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SOUND OFF Special Interview: Tom Kitt Talks NEXT TO NORMAL (Stage and Screen), BRING IT ON & More

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Today we are talking to the composer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical next to normal, Tom Kitt, about his influences - from Sondheim to Schwartz to Finn to Elton John to some of his own contemporaries - and working with Green Day on AMERICAN IDIOT and his own eponymous band, to the creation of a Broadway phenomenon by tracing the path of the show from FEELING ELECTRIC to next to normal - plus, the many exciting projects that he has coming up this year and beyond, including a thorough discussion of his upcoming collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Amanda Green and Jeff Whitty on BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL and the very first news of a new, original Kitt/Yorkey musical on the horizon - and much, much more.

Part I - Normalcy & Electricity

PC: next to normal is the only show in the last ten years that can truly be called a phenomenon. It seems like it hit the right chord with the right audience at the right time.

TK: Well, it's hard to put your finger on anything like that. I think that as a writer you write your heart and where the material goes beyond you and how people to respond to it the way they do - certainly, with next to normal, it's been so gratifying to see people respond to the piece the way they have.

PC: There hasn't been a show since RENT with fans like the ones that you have for your show.

TK: It's all about the audience and the people who support your work and respond to it. So, anytime I hear that next to normal is affecting people, it goes beyond my wildest dreams of what I set out to do when I started to write next to normal.

PC: Alice Ripley told me she first heard about the show on her answering machine in a message from you. Where did the idea come from and how did you first experience that world?

TK: Oh, yeah, yeah - the message for Alice! My first experience of the show was a conversation with Brian Yorkey. We were nearing the end of our first year at the BMI musical theater workshop - it was probably Spring 1998 - and our final assignment was to write a ten-minute musical. They make you aware of the assignments at the beginning of the year, so that was kind of towering over us at the time - you know, wondering what we were going to do.

PC: What was the first meeting like? Take me through it.

TK: Brian asked to meet me at, I think, a coffee shop - a Barnes & Noble or something. In any case, he came and he told me that he had this idea because he had been watching a TV news program about shock therapy and mental illness and the idea of: what about writing this ten-minute musical about this woman who was suffering from severe depression and the effects that that has had on her family and the treatments that the doctors try on her. Certainly, at that point, we didn't think it was going to be explored to the level of a two-act musical, but - after that ten-minute musical version - some people were confused; some people wondered whether you could write a full-length musical like that; and, there were a number of people who were really affected by it - and that gave us the courage and enthusiasm to go forward and keep writing songs for it. Eventually, we kind of felt like that we said we weren't going to finish writing the show, but that's all we seemed to want to write.

PC: A compositional compulsion!

TK: It all took a while, but, with a subject matter like this and when you find people who are as inspired to work on it as you are, it became a labor of love for us and for everyone around us.

PC: A family on and offstage.

TK: Alice Ripley was someone who had had a huge effect on me when I had gotten out of college and decided that this was the road I wanted to take - to write musicals.

PC: What happened? Did you see her onstage - or something else?

TK: I saw Alice in SIDE SHOW and the following winter I was asked to accompany her at a concert. I was just blown away to be onstage with Alice Ripley and to hear a voice like that!

PC: Insane pipes.

TK: In the back of my mind, when we were developing next to normal, I always heard Alice Ripley.

PC: Like a voice in your heard - what a voice. The one.

TK: When it came the time to cast the reading in 2006 at Second Stage, I said, "Let's call Alice and see if she'll do it!" - and, luckily, she did.

PC: I have to say that I really love FEELING ELECTRIC and that first version of the show. Could you tell me about Sherie Rene Scott and the show as it was done then?

TK: We had some incredible woman - of course, Sherie Rene Scott and, also, Amy Spanger at the New York Musical Theatre Festival - so we were very, very lucky to have these fierce actresses who just committed wholeheartedly to the material.

PC: Each version seems very specific to the lead actress. What do you think of FEELING ELECTRIC now, looking back?

