BWW Interviews: Carrie Manolakos and Carrie Cimma Talk LIZZIE Album
October 2013 has been an exciting month for the rock musical LIZZIE. The first large production of the musical was mounted by Theater Under the Stars' newest venture TUTS Undergound, a theatre series promising no revivals, no dead authors, and no boundaries. Likewise, on October 8, 2013, LIZZIE's theatrical concept double album was released, garnering glowing and positive reviews from critics. While they were in Houston performing in LIZZIE, I spoke with two of LIZZIE's hard rocking stars, Carrie Manolakos and Carrie Cimma, about their experiences recording the exceptionally fun and alluring album.
BWW: How did you first get involved with LIZZIE?
Carrie Manolakos: I got involved last year, with the production in Seattle at the Village Theatre. I knew one of the writers just a little bit at the time. We had coffee together, and he asked me if I'd come out and play Lizzie. I had seen the show at NAMT [National Alliance for Musical Theatre], and I thought it was really cool. So, I said, "Yes." I've been with it ever since.
Carrie Cimma: I auditioned for the Off-Broadway production in 2009. I just walked in off the street, basically, based on the breakdown of the character and what my agent saw. He sent me in to audition for Sara Schatz at [Jay] Binder [Casting], whose no longer there. I just went through the audition process and booked it.
BWW: What was it like recording the album in the studio?
Carrie Manolakos: Well, I love being in the studio. For the most part, I've done specific songs or my own music. I haven't done a full musical before, so it was really cool to do that because the show is so rock and there are so many different types of sounds that I get to sing. I just had such a blast with it. It felt very collaborative because we were with each other and playing off each other, so we had a blast.
Carrie Cimma: I love being in the studio anyway, and it was really simple because the girls all had such different schedules that we did most of the recording just ourselves with the band tracks that Alan [Stevens Hewitt] and [Anthony] "Rocky" [Gallo] had already laid out. So, it was just sort of me in a room with a pair of headphones and Tim [Maner], Alan, Steven [Cheslik-deMeyer], and our engineer. Then, that's how I did the vocals. Then, at a studio in Queens in the middle of a blizzard (Laughs), we sort of all got together and did the dialogue and some mixing things that needed to happen with all four girls. It was great. I was already so familiar with the music and the concept that it was pretty easy for me to just have some fun and try things that may or may not have made it onto the album that hadn't appeared in the show before. You know, just different ways of singing things that I hadn't tried out before. It was fun to get in there and play.
BWW: The roles of Lizzie Borden and Bridget "Maggie" Sullivan are vocally demanding, how did you prepare for these roles?
Carrie Manolakos: Well, actually (Pauses) my life journey is sort of in line with (Laughs) the show's journey, I would say. I've been doing a lot more rock and sort of singing stuff much further out than musical theatre and doing my own music, so it actually was ok for me. I've done quite a bit of vocally demanding stuff at this point, so it's just sort of in line, I think, with (Laughs) what I've been singing these days.
Carrie Cimma: Actually, if anyone had ever written a role for me without knowing that they wrote it for me, it was this one. (Laughs) Basically, as far as the vocally challenging stuff goes, my voice sits pretty low anyway and a lot of what I sing is written almost in a male tenor range, so that was fun for me to do.
I get a lot of sleep because, for me, it's more a physically demanding role than it is a vocally demanding role. The trick for me was because the character of Bridget sort of acts as a narrator and connects with the audience for the majority of the show, I sort of had to find my balance between storytelling within the play, relating to the audience, and sort of guiding the audience through how they can react to the action that's happening on stage. There's very rarely a forth wall in the production, so it's sort of my job as an actor to act within the story, tell the story, and then to also tell the audience that they're welcome to sort of participate in the show in a way that they may not be used to with other classically driven and classically formatted sorts of musicals.
BWW: What's your favorite part of the studio album?
Carrie Cimma: I love the new tune that they wrote. It's in Act I, and its "Gotta Get Out Of Here." It sort of sounds like a Metallica/Tool hybrid with the weird 7/4 meter. I just love that track. I think it's great. I think that's sort of what we were missing in the show before, a really sort of hard rock, very un-musical theatre tune. I just think the orchestrations on that number are fantastic. And "Rocky" just did such a strong job with the ins and outs and sort of the whispered choruses that you might not necessarily pick up when it goes past you in 10-seconds on stage. They did a really good job sort of hiding all those subliminal messages (Laughs) on the album.
Carrie Manolakos: I have a lot of favorite parts. I love "Gotta Get Out Of Here." That was sort of a shock to us all, I think, because I'd never sang that song before we did it in the studio. I think it brought a new element to the show and to the album, a different color, and a different type of sound that we didn't have before. So, that was so fun to do. I also love "This Is Not Love." That's another one of my favorites. I really love doing it all. I love this show.
BWW: "Shattercane and Velvet Grass" is probably my favorite part.
Carrie Manolakos: Oh really! Yeah, "Shattercane" is really fun.
