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Broadway Bullet Interview: 33 to Nothing

Taking place during one alcohol-laced rehearsal, 33 to Nothing rocks hard and breaks hearts. This downtown NYC garage band is on the edge of breaking-up as the lead singer and his boyfriend (also in the band) are, er, breaking-up. With each year that passes that they aren't rock stars, the incessant pull of adulthood becomes harder to ignore. With more axes to grind than grinding the ax, is it even worth staying together? All of the actors play their own instruments, and all of the musicians act their own lines in this high-octane rock drama guaranteed to remind you that you, too, could have been a famous rocker, if only …

We talk to, and hear from, actor/writer/composer Grant James Varjas, actor John Good, and actor/co-composer/arranger Preston Clarke. They perform "Now That it's Over" and "Low to the Ground".

Broadway Bullet Interview: 33 to Nothing

Broadway Bullet: 33 to Nothing is a play with music that was last seen in New York, ending April 28th, 2006, but it was successful, and it is back, and it's had a few changes, and we've got three of the people here with us today in the studio. How are you guys doing?

ALL: Hey/Good/What's up Michael?/How are you doing?

BB: Good. I got a bunch of you guys -- you wanna introduce yourselves, and tell us what you're doing with the show, so our listeners can identify your voices?

John Good: I'm John Good, I'm an actor and guitarist/singer in the show.

Grant James Vargas: I'm Grant James Vargas, I'm an actor in the show and singer and piano player, as well as the writer of the play and the composer of the music.

Preston Clarke: And my name is Preston Clarke, and I'm the lead guitarist/singer/actor in the play.

BB: Well, now, you guys bill this as a "play with music," so, I guess, what is the concept here of 33 to Nothing?

GJV: The play is basically a band's rehearsal in real time -- 90 minutes out of this band's rehearsal -- so the songs actually come out of the practicality of the band rehearsing them for a show, as opposed to us bursting into song and conversing with each other that way. But they basically also -- the songs sort of serve to tell the backstory of the characters in the show. The lead singer is someone who seems to be able to communicate only through his lyrics, as opposed to actually saying things to people out loud. There's a married couple in the play, which is John and Amanda Gruss, and she plays bass, and then there's a gay couple, Preston's character and mine, who have broken up, and most of the songs that the lead character seems to write are about the break-up, which obviously makes the lead guitarist a little uncomfortable. So, it's basically those relationships, and the dynamic of a band, and real relationships in a band rehearsal.

BB: So is the drummer's girlfriend there the whole time saying, "Oh, you're awesome"?

GJV: The drummer's girlfriend calls repeatedly. (laughter)

PC: And interrupts practice, much like that phone just did. (laughter)

GJV: She's a very strong offstage character.

PC: Yes, she's constantly calling him, and he's constantly taking her calls.

BB: So what was your inspiration for putting together a "musical," so to speak?

GJV: Well, I was in a band a few years ago that played around New York at the same time as I was trying to be an actor, and the dynamic of a band is so specific, but it's also so universal, I think any band will have the same stories. I mean, drummers always seem to have the same personality, bass players seem to have similar personalities, so the band dynamics always seem kind of similar in that people relate to them very well. And I started writing the play as a comedy about a band, and then ended up fusing all the things that were happening in my life at the time into the play, which made it much more serious and autobiograpical. So, it started off being this sort of comedy about a band, and now it's sort of about relationships, and being in your 30's, and deciding whether or not you're wasting your time by trying to be a musician or an actor. And whether or not you should start trying to be an adult, and have kids, and get a house and a real job.

BB: Well, I know as an extra treat for us, you're going to perform some of these songs, acoustically, right here in the studio.  So do we want to get to one of those quick, and see what this music is like?

GJV: Sure, that sounds great.

BB: You want to set up this first song?

GJV: This first song is called, "Now That It's Over," and in the play, it's a song that one-half of the gay couple has insisted on rewriting so that he can get his point of view on the break-up into the song.  So it's sort of a duet between Ray and his ex-boyfriend, Bri.

BB: Were you guys actually a band here before putting together the show?

GJV: No, not really. We kind of got together, and we just kinda added pieces on. Actually, Amanda learned how to play bass for this show, in particular. I mean, Preston's the only real professional musician -- the rest of us have played just kind of non-professionally. And now, we've actually become a real band, which is kinda funny, we played out at the Knitting Factory and Arlene's Grocery, and we actually cut an album as well.

JG: We decided instead of doing a cast album of the play, we would do the album that the band would have made if the band was actually real. We do have a CD that's on sale at the show, and on our website, , but we tried to make it a real band's rock album. instead of just the cast album of the play.

