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BWW Interview: Ethan Slater and Nick Blaemire Talk EDGE OF THE WORLD: THE MUSICAL World Premiere Concept Recording

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The album, featuring Norbert Leo Butz and Lilli Cooper, is available on Friday, August 6th!

BWW Interview: Ethan Slater and Nick Blaemire Talk EDGE OF THE WORLD: THE MUSICAL World Premiere Concept Recording

Tony nominee Ethan Slater (SpongeBob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical, Who's Your Baghdaddy) and Drama Desk nominee Nick Blaemire (tick, tick...BOOM!, Glory Days) have teamed up for the world premiere concept recording of EDGE OF THE WORLD: THE MUSICAL.

The recording features Slater, Blaemire, Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz (My Fair Lady, Big Fish), and Tony nominee Lilli Cooper (Tootsie, Spring Awakening), and is available on Friday, August 6th wherever digital music is sold and on BroadwayRecords.com

In EDGE OF THE WORLD, when young Ben (Ethan Slater) and his father Henry (Norbert Leo Butz) move to a remote patch of land in rural Alaska, Ben uses his imagination to cope with his new surroundings. But as he learns more about the circumstances that brought him into isolation (Lilli Cooper), the line between lie and reality begins to blur. It's a sweeping, handmade fable about the world we're given, and the one we make for ourselves.

We spoke with Slater and Blaemire about how their songwriting partnership came to be, how they found the right sound for the album, what it was like working with Norbert Leo Butz and Lilli Cooper, and much more!


When did you two first pair up and come up with the idea for EDGE OF THE WORLD: THE MUSICAL?

Ethan: Nick and I met when we were working on SpongeBob [SquarePants: The Broadway Musical], during the early development workshops, and we connected as friends because we appreciated each other's work as actors, but there was more to it than that. We just had a lot of fun hanging out, and we're both writers, and I was in awe of Nick's writing, and he was an open ear to listen to what I was working on.

Around then, I had started working on this show, 'Edge of the World'. I was sort of putting together these thoughts, and I feel like I had worked on it in a very specific kind of way, developing a bunch of songs, and the ideas, and the concepts, and the characters. And then, a couple of years ago I asked Nick if I could show it to him, and if he could give me some advice. And he very generously was like, "Yeah, you know what? I think that I can help make this a better show." So, we started working together then, really crafting something. The nuggets were there, and there was a lot that was fermenting already, but together we were able to craft the show and make it something more than I ever thought it could be. Is that right, Nick?

Nick: That's lovely! I feel like I'm collecting people in my time in New York to join the mutual admiration society, who are just people of good character and who I admire their talent, and Ethan and I very much hit it off. I am a huge admirer of Ethan's spirit, and also his ability as a musician and a writer, and the way that he thinks. I think what's so fun to me... I spent most of my twenties writing alone, and that was good, educational experience. I wrote my first show, 'Glory Days', with my buddy James Gardiner, and then he moved back to DC and became a publicist and started doing other stuff. So, I struck out on my own for a while, and was like, "I'll run into people eventually who I connect with, and I'll find a way to collaborate." And now, I just am obsessed with collaboration and think it's so amazing what two or more heads can do to an idea.

So, when Ethan showed me this show, which I think was called 'Imaginings' back then, it was that feeling that I think Jazz musicians get, where it's like, "Oh, let me on that track, let me on that groove," and there was just that feeling immediately. I knew what he was trying to do, and I was interested in applying the things I'd learned about storytelling in the time that I'd been toiling on my own, to this project. It was so exciting to see how our voices blended, and also how much lighter it is to carry something between two collaborators, and to have that perspective to share.

And the plot of this musical, the story, it's so wonderful. What came first with this? Was it the idea for what the story should actually be, and then the music followed? Or was it music first and then the storyline took shape?

Ethan: The thing that came first was the idea of the story. This idea of being raised in isolation and using your imagination to cope with your loneliness. It's sounds sort of grim, but right off the bat I had this feeling, it felt like it was evocative of the sort of emotional truths that I wanted to be writing about. And that was the story, a father whisks his son away to a rural, isolated Alaska, where the boy is raised, using his imagination to cope with his loneliness. From there I started writing some songs. The first song that I wrote was actually from Henry's perspective - Henry is played by Norbert Leo Butz - and it's called Rocks and Things, and I wrote the song Alaska, Here We Come!, which is the song about the whisking away.

I think what was really exciting to me about the story was the juxtaposition of the world that we create for kids, the world that is created for us as kids, and that we create for ourselves, versus the reality behind that world. I think that with the role of Henry, which is clearly this part that stuck out to me as emotionally important and resonant, it was like doing your absolute best to create the best world for your kid possible, and yet you end up in isolation in Alaska. That's a long-winded way of saying I think the first thing that came was the story, and then the music sort of flowed out of it tonally and lyrically.