TK: You know, I think that with FEELING ELECTRIC - after FEELING ELECTRIC opened, at our first performance at NYMF, Anthony Rapp, who was in the show an important part in the development of it, come up to me and said, "This feels not unlike RENT at the New York Musical Theatre Workshop - there is something raw and something exciting here." It was obvious to everyone that work needed to be done, but it was clear something special was taking place - the actors felt it; the creators felt it.

PC: Visceral. Something was in the air.

TK: It really, really was. And, the show was far from perfect - and everyone realized that - but, you couldn't shake this feeling about this show. It was hard to walk away - it was almost like withdrawal when you weren't working on the show.

PC: Like that compulsion you had at the very beginning.

TK: Yeah. So, I think that that's what FEELING ELECTRIC was: FEELING ELECTRIC was this raw, imperfect show and it was a little misguided - as we found out later - because we were trying to tell too many different stories and touch on too many issues and subjects. I think that that's why the show was so long and, I think, it was a little bit all over the place.

PC: It was more a concept musical.

TK: Right. So, next to normal became this much more focused, visceral piece that seemed to really know what it wanted to say. And, I think that process is just the product of young writers who are tackling a very big subject matter for a musical and finding their way. I look back on that and say, "That was a really exciting time when we were working on FEELING ELECTRIC, but thank God David Stone and Second Stage came onboard - along with, of course, Michael Grief - to help guide us towards creating next to normal."

PC: Who's idea was it to change the title?

TK: It was David's and Second Stage - I think once David Stone came onboard, he and Second Stage kind of spoke in one voice about these things. David felt really strongly that the show needed a new title - it didn't feel right. The title felt like it wasn't doing the play justice - and I think he was right.

PC: I agree. Plus, you had that great title song, "Feeling Electric"!

TK: Yeah, the title song! It was hard because I lived with FEELING ELETRIC for so many years. But, now, I can't imagine that there was ever another title besides next to normal.

PC: Was it really hard as a composer to lose "Feeling Electric" and "Costco"?

TK: No, it wasn't - and it was a great lesson as a writer because, while I love those songs, it was really clear at Second Stage that those songs were not helping us. By themselves they are exciting songs, but when put in the context of the show they were too much of a left turn for the audience and I think they just jilted people in the wrong way. Once those songs left, you could feel how much clearer the show became and I think, as a writer, that's a great thing to feel.

PC: Your work worked in the end - even if you had to cut a song.

TK: I'm not precious about anything - I will lose any song if it helps the show. The only problem is when I feel like there is a necessary song and then it comes to be a bit of a debate.

PC: Diplomatically put.

TK: I think with Brian and I, we really held on to "Feeling Electric" and "Costco" for a long time because we felt like the show needed them. When we were finally able to let go of them, we could see how much better the show became without them.

PC: So many great songs we all know were cut songs that turned up in later shows in different forms - "Make Our Garden Grow", plus a million by Cole Porter; so many.

TK: It's a great lesson - that the show comes first. And, as much as we love those songs, those songs were meant for FEELING ELECTRIC. That show was about a lot of different things and, also, was meant to be a little fantastical, and I think next to normal wanted to become something that was much more grounded and much more about this family. And, while those moments still exist - those lightning-quick jolts - they never broke the tone of the story like those two songs did.

PC: Was there something you wanted to cut even before you saw the show on its feet at Second Stage? Or, was it already becoming the new show?

TK: I think that everything was geared towards one purpose. Brian and I got together and we had talked with David and Michael and we had a meeting and discussed everything. Then, Brian and I went through everything and came up with a number of goals - you know, "We're gonna do this song; that moment; we're gonna change this scene into a musical section" - but, we just really had a pretty clear vision about what we wanted to do to get the show right. Some of the discussions began at Second Stage - a week before we closed there, we cut "Costco" and we changed the opening number, "Just Another Day", and changed the ending of that song. Once we saw how those changes played for an audience, that gave us the courage to keep making bigger changes. Some of these things had been suggested to us before we even started rehearsals at Second Stage, but I think Brian and I just weren't ready to lose some of those things yet.

