Interview with Composer Scott Alan

Fresh from his sold-out two show Showcase debut at the Duplex Theater, and on the heels of the news that his song "Home" performed by Shoshana Bean, was picked by NBC for the official Olympic commercial spot, BroadwayWorld sat down with up and coming composer Scott Alan to discuss his background, influences and more... If you haven't heard of him yet, you will soon.

Who were some of your musical influences growing up?

Growing up I really listened to so many different styles of music - including everything from Donny Hathaway to Billy Joel to Joni Mitchell. Theater has always been a passion of mine, and I was three years old when my Papa Lou sat me on his knee and welcomed me to the world of musicals by playing me the entire soundtrack of Oliver. Within a day, I knew all the lyrics and wouldn't stop singing it. I just loved anything with a strong message, heart and a great melody. I pick up music in my head very quickly, so if I hear a song once, I can sing it right back to you, lyrics and all.

What was the first song/show you wrote?

I was the worst writer growing up, which is a great testament to any boy or girl that's trying to write music. I didn't take piano lessons, so I didn't know what I was playing, but I would sit at my piano and just write these cheesy songs that would drive my mother up the wall.

Interview with Composer Scott Alan

I am sure Stephen Sondheim wrote Send in the Clowns when he was three, and Andrew Lippa wrote the Wild Party when he was a fetus, but it didn't work that quickly for me. It wasn't until my sophomore year in college, (6 years ago) that I had my first "successful" song. It was "Kiss the Air" and I wrote it three days after my parents officially separated. My father had asked for a divorce, and all that my mother wanted from him was answers. He wasn't man enough to give her any, so for that moment I took his place, and wrote the song from his perspective. I recorded it, gave it to my mother and told her "If dad was man enough, these are the words I am sure he would have said." It hit a nerve right away, and not just with my mother. Right after that song, I just got hit with the bug - it was as if something grew inside of me, and I became wiser and more free. I wasn't the happiest child (in fact I was far from it!) so it was the first time I realized that you can be dark, and you can let it all go by telling emotional stories about real issues.

My music comes out of the emotion that I feel at that exact moment, and if nothing else, there will be that one person who can relate to it, and that's really what I think a composer's job is - to reach (at least) that one person.

Is anyone else in your family musically inclined?

Well, obviously my cousin Ricky (Ian Gordan) is the most musically inclined, though my grandfather and his Uncle (Papa Lou) played the spoons, if that says anything. I have learned a lot from my cousin and I think that he is just an amazing writer, and a person with so much talent to give to the theater community. He is currently working on a new musical and I feel blessed to have been one of the first to hear music from it. It's going to be something special, like all he does and I owe him a lot because he has opened many doors for me. Those who have met and worked with him know that he is one of the nicest men to grace this planet, so I can't say enough good things about him and I love him dearly.

Interview with Composer Scott Alan

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on two projects, though I just got an offer to re-write Detour, a musical I wrote that had a wonderful run in Los Angeles, for a New York tryout so that might be the third.

I am working primarily now on a musical called 'Piece' with playwright John Cassel, and musical director Randy Cohen. We have done two readings and are gearing up for a workshop. Piece is based on a woman that I met in Los Angeles by the name of Rose. She was a beautiful, but homeless 70 year old woman that sat outside the 7-11 where I lived. I would sit with her every night and she would tell me stories about how she ended up where she did. She was an extraordinary woman, who was still trying to change and challenge her life each day. She would write poems, and would send them in to Readers' Digest on a daily basis and she just was one of those people that would never give up.

Every night we would sit and talk, and share food that I bought for us for a few hours, and then I would just go home and write. I didn't even know what I was really writing, but I knew that it was inspired by Rose and her bravery, courage, laughter and her desire to live. Her mother had passed away at 44 and she used to tell me stories about her life in installments. "When I was 17..." "When I was 26..." "When I was 35..." She never told her story outside of those ages, so when creating this show, I took that and decided to have the 44 year old tell her story through the eyes of her 17, 26 and 35 year old self. Piece is an honest look at the human spirit.

I am also currently putting together a collection of music right now, with just men telling there stories. There is no dialogue, and the theme is songs that I have written that connect one to another. Right now though, Piece is my main focus. We are hoping for an off-Broadway run by early 2005, and if it's successful it will REMAIN off-Broadway. I am not looking for Broadway success with this show, just to have an intimate audience that allows each person to feel close to this character. The show is an emotional roller coaster and I think that it will really touch home for anyone that's ever felt like they were an outsider.

So if the goal for Piece is to run Off-Broadway, do you have some big, splashy full-on Broadway shows floating around in your head as well?

I have tons of ideas floating through this head of mine, but I will keep them to myself for now! I would love to do a huge Broadway musical one day, and will definitely attempt to, but at this stage in my career I am content with working on smaller shows like Piece.

