I love Gail's music, and I'm not the only one. After almost every recording session, I would hear from a Broadway artist how beautiful or hummable or how much fun a rhythm was of a particular song. More than once, I heard how they just could not get a song out of their head. I always took that as a very good sign! Of course, every single song begins as a crazy puzzle, and it's the actual work that strengthens a partnership. There's nothing like struggling and finally succeeding to cement a relationship. But, we're lucky. Our biggest champion was and remains our Studio Producer, Joshua Sherman, who also happens to be my son. From start to finish, Josh knew exactly what he wanted from a song. In the recording studio, he was an amazing captain of the ship, directing each performer, adjusting arrangements and tempos with our Musical Director, Sam Willmott, and supervising every engineering nuance. Inevitably, after each initial recording, our test audience was my husband and daughter. Oh, Jenny by the way, is also my entertainment lawyer. See what I mean? Perfect Picture is a family endeavor. Actually, my kids and husband have been instrumental in all my writing projects for years. Our family company is called 6-10 PRODUCTIONS, L.L.C.
6. What do you hope audiences come away with after listening to the CD? Even when I was a very little girl dancing in my living room to "Hernando's Hideaway," I understood an album's effect. While the recording can never completely fulfill the "in the moment" experience of watching live theatre, every subtlety of a great album transports the listener into the world of the musical. I hope audiences listen to the CD and share my fascination with Norman Rockwell and the women he loved and lost. I hope they want to play the CD over and over again, trying to simulate a powerful theatre experience. I hope they love the songs and sing them in the shower. I hope some other five year old hears the music and wants to dance around her living room.
7. You've got quite a roster of performers on Perfect Picture...Debbie Gravitte, Lillias White, Beth Leavel, Andrea McArdle, Judy Kaye, Tom Wopat, Emily Skinner, and many others. How was it decided which performers would be asked to be on the CD? To be exact, we have a cast of twelve distinguished award winning Broadway artists. The list includes Debbie Gravitte, Ron Holgate, Judy Kaye, Mark Jacoby, Beth Leavel, Andrea McArdle, Emily Skinner, Randy Skinner, Bob Stillman, Tom Wopat, Lillias White, and Karen Ziemba. By anyone's standard, it's a dream cast! Actually, Josh and I always figure this part out together. This time, we immediately reached out to several actors with whom we worked previously and adored and then approached other new artists, whom we admired from shows we love. Josh and I know the exact qualities we want for each song. It's easy to get what you want when you work with the best. Everyone was fabulous in the studio. My fingers are crossed that I will be working with all of them, again, soon. Of course, anyone can go to my website www.ebsoriginals.com and preview their terrific performances.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright and lyricist? Listen carefully…… even when no one is speaking. Pauses can be very informative.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Never, Never, Never give up! My husband says my personal theme is Dorothy Fields' lyric, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over, again." Hey, it's not over till it's over!
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Actually, I'm not a "super hero" sort of gal, although I loved Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. (Of course, I love him in everything!) However, I always adored "Samantha" on Bewitched. Yes, I know she's a witch, but a really, really cute one. Still, to be able to wiggle my nose, and make things the way I want them to be, sounds heavenly. I mean that wiggle included everything! (She could fly, be invisible, travel through time, even change nasty gossips into clucking hens….) Of course, I am always reminded to be careful what I wish for. Like it or not, in the end, only tenacity, sweat, and guts win the day. O.K. If I can still have that magic wiggle, I'll just use it for washing dishes. Deal?
Her novels for young adults include Monday In Odessa, Idependence Avenue, and The Violin Players. Perhaps, her most popular story is The Odd Potato, originally a picture book, adapted for stage, television, and CD.
Through the years, her work received numerous honors, including two Emmy Awards, The National Jewish Book Award, The International Reading Association’s Teacher’s Choice Award, and a Thorpe Menn Honorable Mention Award. Several years ago, the author received the distinct honor of being listed on Kansas City’s Central Library’s "Community Bookshelf," nationally acclaimed free-standing public art at Tenth and Baltimore.
When writing new musicals, Eileen collaborates with her sister, Gail Bluestone, an award-winning composer and educator in Los Angeles.
In 2003, Eileen formed her family’s Production Company, 6-10 PRODUCTIONS to produce the New York holiday event, Broadway Sings The Odd Potato, starring (Batman’s original Riddler) Frank Gorshin. In 2005, the CD followed. The Odd Potato: The Broadway Album features 20 Tony Award winners, with narration by Judd Hirsch. The CD competed in the 49th Grammy Awards Contest in the category of "Best Musical Show Album" and raises money every holiday season for special needs children.
Currently, 6-10 PRODUCTIONS is developing a new children's CD, called Listen Up! starring the Tony and Emmy Award winner, Broadway Diva, Lillias White, singing a variety of novelty songs composed by the Bluestone Sisters for their many family-friendly shows.
Eileen is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, The Authors Guild, Inc., ASCAP, The Drama League, and The Recording Academy, where she serves as a Grammy Voter.