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Interview: Will Nunziata, Desi Oakley of THE LIGHT EFFECT at The Green Room 42

A new musical in development makes its debut in a concert format.

Interview: Will Nunziata, Desi Oakley of THE LIGHT EFFECT at The Green Room 42

There are many musicals in various stages of development. From readings to labs to full workshops, it seems that authors are looking for ways to get their work seen and heard in hopes of leapfrogging to the next stage in the creative process.

One of those shows is the new musical The Light Effect - a new piece by Desi Oakley and developed and directed by WILL NUNZIATA. The show deals with the challenging subject of suicide and suicidal ideation. No, it's not the typical fare for a musical, but as we've seen, musicals have become about anything and everything - as long as their message is clear and the storytelling is both intelligent and heartfelt.

The Light Effect is taking a somewhat different route. It's being presented in a concert format at The Green Room 42 on June 30 at 7:00 PM. Presented with a full cast, Macy Schmidt, and the Broadway Sinfonietta, The Light Effect promises to be a different creative experience. I had the opportunity to sit down with composer/lyricist Desi Oakley. and director WILL NUNZIATA to discuss the process that is bringing The Light Effect to the cabaret stage.

For clarity, I interviewed Desi first and Will second.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length

Interview with Desi Oakley:

How did you come up with the basis for this piece?

I wrote this piece as someone closely affected by suicide. It is a topic that a lot of people avoid speaking about but it is so prevalent, especially now in the United States. This story is raising awareness about suicide but it's also intended to inspire hope. After my own personal experience, I feel a sense of urgency -- especially now -- to bring Light to those who could be silently suffering and give us all the collective tools to see and hear those around us.

Suicide is a rather sensitive issue. How are you approaching this material both musically and as a book writer?

Even after I lost someone to suicide, I had a hard time speaking about it. I'd like to break the stigma of speaking about suicide while continuing to honor the sensitivity of it. I've built the show to reflect my experience: it is full of light and levity, it's infused with honesty and hope. Some moments are hard, but they're wrapped in truth. This story promotes how important it is to support those around us; it teaches us how to see and hear each other on a level that could save lives.

Do you see yourself in your leading role? In other words, did you find your inner superhero in order to create the piece?

I see myself in every character. They're all reflections of the many different milestones on my grieving and healing journey.

Is this your first complete book musical or have you written other musicals as well?

This is my first complete book musical! And definitely not my last.

Where do you see this show going forward?

We are putting up a workshop in the fall and after that, the sky is the limit. I can see this show going to the highest level: on a Broadway stage, as a TV series, as a curriculum for educators, in schools. Because the entire effort of this show is to save lives and inspire hope, I simply can't put a limit on it.

Tell our readers about your background as a writer and as a musician.

I've written music since I was a child - after 14 years of classical piano and theory training growing up. I am a piano-based composer and have released several albums on Spotify / iTunes (all streaming platforms). Most recently an acoustic album called "Pocket of Time" and before that, an album called "Repeat" that features all Broadway musicians. I believe my musicality played a huge part in my success in the Broadway industry.

What inspires you to create?

Real-life experiences, both mine and others. Everything I do -- in my art and in my life -- is rooted in truth. I love the honesty of real life. I think we all love stories about real life. The story of The Light Effect couldn't be more real, for me and hopefully for others. And especially with the subject of suicide -- that's the kind of story that I know will make an impact.

And now, a conversation with WILL NUNZIATA: director of The Light Effect.

Will, you are well-known as a performer, but in the past few years, you've begun directing - which do you enjoy more?

Directing has always been my bliss. I stopped performing full-time about 5 years ago. I was definitely fortunate to have a professional singing career until I was around 34, 35 with my twin brother (Anthony Nunziata). I knew directing was something I'd go after later in life. Performing around the world and across the country with my brother was incredible, but there was something about standing downstage center at Carnegie Hall as a performer, fulfilling my performing dreams. It really clicked for me then that I wanted to provide a safe space for other artists to give them the confidence to achieve their "downstage center at Carnegie Hall" moment. I enjoyed performing but directing gives me a lot more fulfillment.

Concerning The Light Effect, what drew you to this piece?

What drew me to the piece was Desi Oakley. I'd known her from her performing work, but frankly, I'd known her more from her original material. I'd met her pre-pandemic, and I told her: "You are a creator and I cannot wait to work with you and help develop and direct a piece that I know in my gut you have within you." We tried adapting a film and a book but the rights weren't available, then we both got busy. Then, we reconnected and Desi truly had the courage to delve into her personal experience and write and compose a musical that I think is going to affect people in incredible ways. It's talking about a topic that is difficult to discuss. her fusion of music, lyrics, and libretto tells a story that is both timely and universal.

As a director, how do you tackle a topic like suicide with sensitivity, but still remain true to the vision of the author?

I think for this assignment, I really needed to be a keen listener into Desi's story and why suicide is personal for her. I became a student into why suicide and suicidal ideation and suicidal action, about what Desi and I are calling "the window" that our protagonist is able to see. I also have my own personal history among family and friends of suicide. It was about entering the room and realizing that I didn't have the answers and to be a listener.

Did you cast the show, or was there talent already attached to the project?

It was a collaboration with us spit firing back and forth until we arrived at the performers we felt were ideal. Frankly, for this assignment, we were able to land upon the ideal cast. Christiani Pitts, Tony Award nominee Caitlin Kinnunen, Michael Wingate, Chris Tamayo, and Becca White are our company and we're incredibly grateful.

How do you tell a story like this in a concert version without all the trappings of a full production?

Desi and I wanted to allow the audience to eavesdrop in on some major points that we know that the greater musical is going to explore. We have the main songs of the show being highlighted, and we also felt it was very important that we add some libretto moments to give a "sneak peek" at the greater narrative. It was also very important for me, directorially speaking, to make sure that Desi's beautiful score and lyrics are highlighted. Macy Schmidt and her incredible Broadway Sinfonietta are going to play a major role in the evening as well.

Where do you see this show going forward?

Moving forward, we will be developing and putting the final touches on the show this summer where by late Fall we will be doing a major workshop to not only see the show on its feet, but to garner further investment support. Yes, Broadway is the goal, but Desi and I have had a lot of great conversations about the greater landscape of The Light Effect. We see schools doing this, and we see the show as an educational tool for kids and adults of all ages all over the world.

The Light Effect will be presented for one performance only on June 30 at 7:00 PM at The Greenroom 42. Get tickets HERE.

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