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Interview: Theatre Life with Andrew Lippa

The composer/lyricist on his classical choral work Unbreakable and more.

Interview: Theatre Life with Andrew Lippa
Andrew Lippa

Today's subject Andrew Lippa is an award-winning composer/lyricist whose work spans all forms of music.

On June fourth the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington will present Lippa's Unbreakable for two performances only at 3:00 and 8:00pm. The event will be performed at The Lincoln Theatre.

You most likely know Andrew Lippa as a musical theatre writer from such hit shows as The Addams Family and the new version of, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown (additional songs and arrangements) for which he wrote the modern day stage classic "My New Philosophy" for Kristin Chenoweth. Other works for the stage include Big Fish, The Wild Party (off-Broadway version), John & Jen, and A Little Princess. You can hear him on the cast recording of his musical The Man in the Ceiling.

His classical choral works include I Am Harvey Milk and I Am Anne Hutchinson.

Lippa's songs have been sung by Renée Fleming, Vanessa Williams, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Nathan Lane, Brooke Shields, and Mel B, to name a few.

He was also the musical director for Snapshots at Westport Country Playhouse and keyboardist for Johnny Pye at Lamb's Theatre.

Lippa's many and well-deserved awards include Tony® and Grammy® nominations, shared Emmy for Nickelodeon's The Wonder Pets, SFGMC Vanguard Award, The Drama Desk Award, and The Outer Critics Circle Award.

If you are familiar with Andrew Lippa's musical theatre work, then please consider purchasing some tickets to Unbreakbale to witness his musical versatility in writing for another genre.

You may "Draw Your Own Conclusion" as to what you think of the work, but I honestly think you will be impressed.

At what age did it become clear that you wanted to have a career in music?

From a very early age I was always singing and always interested in music more than anything else. I think, by my sophomore year in high school, when I started to get more advanced at the piano, I realized I was going to pursue a career in music.

Who would you say was your biggest mentor in terms of you becoming a composer?

Biggest? Hard to pick only one. My lifelong friend and Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller was the first person to encourage me to write music. My professors at the University of Michigan, Brent Wagner and William Bolcom were my earliest "you can do it" teachers. Professionally, Stephen Schwartz has been my biggest influence and mentor, giving me support and opportunities from my earliest days as a songwriter.

Where did the idea for Unbreakable come from?

As a follow-up to I Am Harvey Milk, I wanted to do something non-narrative and not focused on a single person. The idea of August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" - the 10-plays set in the 10 decades of the 20th Century that dealt with various aspects of the African-American experience - was a guide. I thought, why not attempt this kind of chronology in one evening with LGBTQ+ stories and songs?

Interview: Theatre Life with Andrew Lippa

Can you please tell us a little something about the piece?

Unbreakable is a chronology of LGBTQ+ people and stories from the start of the 20th Century all the way up to this moment. One story per decade, I picked, in most cases, stories and/or details from each decade that, before writing Unbreakable, were relatively or wholly unknown to me. They are people and stories who deserve to be remembered and celebrated. Written for men's chorus, soloists, and orchestra, Unbreakable is a 14-song celebration of LGBTQ+ voices throughout the past 125 years.

In classical music, it is common for the composer to do his/her own orchestration. With Unbreakable and your other classical works (I Am Harvey Milk etc.) was that the case?

No. I rarely do my own orchestrations. I prefer to work with others. In the case of Unbreakable, the orchestrations are by the magnificent Peter Seibert.

How have pieces of yours like I Am Harvey Milk and Unbreakable increased in importance overtime in talking about the LGBTQ experience?

That's not a question I can answer. I hope, through my work, these stories have reached and/or inspired folks who otherwise hadn't been reached. But how they have "increased in importance" is for others to determine, not me.

Your version of The Wild Party played off-Broadway the same season as Michael John LaChiusa's Broadway version. Was that planned or did it just happen?

Who would plan such a thing?!?!?

Before becoming a composer, you were a Musical Director/pianist for several shows. Snapshots at Westport Playhouse being one of them. If the opportunity arose, would you consider doing that kind of work again?

I love music directing my own work. I conducted A Little Princess with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 2018. I also wrote and conducted a large concert work for piano, orchestra, children's chorus, and soloists with Lang Lang at the piano in Guangzhou, China in 2015. I'd welcome other opportunities to conduct my own work this way.

Can you please tell us about any upcoming projects you have for the rest of 2022 and onward?

I'm pretty tight-lipped about future work so I'm not going to share any titles at the moment. I have an original film musical in development and am working on several stage projects that I hope will see the light in the next couple of years.

Special thanks to Bucklesweet Media's royal Director of Public Relations Amy "Queenie" Killion for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

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