A Week of Musicals

Boy, I miss live theatre! It must really be coming to a head within me because this has been a week of musicals for me.

Yes, I’m one of those rare men who LOVE musicals. The music, the singing, the storyline, the choreography, the dazzling sets, the mood-shifting lights. THE SPECTACLE! and how it affects you. Love everything about musicals.

In the past week, I’ve watched OKLAHOMA (the 1999 Hugh Jackman live London version), Carousel (the Live from Lincoln Center version), and the West End version of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. I loved them all for different reasons, But let me just say that An American in Paris was absolutely stunning. The choreography and set pieces, let alone the flawless performances, made it one of the best produced musicals I’ve ever seen. Truly spectacular. And Gershwin’s music is great. I would love to see it live!

But this wasn’t the end of my musicals for the week. I even watched that Netflix Dolly Parton musical that I can’t remember the name of. Yeah, I know, it’s not going to knock any of those blockbusters listed above off their pedestals, but hey. It was Christmas. There was singing. There was a storyline. There was choreography. So ’tis the season!

Now in my earbuds, I’m listening through the 1992 recording of The King & I featuring Julie Andrews, Ben Kingsley, and Lea Salonga. There’s a reason. I’m already plotting my first post-Covid musical, and I want to go back to one of the classics . I’m pondering how The King & I might play out in my particular setting. It’ s an interesting option, which I’m seriously considering.

What’s next for my viewing pleasure? I think I’ll keep working through the Rodgers and Hammerstein collection. Sounds like a plan.

How about you? What’s your favorite classic musical from Broadway’s golden era?

And what musical would you like to see first when the craziness of 2020 is finally finished?

Songs in Your Head: The Unintended Consequence of Producing a Musical

It sounded like a great idea in the abstract. A musical, I said. How fun will that be! A blast!

Let me choose one. Hmmm, I want one which would have cross-divisional appeal at our school. One in which, for example, if I didn’t get a lot of high schoolers auditioning, then I could still cast the roles using younger kids.

Okay, what about Seussical – the Broadway smash from 2000 with catchy tunes and colorful Dr. Seuss characters? Perfect. Let’s do it!

I finished casting the show two weeks ago and last week was our first week of full rehearsals. They’ve gone great, actually. Lots of fun, good excitement among the 20 student actors, and real progress. I have been pleased.

All’s good, right?

Well, I have run into one problem, the unintended, yet very real consequences of producing a musical, and that is this: I CAN’T GET THE BLASTED SONGS OUT OF HEAD! EVER! THEY HAVE TAKEN UP PERMANENT RESIDENCE.

I’m standing in line at the grocery store: “On the fifteen of May in the jungle of Nool …” I’m sorry, say that again. How much do I owe you?

My wife is talking to me about hanging the curtains in the house. “… when Horton the Elephant heard a small noise …”   I’m sorry, dear. How high do you want those hung?

These composer have created a hypnotic group of songs. No matter what I’m doing, where I go, or whom I am talking to, the voice of the Cat in the Hat is not far behind.

And here is the harshest of all harsh realizations: the show isn’t finished until December 13. I have two and half more months.

Now I have a question for you? “Who is the biggest blame fool in the jungle of Nool?”

I am. That would be me.



This weekend, I’m producing my 19th full-length theatrical production in the past ten years. This one is called RLT Musical Revue, a compilation of the best musical moments and short musicals that I’ve produced in the past. It’s an eclectic and fun show, filled with talented singers, dancers, musicians, and actors. I’m so grateful for my brilliant co-director Christopher Ramos who actually knows music, while I simply pretend. But between us both, we’ve seen the show come together, a rough dress rehearsal last night notwithstanding, and I’m excited to see what will happen this Saturday. Two shows only. My last on in Penang. I’m going to miss it. Here are a few snippets which will be part of the show. (photos by Jonathan Steffen)

aWomanatWarRLT MusicalTheJingle

The Show Ends

Last night, we capped off an amazing weekend of drama at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. Good responsive crowds watched as my amazing young actors perform everything from comedy, to dramatic storytelling, to hard hitting drama. It’s such an emotional thing for a writer and director to see the work they’ve toiled on for months finally come and then quickly go. But satisfying. So satisfying.

Once again, watching the shows these past couple of days, my belief in teenage drama has been reinforced. I don’t believe in high school drama. High school drama has such a negative stereotype, at least in my eyes. When you put the term ‘high school’ in front of drama, suddenly you aren’t taken seriously. The awards folks won’t look your way. There’s a connotation of inexperienced acting which ends up being nothing more than photo-ops for parents and relatives.