Carrie Cimma: Yeah! "Shattercane" is really popular. We actually did an acoustic version with egg shakers and acoustic guitar back when I was doing the 2009 production on Frank [DeCaro]'s Sirius Radio Show, and that was really fun. That song is sort of adaptable. You get the weird psychedelic, Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane theme kind of going in there, but when we did that acoustic version we sort of realized how that song can play a range of genres.
BWW: It's just such a cool song. It is so intricate.
Carrie Manolakos: Yeah, it's a blast.
BWW: And, I say "Shattercane and Velvet Grass" is my favorite, but it may actually be "Thirteen Days in Taunton." That's another moment I can't get enough of.
Carrie Manolakos: I love that one! That one I love doing live. That's probably my favorite live. (Laughs)
Carrie Cimma: "Taunton" is such a good round up of the whole show. The lyrics are really fun. It's sort of a driving, get you moving, get on the treadmill kind of a tune. (Laughs)
BWW: Why do you think people should be excited about the album?
Carrie Manolakos: Because it's not like anything else out there. It's certainly like nothing I've done or heard. It's not musical theatre. It's much more geared toward the rock show or rock opera, that sort of vibe and planet. I just think that it's so well written, it's very smart, and there's so many different shades, especially to Lizzie. All these characters really take on a life of their own, and the music is just so cool and so killer. I mean, it's really not like anything else out there. It's an experience. (Laughs)
BWW: I agree.
Carrie Cimma: My uncle had ordered a CD. He said he got it because we were related, and that's what relatives do. They buy your stuff whether they want to or not. He listened to it on a drive somewhere, and he was saying how he didn't really like musical theatre show tunes and soundtracks. That really wasn't his thing, but he was just talking about how the band rocked, and how everyone was so rockin' on it. He said it was more like The Who's Tommy, back when they did the original concept album in the 60s. So, he was like, "It's really more a rock concert."
I think, for musical theatre fans, it's much different than what they're used to hearing as far as a soundtrack goes as well. So, I think for people who are used to rock concept albums, they can see that musical theatre is not just for nerds and Disney Princesses (Laughs), and musical theatre people, they can see that there's a different sort of genre of music out there that's pointing toward the goal of storytelling and emotional narrative. I think it's a really great hybrid between two facets in the industry. I think it's a nice meeting ground sort of between the more classical musical theatre show tune soundtracks and rock albums. I think it has a great appeal for both of those subsets. I think it delivers on both ends: narrative and rock music.
BWW: Since you've been involved with both concert performances and the studio recording, what differences exist between doing the show live and doing it for a recording?
Carrie Manolakos: You know, there are challenges to doing them both. Certainly doing two shows in one day is challenge, but until we were in the studio I had never sung Lizzie for six hours straight, so that was sort of a challenge in its own right. I mean, you can take breaks, but I guess Lizzie is so intense that it's hard to do straight. When I'm doing a show, it goes by so quickly because it's a fairly short show, but it's also so fun to do. It feels right. The studio album was very different because I could go back and be like, "I didn't like that." Or, you know, the producer or the writers could go back and say, "Hey, why don't we hit that a few more times." So, there is a little bit more leeway and room for mistakes when you're doing it in the studio, obviously. But, there's nothing like performing it live.
Carrie Cimma: There a lot of things I get to do vocally in the studio that I just can't do on stage. For example, the whole last 10 minutes of Act I is me just running around like a maniac. There are certain things I can't sing the way I'd like to sing them that I got to do on the album because I was standing still with headphones on. I was afforded the opportunity to sings some things on the album that my body will not allow me to do on stage. On the opposite side, there are certain things I do in the show that you don't get to experience on the album. As I was saying, it's much more a physical role for me than it is a vocal role. I get to sort of play up the punkish-ness of the character a bit more that you don't necessarily get form the album.
I think while the album sort of alludes to the design elements that are incorporated into the live show, I think what the album does is say, "Well, now that you've listened to it, you have to come see what it looks like and what it feels like to be in the room while its being done live." It's a great way to promote the show. Then, the show is a great way to promote the album because once you see the show and you get hooked on that music, you have something to sort of take home with you and listen to afterwards. I think it's a way of cross promoting that's done really well. There are secret Easter Eggs in both versions of the work, and that's why people go to see concerts. I could listen to Paul McCartney's new album as much as I like in the privacy of my own home, but that doesn't nearly compare to going to see him play live at Barclays [Center, Brooklyn] or Fenway [Park, Boston]. I think that's why people go and pay money to see recording artists play live. They want to have that sort of connection, and they want to experience what they experience in the privacy of their room or car. They sort of want to see how that's brought to life, and I think that's true with the LIZZIE album too.
LIZZIE, a theatrical concept double album, was released by Broadway Records to iTunes on October 4, 2013 and elsewhere both digitally and physically on October 8, 2013. It can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
Be sure to catch one of the upcoming concert performances in Philadelphia, PA when the 11TH Hour Theatre Company produces the show as part of their Next Step Concert Series from November 23-25, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.11thhourtheatrecompany.org. For a list of other upcoming productions of LIZZIE, please visit http://www.lizziethemusical.com.
For information about other theatrical recording releases, click here.
Image and photos courtesy of Broadway Records.