PC: It's hard to kill your kids.

TK: Yeah, but over the course of our work at Second Stage, talking to Carol Rothman and Chris Burney, and, then, David and Michael, the changes just took hold. We never felt like we took a misstep - it always felt very clear what we wanted to do.

PC: What was your first exposure to Jennifer Damiano and Aaron Tveit?

TK: I believe I saw Jennifer when I saw SPRING AWAKENING and she was part of the Broadway company, but my first exposure to her - and Aaron and Adam - was through auditions. I was just blown away by all of them. It always amazes me when young people have such an adult facility to their instrument and their acting, and it was pretty apparent with all three - and the ones who've come into the show since and have understudied or done the tour - they are just astounding.

PC: Aaron is one of the brightest stars on Broadway. Do you think his participation in the show was integral to its early success?

TK: The thing about next to normal is that it really is an ensemble piece for six actors. They are all asked to do very important things in the show and I think all six are equal in terms of telling the story. The thing about Aaron's character is that I always wanted that character to be a true tenor and to have a boy's-sounding voice in an adult body, and Aaron has this uncanny instrument where his voice doesn't break - he actually wants things written higher for him!

PC: "Make it more difficult!" right?

TK: It's more comfortable for him, actually, he says. (Laughs.)

PC: Wow.

TK: To make the music I had in my head come alive in that character, with Aaron - and that voice - in the role, plus all the acting is so heartbreaking. He's just tremendous.

PC: Did you write "I Am The One" for his voice?

TK: You know, a lot of that stuff - "I'm Alive", "I Am The One", "There's A World" - they were written before Aaron joined the show. But, certainly, Aaron's voice breathed new life into them and that's the version that has been captured on the album and that's the version of the score that people will always look to in the show's history going forward.

PC: Was it submitted for the Grammy? It's disappointing the cast album wasn't nominated.

TK: It was. But, look, I could never be disappointed with anything - I mean, look what's happened!

PC: You have a Pulitzer Prize to keep you warm at night!

TK: (Laughs.) I have a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award... you know, everybody wants accolades - and to be rewarded is nice - but if you look at the show's that were nominated: those are some astounding cast albums. (Pause.) Those decisions are not up to us, so that's not my place to say anything about it.

PC: It says a lot how out of touch they are by not acknowledging a new score amidst revivals and jukebox scores. Did you want next to normal to have a completely modern sound? Did you ever consider rap or hip hop for it?

TK: No, it was never about sounding hip. I just write the music that comes out of my heart. These songs are songs that I felt were important to me and were going to tell the story. And, I think that if you set out to do something - if you put the burden on your shoulders that you are going to write this timeless music or you are going to blow everyone out of the water - you just can't do that. I learned early on with HIGH FIDELITY...

PC: I love that score.

TK: Thanks. That's a score I'm really proud of. I think that with next to normal I also wanted to write a score I could be proud of, with music I care about, and then let everyone else form opinions about it. And, believe me, I'm so happy that people have really taken to it - and if people talk about it in a historical manner, that's an incredible feeling because the whole reason I'm a writer is because of substantial work that shaped me. And, if someone looks at next to normal and says that's a score that influenced them - that's the greatest compliment.

PC: You have few contemporaries, though. Lin-Manuel Miranda...

TK: Yeah, Lin-Manuel and I are working on BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL.

PC: What do you think about totally contemporary music in a score like he did for IN THE HEIGHTS? Rap theatre?

TK: There's rap in the show and it's, like, jaw-dropping - it's so theatrical and so exciting. So, I think that any music you can make theatrical to help tell your story, it just depends on how you set out to do it.

PC: Exactly. The purpose behind the prose.

TK: Like, I am not a hip hop artist, so for me to attempt to write rap, I fear I would write bad rap. I've seen people like Lin do it really well, and I feel like I can exist in that world and talk about it and engage in it - but, I want to write the music that best serves the story and best serves me as an artist. And, that could change - you know, next to normal is one score and HIGH FIDELITY is one score and, going forward, I hope to write many different kinds of scores with many different sounds.

