With just a moment to catch my breath between moving to beautiful West Virginia and heading off to my home away from home, Summer at Sem, I’m doing my best to hit pause and take stock. The past few months have handed me some incredible creative endeavors and new opportunities. Not the least of which, the release of Jeremiah Downes & Friends: Live at Farmers Alley Theatre.
Down the YouTube rabbit hole I go, stumbling upon a video of my beloved friend Stearns Matthews singing one of the first songs I wrote (a long, long time ago) at our little show down at The Duplex (a less long time ago). It wasn’t included on the aforementioned album but it was performed beautifully as a part of the evening at Farmers Alley by Matthew Lanyi.
Jeremiah Downes & Friends: Live at Farmers Alley Theatre is now available to purchase and download online, and will be available through major online streaming services soon! For more, and to sample tracks from the album click here.
It's been just over a month since we took over the stage downtown at Farmers Alley Theatre. The brilliant Alex Tobin and yours truly are working on the live album now with plans for a release in early spring.
In the meantime, here's a little appetizer with the incomparable Madge Dietrich, Evan Gallagher-Frace, Logan Dolence, Joriah Kwame Fleming, Matthew Lanyi, Alyssa Meeuwsen and Cara Palombo in a clip of Rise Up.
With Dave Van Haren on percussion, Russell Elkus on bass and Brent Decker on sax.
Talented and ambitious high school and middle school students, applications are now open and I'm proud to officially announce another incredible summer at Sem in our Creative Arts Theatre Program. Highlights include, the return of our main stage musical production with Stephen Schwartz's Pippin, and, a collaboration with our colleagues in dance and music on a celebration of the life and work of Billy Joel on the Kirby Center for Creative Arts stage.
Our knock out roster of 2019 Broadway guest artists include the incomparable Madge Dietrich, just off the First Broadway National Tour of Kinky Boots (who will share this stage with our Sem students!), and master teachers Charlie Gilbert and D'Arcy Webb just before the release of Charlie's book The SAVI Singing Actor! There may very well be a Sem alum or two taking the stage with our students as well.
Cara Lieurance and WMUK were kind enough to have yours truly, and Evan Gallagher-Frace, on this morning for a feature about Jeremiah Downes & Friends: Live at Farmers Alley Theatre. You can get a glimpse into the evening of over twenty six songs from my catalog written over the last two decades.
Well, it’s official! Thrilled to announce that the incredible Evan Gallagher-Frace and Madge Dietrich (Kinky Boots), will be joining me and some of my fierce Western students (Logan Dolence, Joriah Fleming, Matthew Lanyi, Alyssa Meeuwsen and Cara Palombo) this coming January 18-19th at Farmers Alley Theatre for a new evening of my original songwriting. The evening will be recorded live with a digital release available in February.
More details to come, and in the meantime be sure to come check out The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On and get your 60’s/70’s fix 12/7-30 @ Farmers Alley Theatre.
Beyond The Rainbow: The Judy Garland Musical opens this weekend at Farmers Alley Theatre, some incredible singing and feeling grateful to be on board and back at the Alley. Who doesn’t love some Judy? You can find me behind the keys at our Sunday matinees. The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On is up next on the docket.
My last dispatch had me in the city I love, making some new songs with some friends I love, I'm happy to report that much has happened since.
My first summer at the helm of Summer at Sem Creative Arts Theatre Program proved to be a great success, due in large part to my beloved colleagues Spencer Hansen and Cara Palombo (current Western BFA musical theatre student). It was a true joy getting to teach, and make theater, at what is without question a new artistic home. It was especially gratifying bringing my friends and colleagues Ryan Scott Oliver, Nicole Van Giesen and Billy Bustamante to campus to work with our students.
I dusted off my chops and sang some Sinatra on a river boat (but, seriously). And, even got to catch the celebrated revival of Carousel on Broadway, and the electric revival of Smokey Joe's Cafe off-Broadway (both, truly remarkable).
