Thursday, March 17, 2011

Q & A With Matt roi Berger

A certain big-budget Broadway musical was supposed to open on March 15, but for those theater folks who needed to be at the opening of a spider-themed musical that day, there was Spidermusical, running through March 21 at the Mint Theater. Composer Matt roi Berger took time out from the busy opening week to answer a few questions about the show, how someone with an indie rock background writes a musical score, and more.
Q: How did the idea for Spidermusical come about? How long have you been working on it?
A: Spidermusical is the brain love child of Timothy Michael Drucker and Randy Blair, perhaps the two strangest, most talented people I know. I got a call in the middle of the night, if I remember correctly, and I could hear Randy laughing in the background, and Tim says something like, "The three of us are doing a new musical. Here's what it is." We hadn't talked in around a month--it felt like getting the band back together. Let's see. Since late January? I think that's when I got the first 20 pages or so. It was a pretty condensed writing period. I was drinking pretty heavily. I may be forgetting a week.

Q: You worked with Timothy Michael Drucker (director, book) and Randy Blair (book, lyrics) on Fat Camp. What's the typical writing process like for the three of you? Why do you think you work so well together?
A: Tim and Randy are incredible. If it works, that's why. Randy's lyrics immediately convey what a song needs to do--my part's easy from there. My background is not musical theater, it's rock and indie music, and they embrace that. I'm in the room with two of my best friends, writing music. It's just a lot of fun. Usually, I'll get Randy's lyrics and we'll bounce some ideas around. Then I'll record and arrange and send a demo their way. If we're having trouble with a song, we'll meet at Tim's and they'll play me a musical theater track off of YouTube, and say, "It's like this." Then I'll go, "Oh, you mean like this," and find them a recording of a pop or rock song, and we go from there. For Spidermusical, which was a very quick process, I sat down with the lyrics and my guitar and recorded as I wrote, going back for edits. I'd mail the boys a song and then get started on the next one. There was a night when we knocked off 6 songs in one sitting. I thought it would be rough working that quickly, but I'm really proud of what we did. I'm a perfectionist, but I'm also a drunk, which balances (ying yang).
Q: What can you tell me about the show? Is it going to be more of a spoof of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark or just a different interpretation of the Spider-Man story?
A: It's our story, entirely. I think if we'd been approached to do a Broadway musical of a comic book and they'd said, "Oh, and here's 65 million dollars," we'd have written the same thing. It's not a parody. I love the meta-story here, as well. This is what you can accomplish with a group of smart and talented people. This is what live theatre can be when it's not trying to be film/spectacle: exciting, entertaining and engrossing.

Q: Are you a comic book fan?
A: I was. I am? I still have about 400 issues in a closet at my mom's place in Virginia. Some superhero titles (nearly the entire run of Excalibur--why?), but mostly indie press. I was really into Bone, Akiko, Castle Waiting, Usagi Yojimbo. I still pick up a graphic novel every so often.

Q: Have you seen Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark?
A: Nope. I didn't want to see it while we were working on Spidermusical. I'm sort of bummed that it'll be retooled by the time I get a chance to catch it. I wanted to experience Julie's vision (spiders stealing shoes).

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about what the music will be like for the show and what your influences were?
A: It's got a lot of rock influences--it's very up-tempo and angular--but I had a lot of freedom to explore other sounds as well. Fat Camp, our other musical, is very much solid garage and indie rock, built to voice raw, emotional teens. Here there's an entirely different set of voices, and I had fun with spices from all over. Our arranger, Adam Wachter, is incredibly talented, and his additions are fantastic.
Q: There are three other Spider-Man musicals playing next week: Turn Off the Dark, The Spidey Project, and Spidermann. Are you afraid it's going to be overkill? Why should audiences see yours with all these choices?
A: I know nothing about the other productions, so I can't compare. I wish them the very best. I will say we have an amazing cast--Alex Brightman, Sara Chase, Kate Weatherhead, Randy Blair. The backbone of any production is the passion and energy on stage, and I can guarantee you that with Spidermusical.

Q: After this week of performances, do you think that's it for this show? Or do you think it will have a life elsewhere?
A: I hope so. I have massive gambling debts. If this doesn't fly, it's kidney number 2.

Q: What else are you working on these days?
A: I play guitar in Teen Girl Scientist Monthly. I wrote a song each and every week last year and I'm always posting something or other on my website.

Photo credit: Monica Simoes

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