PC: Sondheim told me that with the "Witch's Rap" in INTO THE WOODS, he chose that mode of musical and lyrical discourse because it was the best way to get across the intent of the lyrics and the emotion behind them to the audience at that particular moment - and move the story forward, too.

TK: Of course. That's exactly right. Like, with next to normal, even though there is a good deal of rock music in the show, obviously - not every song is not a rock song.

PC: Totally not.

TK: For example, for me to try and make "I Dreamed A Dance" or "There's A World" or "How Could I Ever Forget" into rock songs - those songs come as much out of the classical musical theatre canon, like Sondheim and William Finn and Adam Guettel and on and on and on - those songs are just trying to exist in the exact right dramatic way. It wouldn't be right to shoehorn a rock song in - I would just want to do the moment justice. I think that's why Stephen Sondheim is who he is: he taught us all how to do these things the right way.

PC: Tell me about orchestrating your own shows.

TK: I think that it's been a wonderful thing to do. On HIGH FIDELITY, it was great to work with my collaborators - and I've worked with the great Michael Starobin on next to normal. I love to orchestrate - but I also really love to collaborate.

PC: Tell me about orchestration collaboration.

TK: Michael made that score better just by bringing his own beautiful and unique voice to the show. I remember driving in my car one day and listening to SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and thinking, "This guy is gonna work with me on next to normal? How awesome is that!"

PC: Thrilling.

TK: I like to orchestrate and I may continue doing it as I move forward, but I'm also fine letting go and letting someone else come in and add their layers on top of my work - someone like Ann Marie Milazzo and her vocal arrangements for next to normal...

PC: Gorgeous.

TK: So gorgeous.

 

PC: Alan Menken was telling me what a genius Starobin is and how he could change the whole shape and sound of a song with the slightest tweak. Did you find that, as well, working with him?

TK: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. With Michael, my jaw would just drop at the orchestra rehearsals after hearing the things that he would come up with. It's what's great about the theatre - the whole collaborative process is something I truly love. I'm looking forward to more collaborations on the shows that I create from here on out.

PC: Tell me everything about BRING IT ON. How much is it based on the films?

TK: I guess the best way to put it is that we are adapting the franchise.

PC: So, sort of a WITCHES OF EASTWICK or LEGALLY BLONDE treatment?

TK: Yeah, we are telling a new story very much in the world of these movies. The first movie is so genius - I just watched it again the other night and I just love it. They all tell these really wonderful stories about these different groups of cheerleaders across ethnic and cultural lines and how they end up coming together and understanding each other. I think that it's a beautiful story to be told through this very fun music and Andy's brilliant dancing.

PC: Is the choreography incredible?

TK: I've seen what they are doing and it is just mind-blowing what they are accomplishing. It's so, so beautiful to watch - these people are literally being tossed in the air and flying. (Laughs.) It makes me so nervous. (Laughs.)

PC: Cheerleading shows are so theatrical - every group does a production number. Have you ever gone to any of them?

TK: I haven't gone actually, but Amanda Green and Jeff Whitty were just talking about going to one in New York and how it helped get the ball rolling in terms of the new characters and the new story. It's very much in keeping with the world of BRING IT ON and it fits in very well with the canon. Jeff Whitty said that when he goes to movie adaptations that sometimes he's a little disappointed because he knows how things are going to turn out, and with BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL - with a new story - audience members will really be surprised in terms of what happens.

PC: What do you think of adaptations in general? You've done a complete original and one that stuck quite closely to the source with your last two shows - where does this fall? More of a next to normal approach or more a HIGH FIDELITY one?

TK: It's great to have the source material to have to go back to, but I think that with any adaptation - whether it's from a book or a movie or a TV show or anything - I think the goal, as an artist, is to try to find the new life to breathe into it. Why does this need to exist in this new form? Why do I need to make a musical out of this book or this movie? But, the thing about BRING IT ON is that it is such a heightened world that lends itself to musical theatre, but there are also some really wonderfully human moments in the lives of these teenagers that has yielded these really exciting songs that we've all been working on together. I think that's the key: finding out why the material matters to you and why you really need to make this into something new. I think that from the very beginning we've all felt that way about it - there's a really exciting show here and this is material we are passionate about. We feel invigorated working on it.

