Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Distance He Has Come

When it comes to the topic of rising composers on the theatre scene today, it seems the name Scott Alan is on everybody’s lips. With the success of his debut album "Dreaming Wide Awake" under his piano bench, Scott has just released the impressive follow up “Keys”. I recently met up with the wickedly funny and terribly adorable Long Island native to discuss the album, dig up some dirt on the upcoming Birdland concert, and dish on his experiences working so closely with such Broadway divas as Shoshana Bean, Stephanie J. Block, and – at long last – yours truly.

Randy Rainbow: What was the inspiration for "Keys"?
Scott Alan: I originally wasn't even going to do a new album. But then I started writing a lot because I was in a relationship. I played a bunch of songs for my boyfriend at the time, who said, "You have about fifteen new songs here and I think they're all great. Why not just make a new CD?" So I did. I think "Dreaming Wide Awake" is definitely a reflection of where I was from ages 18 to 29. "Keys" - with the exception of four songs - is all stuff I've written this year.

So many of your songs are like mini three-act plays...
I call them "journal songs". The only way I know how to write in a journal is to write songs. I know there will be haters who hate that I write that way. But I figure, if they're hating, that means they're listening. So at least I've reached them somehow.

Come on... Don't you kind of hate the haters?
I don't need everyone to love what I write. I always say that success isn't built upon how far you come financially or how popular you are. To me, the first person ever to write me and tell me that I touched them with my music made me a success.

How often do you write with larger projects in mind?
I've been writing for the musical Piece, which is a project I've been working on for the past six years. But I'm not really like a lot of other composers. I write stories about the heart, and about family, and about the truth. I don't know that I could sit down and write a Betty Boop, or something like that. Obviously I'm a huge fan of Andrew Lippa's, and love that he can do that. It's just not where my strengths are.

"Piece" already has a large fan base, yet an official production has never been mounted. What's the deal?
Actually, we finally just signed to do a production of it. We've got an all-star cast lined up, and we're having our first read-through in two weeks.

Do you think it has the potential to be a commercial success?
It's a small show, but I think it could absolutely find commercial success through its soundtrack. I think it's pop formula. That's something that I pride myself on, though I'm sure there are some people who hate that about me. But back in the day, that's how it was. You'd always hear songs in theatrical shows that were played on the radio. I think there are at least two or three songs like that in Piece - "Home", for one.

Your fans seem to have a very personal and specific attachment to your music. Why do you think?
I would say it's sort of like what Jason Robert Brown did. When I was in college listening to his music, it was all about going through life - experience life. Much of my fan base is younger kids who relate to my music the same way.

Obviously, great artists like to sing great songs. But you consistently work with the creme de la creme. How do you do it?
Marketing-wise, I think one of the reasons I plateaued a little higher than some other composers out there is because I'm also a business person. There are so many emergent composers with better songs than I will ever write in my life. You have to have a great singer. My music is half of it. I worked with artists like Shoshana and Stephanie and Cheyenne from the start. They weren't stars yet, but I knew that they would be. And the second they became stars, fans who wanted to hear them gravitated toward what I had to offer. That was huge for me. People always joke that I work with every Elphaba. But the truth is, none of them were when I started working with them. It just so happens they've all since become Elphabas.

Maybe you should work for Telsey.
[Laughs] Well now I get all these letters from the casts of other shows like Spring Awakening reaching out to me, and I'm just riveted by it. I'm one of a rare breed of composers who's a total fan.

You're also a major supporter of new talent. Your Monday Nights, New Voices series is now in its fifth year. How did that first come about?
It started when I was supposed to do a concert of my work at The Duplex, and I cancelled it because my performer had to cancel. I had friends who were struggling to be heard and I put them up on stage. All of them are now on Broadway.

What composers have you had?
When we first started, people like Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Flaherty, Charles Strauss, Michael John LaChiusa and Andrew Lippa all came. And at the same time we had newer composers like Joe Iconis, Ryan Scott Oliver and Neil Bartram. Then the next year we did just established composers, and as of late we've just been doing current and up-and-coming composers.

Of these up-and-comers, who would you bet on being the next big thing?
I think Neil Bartram whose show The Story of My Life is going to Broadway in February... There's a song in that show called "Mrs. Remington" that's just gonna break down walls. Pasek and Paul are also great. They're really big right now. I love new composers and I love listening to new work.

What surprises are in store for the Birdland CD release concert on January 12?
Well, we now have Saycon Sengbloh replacing Kenita Miller. Kenita was called away because of an emergency on the Color Purple tour. I'm doing the four-part harmony of "Never Neverland" with Merle Dandridge, Nikki James, Saycon, and Crystal Hall. I also wrote a duet version of "I'm a Star" for Allie Trimm and Carrie Manolakos, and The Broadway Boys are singing "Home". No one is really singing what they do on the album. Heidi Blickenstaff is doing "Behind These Walls" and Katie Thompson is singing "Magic" at the piano. I'm trying to spruce things up a little bit.

Anyone you haven't worked with yet who you're dying to?
Absolutely! Audra McDonald, Carolee Carmello, Tina Arena - She's a big pop star in Australia. Not many people know here over here yet. But if you're reading this, Tina: Call me! I'm obsessed.

I'm gonna throw out some names of people you have worked with and you give me some dish.
Okay! Let's do it.

Sutton Foster.
Who doesn't love Sutton Foster? She has a way of interpreting a song like nobody else. I actually held the release of this album for Sutton. She was off doing Shrek and just couldn't do it. But I am that crazy, persistent person, and said that I would put off releasing the album three months if she would do it. And she did it! And I love what she does with the song ["Always"]. It showcases that she is able to beautifully tell a story without necessarily having to belt high G's.

Liz Callaway.
All through high school and college I listened to her "On and Off Broadway" album. She was just it for me. And the same goes for Randy Graff. So to have them sing my music... It doesn't get any better. They are the two nicest women in the world.

Natalie Weiss.
She's amazing, right? I was home with the Flu a while back and got a Facebook message from her saying, "I'm a big fan of your work. Here are some videos. I would love to work with you someday." I'm glad I watched the videos. I was blown away. And then Eden Espinosa and Carly Jibson ended up getting sick for my last Birdland concert, so I called Natalie and asked her to do it. I think she has an immense career ahead of her.

My husband - Norm Lewis.
He's sorta sexy, huh? Should we call him right now?

No! I'm not dressed for it.
When I was in college, I was obsessed with Sideshow and I would listen to Norm on repeat. He's just "buttah". Buy his new CD, it's fantastic!

Shoshana Bean.
Some people consider Shoshana to be something of a "diva". The thing I love about Sho - and I wouldn't want her to take this the wrong way - is that she has not changed. Through it all, she has remained completely true to who she is. And from the moment I met her, she's been a constant friend. Whenever I need her, she's there for me. I also think she has a voice like no other. I consider her a "diva" in the best possible sense of the word.

Stephanie J. Block.
I adore her, as well. She was in the crowd the first night Shoshana and I performed "Home", and was crying by the end of it. That night, I went home and emailed her to ask if she'd be interested in working with me. She immediately wrote me back, and since then we've just had a life together. "Never Neverland" was really my star vehicle and I think without her, nobody would have given a shit.

How 'bout Randy Rainbow?
You're beautiful! I love you!

Thank God. Now maybe I'll finally play Elphaba.



Scott will kick off the release of "Keys" at Birdland on Monday, January 12 @ 7PM. For more info on Scott, visit scottalan.net.
And check out CDBaby.com for copies of "Keys" and "Dreaming Wide Awake". (Also Available on iTunes)

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