On that note, how did you two go about finding the right sound musically for this story? How did the actual songwriting process go between the two of you?

Nick: I think that one of the things that we immediately shared when we met was that we both play guitar. Guitar has so many different styles that it can take on, and I grew up in much more of a Rock and R&B household, and I feel like, Ethan, correct me if I'm wrong, but you have a strong folk base, you talk about Paul Simon a lot, and that was really exciting to me because I love that music. I grew up on a fair amount of that as well, but I had never really investigated the profundity of it. Sometimes a four-chord folk song can sound very similar to another four-chord folk song, and you don't quite get what's brilliant about Bob Dylan's folk versus James Taylor's folk versus Paul Simon's folk. And I thought Ethan had, right away, found this amazing palette that really felt like stripped down, fundamental nature, the idea of music as a means of passing down stories in the same way that cavemen wrote them on the walls. So, it was really exciting, it was like, "How do we tease that out and sustain that over the course of a show, or an album?"

It was so fun because when you write a song, there are little details in it that you can mine that imply other pieces of a song or a show. So, there are these little figures that we were able to take and say, "Okay, if this is where he is at the beginning of the show in his emotional arc, what if we strip that groove of its ornamentation and we make that the groove of this 11 o'clock number song?" It became this tapestry of style that there is so much in, and it's given me a much deeper appreciation for folk music and for acoustic music that is a bit of a quieter invitation than the brashness of a rock song, but I think there is a lot of celebration in it. There is this depth, and layered emotionality to it that I think this story uniquely unlocks, and it's been really fun to play in that world.

And how did Norbert Leo Butz and Lilli Cooper get involved with this album? How did you decide that these two were right to take on this music with you?

Ethan: I went to school with Lilli, we did a show in college together, and the first musical that I ever did in New York, which was at the [New York International] Fringe Festival, we were in together. So we go back, and Nick and Lilli also go back. Speaking of the mutual admiration society, that was a moment of, "Yeah, Lilli is amazing, and an amazing friend that is also the perfect actor that you want to work with in interpreting songs and developing characters." And then with Norbert, Norbert was always the person in our minds who would be playing this. Whenever I was singing through a song, I was imagining that I was Norbert.

Nick: Your Norbert impression is great.

Ethan: Oh, thank you so much. His voice, and him as an actor, is so ingrained in that way. It was just this hope against hope. I'd met Norbert once or twice, and Nick had done a reading with him, and we were just like, "Since he is our number 1, the best-case scenario, let's just reach out and see what he thinks of the demos." And fortunately, he was super into it, and was an awesome collaborator on this.

Are you planning for any live performances of the album?

Nick: Totally. Now we're returning to all of the problems that plague every show, in that getting people in the same room is really tough. When you go for your number 1 choices, who are all Tony winners and Tony nominees, everybody is quite busy. So, that was one of the real gifts, and the opportunity we recognized about making this album, was, we grew up on concept albums, Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, Civil War, Aida, Myths and Hymns, there are just a million that are great, and the opportunity of the internet, frankly, allowed for us to collaborate. Even though Norbert was in Vancouver, and Ethan was in LA, and I was in Brooklyn, and Lilli was in Harlem, and our producer, Aaron Ankrum, was in Minnesota, we were able to make it feel like we were in the same room. And that was one of the real goals of the album that I think we pulled off.

But now, it opens up this question of, "What does the show do next?" And I think it remains to be seen. I think it's exciting to think about the fact that people will be hearing it, and in that reaction, hopefully we can use the momentum to really nail down some dates where we're all together. But it's tricky, Norbert has some concert dates coming up that hopefully we'll be joining him for, and Ethan has a concert that we're going to do in Times Square, right Ethan?

Ethan: Yeah, September 17th!

Nick: So, we're planning, for sure, but I think, as we all know - and BroadwayWorld has been a touchstone for me, to check in and be like, "What's the progress of the rebirth of the American theater after this time, with all we've learned in the interim?" - I think we're all wondering, how do we do this? So, to have a show that we were able to work on and get in fighting shape for that conversation is cool, but the answer remains open.

Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share? Anything you'd like to say to people who are going to listen to the album?

Nick: I'd like to say a couple of things. I think we're really hoping that this album is something that you can find some space for and listen to in a quiet room, or maybe even outside under a tree, and enjoy the atmosphere that it is hoping to evoke. And also that Ethan and I are about to do shows this winter, Ethan's doing Assassins at CSC playing The Balladeer, which is one of the best parts ever, and I'm doing Space Dogs, which is a musical that I'm doing with my buddy Van Hughes, that we're both starring in at MCC. Across town from each other, but at the same time. So, everyone should come see those, and listen to 'Edge of the World' on the way, and be whisked away to many different worlds from Ethan and Nick!

Ethan: Beautifully said.

Nick: Thank you.


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