PC: What's your favorite song you've written for it so far?

TK: Wow. Let me think. (Pause.) I think what's been most fun is the stuff that Lin, Amanda and I have worked on all together. There are a few songs in the show that we all collaborated on. There's this one song called "Friday Night Jackson", which really came from Lin.

PC: Describe it.

TK: It's this huge moment at the football game. It's a very exciting group moment and then Amanda and I throw in this very singular moment for one of the characters and then it all comes together at the end and becomes this big kind of mash-up. People are going to be floored.

PC: That sounds so fresh and exciting! This is what we need on Broadway.

TK: It's a real reflection on Lin's artistry.

Part II - Bringing It Off

PC: Did you find that your collaboration with the actors was imperative to the human drama coming across so accurately in the performance of the score of N2N - and playing of the show? The Tony Awards performance is a great, great example.

TK: Right, definitely. I certainly think that the amount of time we had together helped, too. The show asks so much of you, that everyone bonds and becomes a family and the fact that the same family had been together for some time and you get to care about everyone. I mean, having Brian D'Arcy James at Second Stage and then J. Robert Spencer - they are all such beautiful artists. I feel like having this beautiful family of MEXT TO NORMAL helped every facet of the show and everyone just really wants to be there for each other and sacrifice for each other to make the show work.

PC: Did you get to talk to Elton John after the Tony Awards?

TK: I finally got to see BILLY ELLIOT a few weeks after the Tony Awards and I just loved it. So, I sent a note to Elton John and told him how incredibly influential he has been on me - because I have been an Elton John fan since I was old enough to play piano - no, before! (Laughs.) So, I've been an Elton John fan for a long time and he got back to me and asked if he could call me and then he did. We had a lovely conversation and he continued to be extremely gracious and wonderful and supportive - he said he was so happy for Brian and me. I mean, in the moment, when he complimented us on the Tonys, it felt very genuine and I was so moved - but, then, having this conversation I just felt like what a wonderful human being he was. It was so incredible he took time out of his speech on the show to congratulate us.

PC: How do you classify NEXT TO NORMAL - a rock opera? A rock musical? An opera? A musical?

TK: It's interesting, because the term rock musical isn't so appropriate to use anymore because when you call something a rock musical or a swing musical, it means that in some way everything in the show is pointing towards that. Especially in the world of rock, it's like they were using that term because rock was an outlier in musical theatre and they felt they had to identify it as such.

 

PC: Labels are defeating.

TK: I feel like we live in a world right now where there are so many kinds of music happening and they are all equally important and wonderful to experience, so, for me personally, I would just love to let the music speak for itself and let other people label it. NEXT TO NORMAL is a musical that, technically, uses a lot of rock music and since there isn't a lot of dialogue it's close to an opera - but, I try not to get caught up in labels.

PC: What do you think of those classic rock operas like TOMMY and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR? Maybe THE WALL, too? Are they a big influence?

TK: Yes. Certainly TOMMY and THE WALL and RENT and HEDWIG and HAIR - but, also, SWEENEY TODD and INTO THE WOODS and CAROUSEL and CABARET...

PC: Rock attitude.

TK: Anything that had an important story that felt like only musical theatre could tell that story in that way - that was what influenced NEXT TO NORMAL. So, I was as much influenced by the anger and huge emotion that I felt after seeing CABARET; the visceral, jaw-dropping electricity of RENT and TOMMY; anything with that kind of story - that unexpected, beautiful, human story - was what led me on the road to something like NEXT TO NORMAL.

PC: There are so many actresses who would be incredible as Diana - Ruthie Henshall told me a while back how much she'd love to do the show and tackle that role.

TK: Oh, I love Ruthie Henshall. I'm a huge fan. I accompanied her when I was just out of school at a benefit here in New York. She is quite a talent. That would be a dream to work with her.

