Tag Archives | Altar Boyz

Out of Context Sheet Music Is Here!

I’m very pleased to announce that sheet music for the songs on my album Out of Context: The Songs of Michael Patrick Walker is now available for purchase!  That’s right – it’s true!  There is a brand new Store section of my web site where you can buy music for twelve of the thirteen songs (the thirteenth song, I Believe, is already sold by Hal Leonard)!

Out of Context: The Songs of Michael Patrick WalkerI’ve wanted to offer the music for sale for some time but you’d be surprised how long it takes to format and clean up sheet music – especially when you’re a bit of a procrastinator like me!

On top of that, the music is also for sale via a wonderful web site – NewMusicalTheatre.com – which sells sheet music from practically all of today’s young musical theatre writers!  Check out the mpw section on their site to hear sample clips of the songs, watch videos of Broadway and West End stars performing the songs and to buy the sheet music so you can sing it yourself!

I would love to see and hear all of your performances of any of these songs – it’s always exciting to see what different performers bring to a song – so I encourage you to video yourself singing and post to YouTube and let me know – maybe I’ll share some of my favorites here!  Happy singing and I hope everybody enjoys!

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Closer or Farther Away…?

As some of you know, I did a table read of my new show, The Distant Bells, about a week and a half ago. My frequent collaborator and director of the show, Stafford Arima, assembled a wonderfully talented group of actors – Nancy Opel, Kate Baldwin, Michele Ragusa, Matt Doyle, Andy Karl, Kasey Marino and Christopher Williams – to read the script and I made a “quick and dirty” recording of me singing through the score. No audience – just the actors, writers and director. The idea being, we get to hear the piece, basically start to finish, and assess where we are. Does the story work? Are the characters well-drawn? How does the book integrate with the score? Are the songs landing? And a hundred other questions…

I almost always learn a lot from these kinds of readings. They can be very exciting and encouraging or very upsetting and discouraging – or almost anywhere in between! So, where did this reading fall in the continuum? Well…

In the “big picture world”, as opposed to the last reading we did – about 9 months ago – this time, the basic story and characters are working. Both will continue to evolve and change as the writing process continues, but it’s a positive step forward that our 4 principal characters and plot/story are heading in the right direction.

Looking at the “small picture” things – ie, everything else! – there are also many positive things in both the score and book. It’s not a surprise that the second half of the show has more problems than the first half – To quote Mrs. Potts, that’s a tale as old as time! Not to say that the first half of the show is ready for opening night – we’ve got a long list of things to rewrite, tighten, focus, etc, etc, etc.PittsburghSkyline-MtWash

Writing is hard, but rewriting is where I think most shows ultimately live or die. Does that song work or not? Is that scene overwritten? It can be as “simple” as a line or two or as complicated as having the guts to throw out 10 pages and start over. And the choices you make will have a domino effect that might not be obvious for months down the line.

Sounds fun, right?

Funny thing is, it really can be! Frustrating too, but, if you want to tell a story, it’s all part of it. And, remember, The Distant Bells is a totally original musical, not based on any source material so, when we go back to “square one” about something, we end up looking at a very, very white piece of paper!

Ok, you got me – I’m not giving away too many specific details about the show’s good or bad points or even characters and story! Part of that is not to give things away for when you (hopefully!) see it one day. But I’m also a bit superstitious about letting too much of the cat out of the bag before the cat is ready for prime time…to mix a metaphor or two! So I don’t like to say too much too early…

…but, as we continue to write and shape the show, I will say that I’m optimistic that a reading – a real reading where the actors sing and we invite an audience – could happen in the next few months. There are a lot of factors that will determine that of course, but it is possible that The Distant Bells might be getting”closer”, little by little…

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Adaptation

Over the last few years, I’ve been asked to consider writing a few musicals which would have been adaptations – from books, movies, etc. Some I was excited about – the source material seemed rife with possibilities for musicalization. Others, I didn’t see working out. As it turns out, I’m not working on any of those proposed projects, but I have thought alot lately about musicals that started out as something else.

I want to be clear on this from the start – I see nothing fundamentally wrong, bad or distasteful about a musical being adapted from another source. It’s been going on for a long time and, when it is done well and wisely, it can lead to a really wonderful musical. In fact, one of my favorite musicals of all time, Little Shop of Horrors, was based on a movie. But in that oddball little show lies what I regard as the key to adaptations – imagination.

Take a look at the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors – certain characters and plot points will be familiar, but the musical is a very different animal from the movie – and that’s a really, really good thing. It’s not a good movie! The writers of the musical – Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman – were able to see imagine and create an entirely new musical world. If they had lacked imagination – or lacked sufficient imagination – they might never have written the show or, worse yet, they might have written a straight “musical version” of the film without adapting it at all! Horrors indeed!

There are other more recent examples of well-done adaptations, but there are also – as I’m sure you’ve noticed – plenty of examples where it didn’t go so well. Writing a musical is never easy, but, when it comes to adaptations, it sure is easier to regurgitate a movie on stage with some songs thrown in. It might even be successful – depending on how you measure success that is. (Sadly, laziness is no guarantee of failure nor is imagination a guarantee of success!) But when laziness trumps imagination, we get lazy shows, lazy producers, lazy actors and, eventually, uniformly lazy audiences.