I believe in nothing like that. Actors are actors, whether aged 16 or 45. Whether they’ve have years of training under Adler and Meisner or whether they’re in their first theatre arts class. The requirements are the same. Preparation. Characterization. Mining the script. Making choices about movement, vocal qualities, and backstory. And when it’s all put together, any actor, with the right preparation and the right script, can impact an audience in wonderful and unexpected ways.

That’s what happened here the past couple of nights. And it happened with actors ranging from 15 to 18 with varying levels of experience. When expectations are high, the actors will hit it. I’ve seen it over and over. And the comments are amazing.

“I can’t believe these are kids.”

“They are so amazing.”

Yes, they are. Whether playing a grandpa or a child, a piece of fruit or a government bureaucrat. They rise to the occasion time and time again.

I stand amazed. And proud. So proud.

I’m going to miss this group so much!

At least I was smart enough to realize that doing one show in my final semester here would not be enough. RLT Musical is coming next week. It’s my saving grace. It has kept me from falling into drama depression.

So let’s do this, one more time.



A Short Narration #1

RLT  Musical Revue is a special show of musical theatre (May 20th) which highlights the songs and short musicals which I’ve written or co-written over the past eight years. It includes 21 pieces of varying lengths, including 3 short musicals of 10 minutes or less. To tie the show together, I’ve written a few narrative pieces which introduce certain segments of the performance. Here’s a short one entitled Sacrifices & Hope. It introduces one of my favorite pieces, the short musical “A Woman at War” which tells the story of Sarah, who fights World War II in her own way on the home front.

Sacrifices and Hope. Hope is a platitude which means nothing without sacrifice. Hope doesn’t bloom alone in a barren and frozen winter soil. Hope requires sacrifice. For who would trust in a man who isn’t willing to lay does his life for his love? Who would trust in a God who wouldn’t firsthand understand the pain and sorrow holding back the spring’s green growth? Hope grows in the soil of sacrifice, on the distant battlefront, on the lonely home front, in the dead cold mud of the first day of March. As sacrifice is planted, hope grows.


Remembering a Musical: A Woman at War

I was recently reminded that my short WWII musical -“A Woman at War” – had its debut one year ago this week at Short & Sweet Musical Kuala Lumpur 2014. It’s a moving piece of musical theatre about a woman on the home front trying to live life while her new husband is overseas.

For this debut, the piece was directed by veteran actor Alvin Looi, who was trying his hand at musical direction for the first time. Alvin, along with his wife Karynn who worked as musical director, pulled together an awesome cast and an overall first-rate production which brought moved the audience to tears – exactly the effect I had originally hoped for. For nostalgia’s sake, here’s their second performance from last year.

Later in the year, I had the opportunity to direct it myself along with my student drama group the RLT Players. We used a performance track recorded by my colleague and co-composer Laura Danneker.  I enjoyed both performances a great deal. I hope you do too!

On the First Day of March

Back in September 2008, I was beginning to undertake writing my second play — this one which would incorporate some music. “A Tad of Trouble”  was born and performed for the first time in May 2009. Six years later I am re-staging it with lots new music and an updated script. It’s a fun story of a troubled, mute boy who is given the gift of song by his guardian angel. The first song I wrote for this piece was called “On the First Day of March” — its the piece where the angels realize that the boy can hear her when she sings. So on this first day of March 2015, here are the lyrics that I wrote once upon a time. Enjoy.


On the first day of March the harrow lies still

And the leaves long impacted wait the robin’s clear shrill

And the snow half-melted hints to warmth yet to come

In this dim barren world I know good is not done


On the first day of April as the rain sloshes down

And the wheels of the carriage are stuck flush to the ground

And the driver hurls curses at his horses undone

In this mud maddened world I know good is not done


For the mud gives way to the soft fertile ground

And the air in full blossom bring the birds back around

Long fasting, fresh finches wing their hopes to the sky


While fields of green splendor spread their life far and wide

Life whispers then roars out the name of the one

Who anchors the stars and gives warmth to the sun

Mid-March has no answer for the goodness that comes

And it reminds me my work here on earth is not done


On this first day of March while the tricksters still rule

While they scam and they laugh making peasants poor fools

And they cling to their money like a prodigal son

Even then I still know that good is not done

Even now I still know that good is not done

Wanted: Composer

Wanted: a composer who –

  • doesn’t expect to get paid
  • loves to compose musical theatre
  • loves to score and arrange
  • loves to work with a  crazy lyricist who makes up melodies in his head
  • dreams to be on Broadway one day
  • but will be just as happy creating art – whether anyone else enjoys it or not

Yes, I’m that lyricist. I am a wannabe musician who knows nothing about music and (poorly) plays the guitar in order to write simple songs. But I just love writing musicals, but I am always at the mercy of others to arrange, compose, and finish the product.