One bigger show that I'm working on is JEM the musical. Can you just see Shoshana Bean as a Misfit?!! Come on now, you can't get much better then that! I was recently approached to write a musical with someone that I think some people would be shocked to hear asked me, but I turned the offer down because right now I think I need to start slow and small. I don't want to start off with a huge bang as of yet, because I'd rather work up to that sort of success later in my career. Right now, I just want to mature as a writer and to work with amazing voices to create songs that will live on in theater history in one way or another.

Interview with Composer Scott AlanYou mentioned during your showcase concert that "Home" had been chosen by NBC to premiere during the Olympics, how did that come about?

I met Shoshana a few months back after seeing her perform at Andrew Lippa's showcase at the ARS Nova Theater. I just recently moved to NY and though I am originally a New York boy, I don't really have connections to just call someone up on the phone to get their contact information, so I have to go the old fashioned way of knocking on people's doors and hoping that they respond. Luckily, Shoshana responded! We met at the

8th Avenue

Studios, and Home was the first song I played her. Home is in Piece, and is sung by the 26 yr old character as a love song to her unborn child.

She fell in love with it, the song feel in love with her, and it was a perfect match. She called me a few weeks later after we had been working on a few other songs, and asked if we could record it, which we did, and the rest is history.

I sent Home around to various people, just to listen to and a friend of mine, Aisha Banks, who works at the NBC offices putting together music for their various TV programs, called me saying that they were looking for a theme song for the Summer Olympics commercials. She said that they had picked a song by Josh Groban, but that the moment she heard Home she thought it was perfect and that when they played it for the producers, they all fell in love with it too. They shoot the commercial this week, but we still have to get the thumbs up from the President of NBC, which I believe will be in two weeks during a big board meeting.

Either way, the song will find a Home. (Pun intended!)

You've said that Billy Porter was an idol of yours growing up, what was it like having him come and sing your songs?

I bought the 'Grease' CD the day it was released because Susan Wood (who played Sandy) had gone to Stagedoor Manor, where I was also a camper and I was so excited to have another camper have success. Listening to the CD, I got half way through and then stopped the moment I heard Billy singing 'Beauty School Dropout.' I must have listened to that song more then 100 times that day. I sat in my room, lip synching, fake riffing, and acting like I was Billy. I am not ashamed to admit this, since I know many more of you out there did the same, and if any of you laugh, I will name who you are!

When I lived in LA, a few friends and I decided to see Alice Ripley perform at the Knitting Factory and Billy was there with Jane Krakowski. In a weird way, I felt like I knew Billy because my cousin had worked with him so much, and spoke wonderful things about him. I approached him, told him I was a cousin of Ricky's and said that I would like to work with him someday. He knew who I was right away, since my cousin had mentioned me and my work to him, and we got together two days later. A few months after that, I was putting together the cast for 'Detour' and Billy was going to be involved, but had to leave for NY for "The Little Shop of Horrors" and just had too much else on his plate at the time.

When I moved to NY we kept in touch, and when I was putting together this recent showcase, I asked if he would sing the lead song from 'Detour' and before I knew it, he was on stage, singing my song. I was so fortunate to be able to have Stephen (Oremus), musical director of Wicked, accompany Billy so I could sit in the audience and experience the thrill of seeing one of my idols sing one of my songs. It was an incredible experience for me, and one that I'll never forget. He also did a duet with Shoshana and I know she was as thrilled as I was, since she also grew up idolizing his talent.

What sort of challenges are you facing as an "up and coming" composer?

There are many challenges to be honest because the audience likes what they like, and it's not that I fear they wont like my music, it is just about getting them to HEAR my music first. Being Ricky's cousin many people think I will deliver a song in the same vein as he, but we write in two totally different styles. Others tend to think that I use his name and that's the only reason I have gotten a foot in the door.

It's not that easy though, because it's hard work, and you have to knock on people's doors a thousand times before they'll let you in. I just try to sell myself, which is hard for me since I grew up as an insecure kid. Selling myself and telling everyone about the qualities you have to offer them and how there voice is essential and a perfect match, is sometimes not the easiest thing for me to do, but it needs to be done. It's hard work, and you just have to wait in line to get your music heard.

On the flip side, I have had many people who have been gracious and wonderful and supportive and have helped me in so many ways, and I can't thank them enough. Anybody who writes me, or signs my guestbook on my website (www.scottalan.net ...a little plug), I always write and thank them, because, honestly, I am just so grateful for their visit and for them taking the time out to write. It's a wonderful feeling and I wouldn't trade it in for the world. I would never call any of these people "fans" because, I don't see it that way. I am just as much a fan of the stories they have to tell as they are of my work, so it's just a different form of a friendship I guess.

Aside from working on your musical Piece, what else are you excited about working on these days?