As the summer winds down, I'm happy to announce my return to Farmers Alley Theatre this fall/winter as Music Director for their production of The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On, and with some additional work on Beyond The Rainbow: The Judy Garland Musical. Eternally grateful for my continued - always fulfilling - work with this fine company of artists and friends.
Some welcomed changes at Western in our musical theatre program, and very much looking forward to my personal world colliding with my professional world as we welcome the incomparable Brenda Braxton as our Next Stop, Broadway guest artist. Our students have no idea how lucky they are!
Here's to a fine summer, indeed, and an exciting fall around the corner.
Meet the singers. My beloved pals and brilliant artists, Alison Weisberg and Evan Gallagher-Frace. And, my old partner in crime, Mark Nucero on percussion! Looking forward to making music with them both and sharing it with you all soon. Be sure to join us in Philly on 4/28 at the Biello Martin Studio in Old City.
Much of my professional life now is made up of hours teaching aspiring and professional singers and actors. As each year goes by, and the divide between my generation and my student's gets wider and wider (warning: it happens), I find myself in awe of what they don't know. Natural college professor evolution, I'm aware. College age students certainly seem more sophisticated and savvy than I remember myself being in college. They've been labeled the "iGen", never knowing a world without the internet right at their fingertips, and, for better or worse, technology serves as their primary means of communication.
Without going too far astray, I'll just say their "reality" and understanding of the world comes with its own set of unique rewards and challenges, particularly, for those young folks who bravely choose to study this thing we do, musical theatre. But, as I say to my college students all the time, "You picked it... I didn't tell you to do this thing!" And so, I put my big boy pants on and own up to the fact that just because the internet is there, these students seemingly have more than I ever had in college, and information and insight is more readily available than in any time in human history (I used to have to walk to the music library and flip through cast recordings of shows I didn't know, enjoying them on what now seem like long lost relics of the past CD's and stereo systems), doesn't mean my young friends know where to look and what to do with it. Just as vital as my ability to imbue them with technique, artistry and heart is my effectiveness in steering them in the best direction I can toward what is truly great; the creators and creations to aspire to. If, after four years, I can get them to remember that things existed before Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton, I consider it a professional success. Time for another studio demand, "If you don't know who/what I'm talking about when I'm talking about it... write it down and look it up later, it's important."
This brings me to the subject at hand, Barbara Cook. It's tricky business talking "truly great" with students when it comes to performance because so much of what we look at when we see singers and actors (especially icons) on stage is driven by subjective thought. The good news is, I've spent almost two decades now teaching, and I'm pretty confident in my ability to make a case to a student, colleague or otherwise that's driven by objective, irrefutable evidence. This skill set often annoys my students, but in moments like this, I refer them then to something my Father always said growing up and it seems to work, "I may not always be right but I'm never wrong." (A riff on an old Samuel Goldwyn quote). It was announced today that Ms. Cook, at 89 years of age, passed away. To prove my point, I was never a huge fan of Ms. Cook's. She just "didn't do it for me." That aside, I always reference her to my students as it relates to technique, athleticism and artistry in performance; the vital role good training can play on a voice. Furthermore, how their ability to be conscious practitioners of singing is career making, and/or potentially breaking.
For my money, Barbara Cook sits on a short list of performers in the American musical theatre who enjoyed as long, fruitful and successful a career as one can hope to have; a career adored and respected by the folks who count. It has nothing to do with the fact that I was, or wasn't, a fan. She had her personal struggles, and resulting periods of silence - literally and figuratively - as a result (I refer to my third point just above). But her craftsmanship and her artistry always served her. It was clear through her many interviews, performances and memoir she understood deeply the value of technique and truth telling. That it's not one or the other. That good, healthy singing doesn't have to be at odds with truth in story telling.
It's always after the greats leave us we reflect on their "greatness." But, those of us who knew her work knew Cook was great all along. Always the teacher, it strikes me, today with her passing I've got another opportunity to say to my students, "Look. You need to know her work." And, do my job of filtering through the noise to say, this is where to look and this is what to do with it. And, so here it is. With her passing, I'm certainly reminded of the unending gifts she gave to us in performance and in her life. Rest in peace, Barbara Cook and thank you.