PC: She'd be amazing.

TK: That's the great thing about it, because now this role is out there and, obviously, Alice Ripley and Marin Mazzie have set the bar very high.

PC: You can say that again!

TK: We were just in Norway and saw this incredible actress play the role of Diana there. So, I think that it's gonna be really thrilling to see who plays this role in the future.

PC: Toni Collette for the film Diana, perchance?

TK: (Big Laughs.) You never know.

PC: Did you see her in THE WILD PARTY?

TK: No, I didn't, but I've heard the cast album and score and think it is incredible.

PC: Tell me about your work with Jason Robert Brown.

TK: He's a huge, huge influence on me.

PC: I'd think more a contemporary, no?

TK: I had the pleasure of getting to work with Jason on a few different musicals.

PC: 13 and URBAN COWBOY, right?

TK: Right. 13 as musical director and URBAN COWBOY as associate conductor. Just seeing the music that comes out of him and the way he writes - it's impossible not to be influenced by him. He writes such beautiful music.

PC: What do you think of Stephen Schwartz?

TK: I had the honor of re-orchestrating PIPPIN for the Deaf West production that happened at the Mark Taper two winters ago. I think Stephen is a remarkable composer and musician and a true virtuoso. He's such a great pianist.

PC: Incredible.

TK: He's been hugely supportive of me. I'll never forget, a few days before HIGH FIDELITY was closing on Broadway I saw him out - and I didn't know him well then - and he immediately came up to me and congratulated me and said he heard the album was happening and what a wonderful thing that was and what a big fan he was of the show. So, Stephen's been a wonderful person to me. As a composer, he's definitely an influence and I'm proud that I actually not only get to be influenced by him, but also consider him a friend.

PC: To see Schwartz play "Proud Lady" himself is beyond words.

TK: Isn't it? His songs are hard. They are hard! (Laughs.)

PC: They are as difficult as some Sondheim. "Meadowlark".

TK: Melodically and rhythmically! "Simple Joys" has this odd bar in there, I asked him about it - to this day I can't count it! (Laughs.)

PC: Was it a challenge to re-orchestrate someone else's score? Someone you respect as much as Schwartz?

TK: Because they were looking to do something really different, I didn't look at the original or anything, really. They had twenty-six, originally, and I had seven. There were some songs where I departed a bit from what was there. I had just been working on AMERICAN IDIOT, so I took "Simple Joys" in a more half-time, more distorted guitar direction.

PC: Green Day meets Fosse!

TK: I remember thinking, "Oh, my God! Am I crazy for doing this?"

PC: Acid rock?

TK: (Big Laugh.) It was more punk, but yeah.

PC: So you worked with Schwartz on the orchestration?

TK: Oh, yeah. I had free reign to push some things in new directions, but it still had to sound like PIPPIN by Stephen Schwartz. So, when the moment felt like there was an opportunity to try something, I would do it. There were some things where he came in and had strong opinions about and that he really wanted to leave alone and other things that he really responded to that I had done. That was a great process, working with him.

 

PC: It wasn't a walking on eggshells, tip-toeing-type situation, though - Working with the composer himself?

TK: I think you have to be careful when you do something like that. It doesn't need my help. So, I wanted to serve the piece and not serve myself.

PC: I would imagine it's somewhat similar to your role in creating the new arrangements for the Green Day score for AMERICAN IDIOT.

TK: I think being a composer helps, because in my own head I can figure out, you know, "This is probably going to be really important to the composer. They probably aren't going to want you to mess with this. This is the core of the song." Or, "If this is the core of the song, what can I do to keep this intact but give it a little different texture?" So, I think having my composer hat on actually helps me be careful in the right way with pre-existing work.

PC: Where do you write?

TK: I write in a lot of different places - I like to write at the piano; sometimes, if I have an inspiration, I'll just write wherever I am. It just depends.

PC: Do you write out notes? Do you sing into your iPhone?

