Ever since I saw Bob and Tobly McSmith's Bayside! The Musical! I have been a fan of their unauthorized musical parodies! They have a great way to capturing the essence of the shows they are paying tribute to. I was/am a huge Beverly Hills 90210 fan! In the 90s, every Wednesday night I was in front of my TV watching the latest episode of the hit show.
Needless to say, when I heard 90210! The Musical! was coming to Theatre 80, I knew I had to get the inside scoop. I was thrilled, Assaf Gleizner, 90210! The Musical! musical composer, answered my call to talk about the creation of this show. It was great going back to school and getting an education in everything 90210!
90210! The Musical! is currently playing at Theatre 80 in NYC's East Village (80 St. Marks Place, between 1st and 2nd Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. This fall you are part of the creative team for 90210! The Musical! You worked with Bob and Tobly McSmith on Full House! The Musical!. What made you want to work with them again on this show? Bob and Tobly are great writers and really easy to work with! They also seem to share the same vision I have when it comes to musical theatre, which is on one hand to appreciate the characteristics that make musical theatre so great, yet on the other hand to not take ourselves so seriously. I am personally most inspired by shows like Avenue Q, Book of Mormon, Spelling Bee, etc. which in my opinion focuses more on the lighthearted parts of this genre and I feel that Bob and Tobly share the same approach to writing a musical.
2. What did you enjoy about writing the music/lyrics for this show? What challenges were presented before you? Well first of all, I love everything about the 90s and writing music with Bob and Tobly's lyrics that perfectly captured the dramatic flare of that era was super fun.
As for the challenges, there is something thrilling yet nerve wracking when you stare at a blank piece of paper (or finale file when you compose on your computer). Endless possibilities may come to mind, but it can also be very difficult when making decisions. Bob and Tobly's lyrics are very sarcastic with quite a lot of subtext, so I need make sure I compose a melody that serves all of these qualities.
3. Who was your favorite character or scene to write music for? My favorite scene to write music for was the finale "Drama Never Ends." By that point all the characters are fully developed and I need to make sure all their quirks are expressed in the music. At the same time, it's the conclusive moment in the show so it needs to have a unified, usually "happy ever after" type of sound. This gives me a chance to reprise all the individual musical motifs of each character and other important melodies for one epic closing number!
4. What song was the easiest to write and what song gave you the most trouble? Surprisingly, I find finales and openers the easiest even though they are usually the biggest and most complicated numbers to write. I think the purpose of each of those songs is very clear which keeps me focused through the writing process.
One song we were struggling a bit with was Brenda's "I'm a Bitch." Having "Brenda" and the other characters sing about how big of a bitch she is could be extremely offensive, but we decided this should be more of an empowerment song. We wanted "Brenda" to kind of "own" the fact that others see her as a "bitch" which is what we thought Shannon Doherty did as well.
5. What do you think die-hard fans of 90210 will love about this show? To be honest, every single actor is playing their characters so well and that's already something fans would appreciate. While some parodies may lose track of what they're based on as the show develops. I think Bob and Tobly made a great effort to keep everything in the 90210 world and remain authentic to the show!
6. What are your top five favorite episodes of 90210? I watched them when I was in elementary school, so it's hard to remember. Haha!
- But of course the first episode is a classic where "Steve's" car rolls down the hill.
- The one where "Emily Valentine" just moves to the school and both "Dylan" and "Brandon" take her on a date to the same place and the same song is playing on the radio both times (I think it was Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game").
- The one where "Steve" is doing community service and assigned to help an old guy with Alzheimers. That was actually a really touching episode.
- The one where "Dylan's" wife, "Toni," is killed by her own father, while trying to get to "Dylan." Kinda had a West Side Story vibe to it :).
- The one where "David" was robbed so he buys a gun, then accidentally shoots "Donna." It's just the most dramatic.
7. If you had to live by 90210, what are the top 5 lessons you learned from watching the show or working on this musical?
- That apparently there is life after high school, yet it's just as overly dramatic sometimes.
- That real friends will be there, even if it's been a few episodes since you've seen them last.
- That being rich doesn't always mean being happy.
- That everyone has a story and is going through issues.
- That high schools in America are HUGE. My high school had about 400 students.
9. You were born in Tel Aviv, Israel. What made you want to move to NYC to pursue your career? Was the move what you had hoped for or has the reality been a bit more difficult than you expected? NYC has been everything I imagined it to be. Israel has a lot of talented people but not enough artistic outlets. My hopes were that moving to NYC would allow me to pursue my career as a musician to its full extent, and it has! I love the fact that so many people are always looking to create new projects and so far I've been fortunate enough to collaborate with some very talented people, including the creative team for 90210!, of course!
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Great question! Living in NYC as a musician you can't help but spread yourself too thin sometimes. This is because the city has SO MUCH to offer, you can't resist taking every opportunity that comes your way. However, it does mean you have to figure out how to divide your time and prioritize to make each deadline. So personally, something in my life I would like to improve everyday is being comfortable with saying no, as well as being able to give 100% to all the projects I'm committed to!
Assaf was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. In 2007, moved to the United States, where he graduated from SUNY Purchase with a degree in Jazz Performance. Since graduating Assaf has been consistently working as a music director, orchestrator, arranger and performer all over the world, but primarily in the tri-state area. Favorite credits include: Off-Broadway: THE ASTONISHING TIMES OF TIMOTHY CRATCHIT - (Workshop Theatre) Orchestrations, Full House (Randolph Theater Canada & Theater 80) MD & Orchestrations. Flak House (Actors Temple) orchestrations and vocal arrangements. The Travels (NYMF) orchestrations, vocal arrangements, MD. I Battled Lenny Ross (Ensemble Studio Theater) MD.