So am I suggesting that, from now on, we do nothing but original musicals, not based on any source material? Of course not! If a show is well written and works on stage, it doesn’t matter where it came from. But we need to care more about the quality of the shows being done – big shows, little shows, cheap shows, expensive shows – all kinds, all musical styles and all types of stories.

It is a sad bit of irony that, in the entertainment industry, creativity and imagination are often valued less than what I will charitably call “the easy road”. We need, as an industry, to try harder, aim higher and do better. And making that level of work the norm will take the most imagination and be the biggest adaptation of them all!

(On a related note, check out my Media page to listen to a demo recording of the song “Different Kind of Man” which I wrote for a potential musical version of the indy film, Kinky Boots.)

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The End of an Era

The official announcement will be made today that the Off Broadway production of Altar Boyz will close on Sunday January 10th, 2010 following the 7:30pm show. It will have played 16 previews and 2032 regular performances over a period of almost 5 years, making it the 9th longest running Off Broadway musical off all time – the 8th longest by my count, but that’s another story!

Every show eventually posts a closing notice – whether after 1 performance or after thousands. Altar Boyz is no exception and, right or wrong, its time has come. But being the first show I wrote that was professionally produced, Altar Boyz will always hold a special place in my heart.

The show was written and re-written over a period of years and, as with any show, we had our share of drama and difficulties along the way. Simply put, the show did not work for a long time. We had many readings, but every one of them was…well, let’s go with “problematic”.

Eventually, Gary Adler, Kevin Del Aguila and I hunkered down with our director, Stafford Arima, in my old apartment on 47th street and made a last-ditch effort to write a show that worked. We didn’t emerge from that studio apartment-sized cocoon with the finished script and score in our bruised and bloodied hands, but we did take several giant steps forward – in many ways the first real steps toward the creation of the musical that, for a little while longer at least, plays 8 times a week on west 50th street.

Writing Altar Boyz wasn’t easy – but I doubt writing a musical is ever easy. But, at a reading we did in late July 2004, for the very first time, the show actually worked! Lynne Shankel, our music director, always made the boyz sound great, but this time, the songs and script were working together and the characters came alive.

Barely a month later, when we began to rehearse for the NYMF production, Christopher Gattelli began to add the choreography and another crucial element to the show began to take shape. When the show was performed for, ultimately, 8 performances in September, 2004, the packed houses laughed, cheered and cried in a way we had dreamed, but never really dared to hope, they would.

Between the end of the NYMF run and the start of rehearsals for the Off Broadway production, we continued to rewrite the show – completely throwing out one song, making changes to others, and refining and tightening the book and the show as a whole.

Our long-time lead producers, Ken Davenport and Robyn Goodman, set countless wheels in motion while raising money and bringing other producing partners into the fold. We visited several theatres with them to find the right space for the show and plans were made at a furious pace.

Meanwhile our wonderful design team – including Natasha Katz (lighting), Anna Louizos (set), Simon Matthews (sound), Gail Brassard (costumes), Kathy Fabian (Props), and Doug Katsaros & Lynne Shankel (orchestrations) – worked tirelessly, with Stafford at the helm.

Cheyenne Jackson, who played the role of Matthew at the NYMF, had moved on to another project but our amazing new Matthew, Scott Porter, began rehearsals with us on Tuesday January 18, 2005. The rest of the NYMF cast – Ryan Duncan (Juan), David Josefsburg (Abraham), Andy Karl (Luke) and Tyler Maynard (Mark) – joined us on January 25th. Along the way, our two original swings (Daniel Torres and Kevin Kern) came into the mix and, before we knew it, we were in tech.Altar Boyz

Our first preview was on February 15th and, on March 1, 2005, six weeks to the day from our first rehearsal with Scott, Altar Boyz had its opening night Off Broadway. The many things that happened between that day and today are too numerous and varied to list. But it doesn’t really matter because that’s the part of the story you already know – that is the life of the show.

Many actors, musicians, stage managers, crew members and staff have made the show happen 8 times a week for the past 5 years, through good times and bad. Earlier, I mentioned our talented original cast. They were on stage when it all began, but have all moved on to other projects long ago. So when the last performance occurs in a few weeks, our wonderful final cast will be made up of Michael Kadin Craig (Matthew), Travis Nesbitt (Mark), Lee Markham (Luke), Mauricio Perez (Juan) and Ravi Roth (Abraham) with swings Mitch Dean and Tommaso Antico as well as Joey Khoury our long-time dance captain who will have just left the show.

I’m enormously proud of Altar Boyz and the amazing run it’s had, and I can’t ever fully explain all it has meant to me, all I have learned from it, and all that has changed both for me and in me because of it.

So I’ll simply end with one of the first lyrics I ever wrote for the show and one of the last lyrics that will be sung at the final performance:

Take a picture of me now
Take a look at who I am
Yesterday I wasn’t half as strong

Take a picture of us all
What we’ve been and what we are
Look at that and tell me I’m wrong

I Believe…

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