TK: What I do a lot lately, usually, is I'm at the piano and I just record myself into a mini disc player or something. And, sometimes, I'll write something and I'll try to recount it like five hours later I will have completely forgotten it, but, then, the next day, it will just come right back into my head again. So, I usually don't lose it, but just to be safe I like to record it. (Laughs.)

PC: What's your day like? Do you write at night?

TK: I like to write in the morning. If I'm really trying to get a lot of work done - if I'm really in the mode where I am working on a show - usually I wake up very excited. The nighttime is usually harder for me - especially now that I have two kids.

PC: Kids change your whole schedule.

TK: Yeah, I just find I crash at night and I like to have family time. I'd rather have a good night's sleep and wake up early and be raring to go.

PC: Do you have an iPod or do you not listen to other music?

TK: I love listening to music. The other thing - that goes with what I was saying about working with Green Day or Stephen Schwartz or Jason Robert Brown - all of those things will influence me and have an effect. So, I feel like part of my evolving as an artist is to expose myself to new music and different styles. Otherwise, I just feel like I will sit in the same habits. So, I feel like the more music out there that can inspire me and jolt me, the better. I am the musician I am because of all of those influences, so, you know, why shut them out just because I am writing music?

PC: Have you heard Kanye West's new album? It's a concept album.

TK: Yes! Well, I've heard some of the songs and they are pretty incredible. He's so talented.

PC: What's on your iPod right now? Top 5 Playlist?

TK: This morning was mostly Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Schumann.

PC: What do you do on long trips to zone out?

TK: I find that I'm really into escapism comedy, especially when I'm traveling. Over the course of the last couple of months I've been traveling: I went to Oslo then LA then Atlanta and I love Jack Black movies. (Laughs.)

PC: What do you think of the new musicals coming up - Duncan Sheik is doing AMERICAN PSYCHO?

TK: Yeah, Duncan is doing that, so I think it will be awesome. Anything that has real inspiration behind it can be successful. And, knowing Duncan Sheik - I actually had the pleasure of finally getting to meet him in person a couple of weeks ago and he is a great guy and he was talking to me about it - it sounds like it is going to be great.

PC: What do you think of his SPRING AWAKENING?

TK: SPRING AWAKENING was really influential to Brian and I in the run up to NEXT TO NORMAL - in every facet, for us. To get to work with Tom and Ira and Michael Mayer and Christine Jones and Kevin Adams on AMERICAN IDIOT - just to be a part of their artistry has been so rewarding for me.

PC: My favorite musical theatre album of 2010 is Stuart Matthew Price's ALL THINGS IN TIME.

TK: God, doesn't he do a beautiful rendition of "I'm Alive" and "There's A World"?

PC: Definitely - we actually premiered that track on BroadwayWorld right before the album came out.

TK: Oh, that's right! That was great. Thanks for doing that.

PC: It's such a great collection of songs - you and Jason and Georgia Stitt.

TK: Yeah, I'm so glad Brian and I could be on it and that people are doing songs from the show.

PC: Do you still have rockstar aspirations? The Tom Kitt Band has an album and played so many gigs.

TK: Yeah, I did both at the same time. There were two dreams that I had, and I could tell with the theatre thing I felt like there was a future there and the rock part just kept getting frustrating. But, it's great, because I am able to live out a lot of those fantasies on Broadway - getting to work with a band like Green Day, who were my heroes; getting to meet Elton John - who knows what the future holds? I've not only gotten to live my dream in theatre, but bring my rock dreams into it as well.

PC: Who else arranged Green Day and won a Pulitzer in the same year?

TK: (Big Laugh.)

 

PC: Tell me about working with Michael Grief and writing the music for THE WINTER'S TALE - it's really a musical, at least Act IV.

TK: Michael pulled me into it - he was directing it and did a beautiful job - and he sat me down and he told me how he wanted it to be, all of the moments and what the music should be like. He gave me a couple of Cds of music to listen to of the world he wanted the music to be in. I was out at dinner one night with Bill Finn and I asked him how I should approach it, and he offered me great advice, which was: don't worry about anything, just do your own vision.

