Jumping Deep into My Next Musical

I’m producing and directing an original musical entitled “A Tad of Trouble.”  I originally wrote the book and music to it back in 2008 with a group of students. We produced it in 2009 to very favorable reviews. For the past couple of years, I’ve been wanting to re-do it. To make it better. To make it even more of musical. Well, now we are.

I re-wrote the book last fall, completely changing some parts for the better and fixing some glaring plot holes that we missed the first time around. Hey, I was inexperienced back then. The book is much more vibrant and punchy this time around. It’s a lot of fun. Here’s the synopsis:

A troubled, mute boy, Tad, is sent away with a traveling salesman by his father in hopes of teaching him how to be a man. The salesman turns out to be Obediah Clementine, the evilest and cleverest con man around, pulling Tad deeper into the underworld of mid-America 1903. The con man and his apprentice are followed around by their guardian angels, Olivia the optimist – Zander the pessimist, who philosophize of life and redemption. Zander bets Olivia that Tad will never turn around. One day, as Olivia is singing, she discovers that Tad had heard her. She gives Tad the following proposition: she’ll give him the voice of song if he is willing to write the wrongs. But will Tad be able to re-lease himself from the grip of the master con-man, Obediah.

There’s a lot to love about this script. In act two, Tad only sings everything, making many of the scenes ridiculous and hilarious. There’s some wonderfully vivid characters, including the tom-boy, Temperance who chews tobacco and hates everything girly – much to the chagrin of her uncle, the marshal. It’s a wonderful story of redemption, second chances, and learning how to turn one’s life around. But it’s not preachy or predictable. Not at all. I wouldn’t allow that. It’s fresh, fun, and meaningful.

We have a huge group of people working on it. Check out some of the numbers:

14 actors

5 dancers

10 singers

10 set designers

8 other theatre art students who will be involved in various tasks

6 composers and arrangers

1 choreographer

1 vocal director

1 director

It’s opening in May at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. I hope you’ll be in town for this special production.

I know I’m having a blast producing it.

“A Woman at War” – My Musical Opens Today in Kuala Lumpur

I’m very excited about the 10 minute musical that I wrote which was chosen for production in the Short & Sweet Musical Festival KL 2014. It opens tonight at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, and will be showing through Saturday along with five other musicals. I’ll be flying down to KL on Friday and will be able to catch the show on Friday and Saturday nights. I’ll make sure to take pictures and post the exciting glitz and glamour from the event.

Ten minute musicals are fun to write, but they have their unique challenges. They are short, so they have to be focused. I wrote one last year called “Captured in Time and Space” which was much more of a thematic piece – not a linear narration.

This year I wanted to tell a story by music in ten minutes. I wanted it to be an emotionally gripping story. Yes, I wanted tears in the audience. (We’ll see if that happens or not.)

So I came up with the concept of a war bride of WWII, saying goodbye to her new husband who is off to war. But in a very real sense, those brides who stayed behind had to fight their own wars. Wars of extreme emotion and confusion. Wars of worry. Wars of rationing. Wars of longing for everything to go back to normal.

So I wrote a three-part musical. Part I is called The Wedding and all the hopes, worries and desires that go into it. Then they part. Part II is the war where our heroine grows victory gardens, rations food, and works in a factory – all the while thinking and worrying about her lost love whom she fears will never come home.

Then the bells of victory sound and she anticipates his return, only to find her husband return as an invalid and broken man, in shell-shock, completely unresponsive.

This woman at war has to decide what she will do with her “selfish thoughts” since “he’s not the same man that I once knew”.

She’s still warring with herself, even though the war is over.

The point being – war is never over.

I’m real happy with how the lyrics turned out. I created the melodies for the different tunes in the musical, then I passed them on to my colleague and co-composer Laura Danneker who took them and created a lot of cool music to go with my melodies.

The resulting piece is a powerful piece of dramatic musical theatre.

I have not been connected at all with the production. I’ve met the director once and have communicated back and forth, but I have no idea which creative direction that they took the piece. It should be fun to discover.

“A Woman at War” – KLPAC Sept 23-26, 2014.