I am also currently organizing meetings once a month, with a great friend of mine for all of the 'struggling' artists out there looking for their break. I have so many amazingly talented friends who have yet to get their one big opportunity, and I have so many creative people who always write me with ideas and are looking for ways to get them out there, so this is a way to bring them all together to network with one another. These include friends who are writers that are looking for actors, or directors, songwriters looking for singers, playwrites, vocalists looking for pianists to musically direct showcases and so on. Anbody who feels that they can offer something, or is hoping to meet people to get more experience in the theater world - this is for them.

I think its great when they throw gatherings at a bar where people exchange cards or headshots, but I am looking to do something much more accessible to get your story out there and to know other people are listening. We are looking to host a monthly round table discussion group were we can hopefully find ways to bring talent together to create amazing art - the more people the better. I did this in Los Angeles, and it was a tremendous success, so I can only imagine how successful it could be here in NY.

In addition, each meeting will have a special guest who will be on hand to answer any questions that people may have about the industry, whether it be a casting director, or a known composer or producer. Entry is free to all, and we're picking up the tab for the rented room because we know how hard it is to meet people who want to help. There are a lot of talented people out there not working, so hopefully we can help smooth the process along a little better by providing a place for them to get together, network, and exchange ideas.

If people are interersted, they should email us at TheaterLifeNow@hotmail.com and we will email back with all the necessary information for this new monthly event.

What sort of reception are you getting from the theater world?

From those who have heard my music, it has been overwhelming. Shoshana was kind enough to present the song Home at the Kitchen Sink showcase, and it was the first time for some in the industry to hear my work. When we were done, I was passed business cards left and right from the other performers and from people in the audience who liked what they heard.

I think the younger audience is who I am hitting the most though, because I write about issues that are relatable. I have character songs that are strictly for the shows I write, but the songs I performed in my showcase were mainly songs that I know will impact others because we have all been there. After the showcase I met many young people who are in college or working towards being a performer, and it was an honor for them to say that my music moved and touched them.

I love it when I get requests from people for sheet music and recordings.

Who are some of the people that you've met along the way that have influenced your life, and your work?

Everyone I have met has influenced my life. Everyone. I don't think that there is a person I have met that hasn't influenced me in one way or another. I know that sounds strong and clichéd, but its absolutely true. It's so important to find that part of somebody that intrigues you and I have always been that guy who tends to look at people with curiosity as to who they are, and that usually makes for some great music. Hey, there may even be a song written about you.

What are some "dream" singers that you've love to work with someday?

Oh, I have so many of them! I love Julie Murney, and she knows that. I would die to work with Tina Arena, who is an Australian singer and does a lot of theater. Her voice sounds like that of an angel! Liz Callaway, Felicia Finley, and I love me some Stephanie J. Block. What a voice! I met her with Shoshana, and she is just this bundle of excitement and talent. She will be working for years to come. Shoshana, obviously I'd love to work with again when the right project comes up. This weekend I'm meeting with Mandy Gonzalez to work through some music. She is a great big new star, with an incredible amount of talent so that is exciting. In all honesty though, I am excited about the up and coming singers that haven't yet broken out into the big time.

Theirs are the voices I love, because you can hear the excitement coming through in the music. Lauren Thomas is one of the best and you have probably haven't heard her name YET. Pure and clean and just what Broadway once was. She is someone that people should start investing their time into learning more about. It surprises me sometimes when I hear some of these amazing voices that they aren't on Broadway yet.

Courtney Balan, Charly Seamen, Kate Wetherhead, Dani Marcus, Ellyn Marsh, Zakiya Young are some others and this list could go on for days because these girls are just so amazingly talented. These are people you will be hearing so much from in the near future, and I am so proud to know them now at this stage in their careers. They are unaware of how much success they are about to experience, and are truly my dream singers. I love when new artists write to me, because I look forward to meeting with them, and hearing them sing. There is so much talent out there, and it's very exciting to see.

As for as male voices, I loved working with Cheyenne Jackson when we did my showcase. He is bound to be a huge star because he's got one of the best voices out there and he just commands the stage, not to mention what a beautiful person he is, inside and out. As far as the new male talent to look out for, Daniel Cochran, who starred in the Christmas Carol should be expecting a huge break soon - beautiful voice. I'd also like to work with Jose Llana who I saw perform at the Kitchen Sink show and was just blown about by his talent. He's got such a beautiful, sweeping voice. Norm Lewis, Chad Kimbell and Christopher Seiber are some others I'd like to work with too in the near future.

Lastly, if people want to learn more about you, where can they do so ?

My website is the best source, and the address for that is www.scottalan.net Sign the guestbook, listen to music, write me an email. I always write back. Don't be shy. I am accepting applications for dates as well --- just kidding -- well, not really. Who am I kidding? Bring it on!

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