PC: His adaptation and setting of the text for the Lapine WINTER'S TALE was excellent, as well. He should know.

TK: I hadn't done a Shakespeare play before, so that sort of freed me to not feel like I had to be period and try to do this in this way - I was just able to be Tom Kitt and write the kind of music for the show that I wanted to write. Of course, it all went along with Michael's vision of what he was trying to accomplish. That was a great process.

PC: Did you rehearse with the cast or just submit the songs?

TK: Michael had me sit at the piano at the rehearsal and figure things out in the moment. It was a beautiful process. What's great is that it was something I had never done before and anytime you can have an experience like that it actually moves you forward as a writer.

PC: Did you realize it was such a big undertaking? There's a lot of songs! More than any other Shakespeare play.

TK: It was actually a pleasant surprise when I found out how many songs there are in the piece. But, it was definitely a learning-by-doing experience and looking back at the music I am really proud of what I created.

PC: Are there any plans to record the score?

TK: It's funny, because people do ask me about it so I would love to at some point. I wonder how that might take place. I guess for now it will just have to exist in my head. (Laughs.)

PC: Do you find that setting Shakespeare's text posed a particular challenge - especially the iambic pentameter?

TK: Most of the songlets were not very tricky to adapt because they are in plain verse and Michael was really open to however I wanted to scan the lyrics. He was really helpful in terms of the tone of those songs and the pauses to make them work. He made it very cinematic, so I wrote a lot of underscoring in the show, too.

PC: How can Hermione turn from stone to flesh in silence?!

TK: (Laughs.) Right. Right. Michael created a beautiful, beautiful show.

PC: Define collaboration.

TK: I think collaboration is the art of constantly being open to other ideas, and, from the beginning of a process allowing all ideas to float freely and help shape the show and realizing sometimes your ideas are not going to be the idea to move forward - but, how wonderful it is when someone else makes something better and more beautiful in a way that you never would have thought of.

PC: Any confirmation on Rob Reiner directing the NEXT TO NORMAL film?

TK: Rob Reiner is a hero of mine, but nothing has been decided. There is no movie yet, everything is just at a preliminary stage. The idea of a NEXT TO NORMAL movie is hugely thrilling to me - I would love for it to happen - but nothing is definitive at the moment.

PC: Would you write new material?

TK: Going back to adaptation, a film is different than a musical, so I think that - if it should happen - I would go into it with a completely open mind. You know, this is going to be NEXT TO NORMAL: THE MOVIE, not NEXT TO NORMAL: THE MUSICAL - even though it will be a movie musical. So, it may need to open up in different ways so I am hugely excited about seeing where that takes it.

PC: What about filming the stage show?

TK: I'd be open to anything. When I read that Spike Lee was going to film PASSING STRANGE, I thought that was such a brilliant thing. No one has made any contact with us about filming it, yet.

PC: If they can film Wishful Drinking, they can film NEXT TO NORMAL.

TK: (Laughs.)

PC: What's next besides BRING IT ON?

TK: Brian and I are getting started on a new musical we are working on with David Stone. It's really at the beginning stages, so I can only tell you that it's an original idea and we're at the very Early Stages of it right now.

PC: Is it present day?

TK: Uh, I think we're still figuring that out.

PC: Is the music contemporary?

TK: It's definitely contemporary in terms of when, but we are still figuring everything out.

PC: Are there any shows you have in the bottom drawer?

TK: Brian and I wrote songs in college together and we have been talking about doing a revue at some point with those songs. Some of those songs are my favorite things that I've done. So, some of those songs are drifting out there somewhere and maybe at some point we will get some of our college friends together and do a revue for our own enjoyment.

PC: Or doing it as a compilation album!

TK: We've been talking with Sh-K-Boom about trying to do something with them. We'll see if we can make it happen.

PC: Thank goodness they recorded HIGH FIDELITY.

TK: So, so great and a great album.

PC: I'm so appreciative that you gave me so much time today, Tom. This was truly spectacular.

TK: It really was, Pat. Thank you so much. Bye bye.

 



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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)