Short & Sweet Musical: My composition’s up first during week one!

The news out of the Short & Sweet KL Musical Festival is that they have posted the running order of the show for week one. My musical “A Woman at War” which I wrote and co-composed the music with Laura Danneker is up first during the first week of the festival.

I’m super excited to have Alvin Looi doing the directing with his wife Karyn doing the musical direction. They have been gracious enough to keep me “in the loop” with what they are doing with the production, but I’ll be seeing for the first time when they perform it live on Sept 26. “A Woman at War” will be showing four nights in a row, Sept 24-27, and then, hopefully, it will be chosen for the gala night which is on Sunday October 5. I’ll get to see it twice. Can’t wait.

Lots of fun stuff coming up in September including Short & Sweet Theatre Penang of which I’ll be directing one piece and I’ll get to watch the production of another one that I have written. More on those later.

Here’s to live theatre! Nothing like it.

short sweet capture

Revisiting an Old Script and Loving It

Kerry Livgren, composer and musician for the 70s progressive rock group Kansas (and always one of my favorites – check out Proto-Kaw), once said that he loved the opportunity to re-record a track that he had written. In essence, anyway that it can be improved he loved to do it.

Well, I made a determination a short time ago to do a re-staging of one of the plays/musicals which I wrote about seven years ago entitled “A Tad of Trouble.” It was only the second play I had written, and it turned out to be a huge audience favorite. The story line is as follows:

In 1903, a troubled, mute boy, Tad, is sent off by his father to work for a traveling salesman, who turns out to be a crook. Tad’s guardian angel discovers unexpectedly that when she sings, Tad can hear her. So she decides to give Tad the voice of song if “he agrees to right the wrongs.”

It’s a really fun and funny play with a large dose of music added to it since everything that comes out of Tad’s mouth is a song.

Now, I get to do a Kerry Livgren and re-think and re-form the play into a full-fledged musical with many new songs, edited scenes, and crisper dialogue. This is one of the projects I am working on now and it is extremely enjoyable. I’ll be working with some young, talented composers on some of the new songs, and then we will put the whole script into full production starting in January.

Most things that I write I am happy to keep in the past and just move on to something new. But every once in a while, it is good to go back and “do it right”, improve a piece of writing, look at it with fresh eyes, and be creative once again on an old piece of writing.

Give it a try sometime. I bet you will be amazed at how many new ideas you have now compared to when you originally wrote it.

Try Something New: I Write Songs

When was the last time you tried to do something where you felt completely out of your element? When was the last time you tried something where you felt completely clueless about how to proceed or what to do?

I feel that way all the time because I like to create songs, but I don’t know the first thing about music. The last music class I ever took was in 4th grade. I remember I learned a tune on the flut-o-phone. My mother played the piano, and I remember asking her as a small boy if I could learn. I took one lesson from her and then didn’t want to do anymore. I regret that now. About 12 years ago, I heard my friend say that he practiced the guitar for 30 minutes a day for 6 months and after that time he could play songs. I decided I wanted to play enough to strum chords and make songs, so I did it. So I know a set amount of guitar chords, but that is it when it comes to music. I can’t read a note.

Honestly, I know nothing about music, but I’ve written several musicals – of course, not without help. Here’s what I’m working with now, my ipad Garageband.


This week, I started writing a mini-musical to enter in the Short & Sweet Musical festival later this year. I have a solid concept, but was wondering how to pull it off. Here’s the way I write music:

I turn on my digital recorder and then just create some sort of catchy melody in head which I will hum or sing with mock lyrics into the recorder. Once I have that basic tune, I’ll sit at my computer with my headphones on, listening back to the tune, and I’ll start pounding out some lyrics.  As I polish the lyrics, that usually helps to refine the melody, of which, I’ll re-record with my vocals.

This week, however, I discovered that I can get out my ipad and peck out the melody on the grand piano. So now, I’ll record the melody on my ipad, combine the melody with my vocals on Audacity, create an mp3 file, and then call in the cavalry.

I’ll send my crude recordings to my co-composer who does all the heavy lifting, since she actually knows what she is doing. She’ll arrange, record, and score the song until it’s amazing.