BB: So, which was harder:  the musicians that had to learn to act, or the actors who had to learn to play music?

JG: I don't know. (laughs) It's tough to say.

GJV: So far, it's been easier than any of us thought it would be. Preston is a great musician, and having a real musician in the show, able to teach and help with the arrangements, which he did on the record, and just be the guy there that, you know, can help you when you don't know what you're doing on your instrument, is great.

JG: And he brought in kind of a Broadway pedigree, too.

GJV: Yes. We also have now, this guy, Keith Levinson, who's our musical director for the show, which the first time around we did the show, we just kind of did ourselves, but this time we have a great musical director, who's done a lot of Broadway and a lot of rock music, and he also produced our record.

JG: We brought in some heavy hitters for this. (laughter)

BB: And directing the show, too --

JG: And directing the show is Randal Myler, who's fantastic.

GJV: And he did "Love, Janis!," and "Aint' Nothin' But the Blues." And "Lonesome Highway," is it?

PC: "Lost Highway."

JG: Hank Williams, "Lost Highway."

GJV: That's the David Lynch.

PC: Lost Highway: The Musical! But he has been incredible to have because, if this isn't his genre, it's nobody's!  I mean, he has so much experience, and has mastered sort of the idea of having live music within a play, and having the play and the live music interact and intertwine. It's not just -- he helped us to really see how we could make it less of: drama, song, drama, song. He's just been really, really great.

BB: Do you think all bands could benefit from having a director at their rehearsals? (laughter) 

GJV: It's always good to have someone who's definitely the boss that can end an argument, yeah, it probably would. It certainly helped us.

PC: Yeah.

BB: We're gonna hear another song from you guys. What's this one?

GJV: This next song is called, "Low to the Ground," which is one of the new songs -- it wasn't in the show the first time, and it's one of the newer songs in the show. It's another break-up song, but we also like to think of it kind of as the band's single, if they had one. This is their hit.

---------- Listen to "Low to the Ground" from 33 to Nothing on Vol 121 of Next Big Hit: Broadway Bullet ------------

BB: Besides all this, I understand that the theater you're performing in is the first "green" theater, and I gotta know what that means because I'm envisioning people sharing a communal toilet. (laughter)

JG: That's an option! Everyone except the stars.

BB: Passing toilet paper back and forth --

PC: Reusable, of course!

JG: It's cloth toilet paper.

GJV: The space is eco-friendly and it's been constructed with --

BB: What is the name of the space?

GJV: The space is called The Wild Project; it's on East 3rd Street, between Avenue A and B.

JG: And it's actually where we did the show before, but we've renovated it completely --or the owner of the theatre has renovated it completely -- and made it this hundred-seat theater instead of a fifty-seat theater. And it's completely eco-friendly, completely green; it's made with reusable bamboo, it's got solar panels, recycled glass. All the fixtures, like toilets and sinks and things, are all eco-friendly and done with soft flushing and water conservation, and even the cups in the bar area in the front, in the gallery area, are made from corn and from recyclable materials, and the wine and beer that will be available will be organic. And it's a big hippie paradise there. (laughter)

BB: Is there air conditioning?

ALL: Oh yeah, yeah!

JG: There is great air conditioning.

BB: I hear "green theate.r" and I picture sweating.

JG: It's a beautiful, beautiful theater. It's probably one of the prettiest theaters around.

GJV: It is. And also the theater has its own website that explains the eco stuff and also the gallery that's in the front of the theater and that website is . Yeah, it's a beautiful, beautiful theater. Especially if you're used to  Off Broadway theaters.

PC: Yeah, really nice seats.

GJV: Yeah, that's true.

PC: Really nice seats.

BB: So how do we see the show, where do people go to get tickets, and all that great information?

GJV: Well, the tickets are -if you go to, there is a link to buy tickets and through .

JG: Previews begin on --

JG/GJV: Thursday, the 19th.

GJV: And the show opens -- the big opening for the show is the 25th of July, Wednesday the 25th. And then we'll be running Tuesdays - Saturdays at 8 o'clock for the forseeable future.

BB: All right, so open run, but I always tell people get there early because an open run doesn't mean forever if the tickets aren't selling.

GJV: Definitely.

BB: Thank you guys for coming down, and talking about the show, and for playing some songs. And best of luck!

ALL: Thank you/Thanks a lot, Michael.

Photos: 1.) Grant James Varjas, left, and Preston Clarke in 33 to Nothing,  2.)  Ken Forman in a scene from 33 To Nothing (photo © Dale May), 3.) The cast of 33 To Nothing




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