But if I could find someone who is as crazy as me – in the opposite way – a musically gifted companion to collaborate with fun musical theatre ideas, well, that would be really cool.

The main qualification for this person is passion! When I get an idea, there’s no stopping me. I’ll steal away time, lock myself away, and just go with it until I get it done. I need a composer like that. Not someone who dreads my emails and prodding, but who is already a few steps ahead of me in my composing. Someone who has as many ideas as I do. Someone who challenges me to get better and better.

Someone who thinks of composing musical theatre as a art – where creativity and expression comes first and fun comes for the ride as a necessary outcome.

Someone who doesn’t have the time, but will make the time. Example, I have a family, I teach full time, I coach softball, I write a novel a year, I produce two dramas per year, I write many other scripts per year – and I still have time to want to collaborate with a composer.

So if you know of anyone who fits the bill, who is searching for a lyricist and kindred composer, please let me know.

I loaded with ideas. Let’s go!

Theatre Review: “Evita” @ the Benedum in Pittsburgh

A real treat for theatre enthusiasts is in Pittsburgh this week in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s and Tim Rice’s “Evita”.

“Evita” chronicles the rise to power and prominence of Eva Duarte who was the driving force behind former Argentine president Juan Peron.

While the historical context of the musical is fascinating, it’s the music and lyrics of Weber and Rice, and the exuberant and spirited performance produced by Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera which takes center stage.

The story starts at the death of Eva, the First Lady, at a young age of 33. The masses are mourning their beloved leader who had become a saint-like figure and a symbol of hope for the down-trodden. But enter Che, who and sings the truth about the ambition, greed, and passion which seemed to chase after Eva her entire life. This makes the audience question Eva’s motives, making her a complex and intriguing character.

The entire show is a fascinating character study against the backdrop of soaring vocal numbers, tango-infused dance moves, and passionate intimate scenes between Eva and Juan.

It’s a musical production which reminds us all why we love live theatre – emotion, gripping-storytelling, passionate live music, and human drama. It doesn’t get much better than this.

And it is also hard to beat the beautiful, 2800 seat Benedum Center. Catch it through Sunday if you can.

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The “Boardwalk Melody” Story through Photos

“Boardwalk Melody” – An Original Musical

The Story in Photos:

Frederick, the fisherman, has been chasing Minnie, the ice cream lady, for years. I think she secretly has a crush on him, but she’s most definitely playing hard to get.


Benedict (blue) works in his aunt Gert’s tourist agency. Gert has hired two girl-crazy teens for the summer. She most definitely regrets it. Rosie (blue) also works there, but the term “work” must be used loosely because she wants nothing more than to be Benedict’s girlfriend. Benedict is not amused.


Enter Amelia, and her two disciples. She rents a space next to the tourist agency for the intention of opening a revolutionary swimwear store. The prospect of such a shop gets Perry and Tony quite excited.


Amelia’s conservative feminism comes into an immediate clash with Benedict – prompting him to sing a song accusing her of being a follower of Chairman Mao. Amelia sings in reply that he an ego as big as Lincoln of Rushmore. (It’s a fun song, really.)


When Frederick sees Amelia and Benedict fighting, he gets an idea. He bets Minnie that he can make those two fall in love. They make a wager where if Frederick wins, Minnie agrees to go on a real date with him. If he loses, he’s never allowed to tie his boat on this pier again. The game is on. Let the plotting and scheming begin. JStef-17Apr2014-7154


But every show needs a villain, so in walks billionaire developer Cornelius Summers who intends to raze the shops on the boardwalk and build a casino. Margaret, his fiance and soon to be 6th wife comes in tow. And there might even be a strange connection with Amelia here. Could she really be in on his scheme too?JStef-17Apr2014-7121

Cornelius and his future casino girls perhaps?JStef-17Apr2014-7114

Of course, we have some wonderful dancers who just make everything amazingly amazing. JStef-17Apr2014-7178


Fifteen original songs. Seven choreographed dance numbers. Nineteen amazing young actors.

“Boardwalk Melody – An Original Musical.”

Opens Friday May 23 @ Penang Performing Arts Centre.