So I just finished part I of my new mini-musical. Sounding great, so far.

I love musical writing. It’s a very fun, rewarding creative outlet that is different from storytelling.

So if I can write music, trust me, you can do anything you always wanted to do but were afraid to try. Go for it!

And have fun doing it!




“Boardwalk Melody: The Musical” – Here we go!

I’m privileged to work with an amazing group of high school kids who love the dramatic arts. Thursday, we start the production phase of our original, full-length musical “Boardwalk Melody.”

The writing phase ended in December. Well, I should make a few qualifications. The book part of the musical if finished; I wrote that with a group of five student writers. The musical portion of it still has a ways to go. We have recorded vocal samples of all the original songs, but we still need to record them into performance tracks for practice. Then, we need to make the musical scores so we can have live music. We have about another 6 weeks to get this all done.

Thursday, we have our first cast read-through – always a fun time, and then next week we start rehearsals for dancing, singing, and acting.

We have three shows booked at PenangPAC in May for our debut.

Style-wise, I wanted to create a musical that would hearken back to the golden area of musicals. The music has some classic show-tunes and fun, jazzy numbers. No rock.

The story is fun, and extremely funny. We have some really great, well-developed characters and a neatly wrapped ending.

I purposefully wanted a feel-good musical. And we did it. Can’t wait to get started.

Then next year we’ll go dark and tragic, perhaps.

Much more on this later!

Boardwalk Melody

Six Hours of Musical Drama Writing

When I have six hours of work ahead of me, at times, it can seem like an eternity.

When I have six hours of writing ahead of me, oh how invigorating it is!

On my day off day, I spent hours working with several individuals on the full-length musical we are writing for 2014. What a lot of fun!

Some highlights:

Me singing through a bunch of songs, going back and forth with myself on some lyrics with others looking at me like “is this guy for real?” haha I am. It was fun.

Long talks about plot. Disagreement, idea off of idea, brainstorming. And then breakthrough when the final two writers standing finally just nailed it! I love it when a plan comes together.

Lunch. Tandori-garlic butter nan-set. Hmmmm.

Discussions about characters, melodies, possible actors, auditions, dancing, singing, choreography, and set design. How fun!

And then the saddest part of the day was when I realized that some people in the world actually get to do this for a living, for a living wage, as in they get paid, real money. Creation for a pay check.

Maybe someday. I can dream.

In the meantime, I’m having a blast.


I’m Writing a Full-Length Musical!

I’m feeling ambitious – or stupid. Only time will settle the duel.

I’ve decided to go all out this year and create, from scratch, a full-length, full-blown, Broadway style musical for my dramatic production in May 2014.

No, I’m not doing this alone. I’m working with a fun and talented group of motivated high school students. I have three musicians who will be scoring, and arranging the music. I have 5 others who are working on the dramatic aspect of the script.

I’m at the helm writing dialogue and songs, keeping the project on task, and, hopefully, afloat.

We are approaching this like a classical musical. Opening dance number setting the scene. Introspective songs dispersed in the dialogue to reveal the characters hopes and desires.

We have a very simple premise. Set on a boardwalk of a ocean resort town, a strong willed woman entrepreneur opens a swimsuit shop next to a travel agency filled with eligible guys. There’s actually a wonderful twist to the plot which I don’t want to reveal at this time.

Our assumption is that the audience is sitting in the ocean. The front of the stage is the boardwalk, and the two shops will be side by side at the back of the stage. An ice cream lady, selling her wares, will be the narrator of the story. She is being wooed by a fisherman who has been trying to catch her for a long time. Their story will give insight into the main story about the strong willed swimsuit designer and the the manager of the tourist company who will fall in love with her.

But there is a fun twist.

I already have an assistant director and a choreographer. I still need a musical director because I want live music at the performance.

Our timeline:

December 2013 – finished draft of script and sample recordings of music

December 2013 – early auditions for lead roles

January 2013 – Open auditions

Feb-May – Rehearsal Schedule

May – 3 performances @ Penang Performing Arts Centre.

This is going to be a blast!