The Jeff Blumenkrantz Songbook Podcast
Summary: Hear live recordings of the songs from the Tony-nominated composer's new songbook.
Special Episode #12: In anticipation of the upcoming release of the cast recording of Encores Off Center’s production of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater starring Santino Fontana, I bring you a podcast episode featuring Santino himself! I had the privilege of playing a small role in the show, so I got to watch Santino at work, and he is truly a brilliant artist. You’ll hear me acknowledge him in this episode, and although it sounds like I’m praising a mere ability to memorize quickly (one of my pet peeve compliments), what I meant and didn’t quite articulate was that he seemed to arrive at a full and complete performance, i.e. emotional depth, sense of humor, facility with the language and music, almost immediately with no ostensible effort. It was pretty amazing. And for the record, the name of the complicated song he nailed in the cast recording is “A Firestorm Consuming Indianapolis.” Rosewater aside, Santino has graced many a Broadway production, including Billy Elliot, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Importance of Being Earnest, Cinderella, and Act One. Additionally, he is probably best known for his performance as Greg in the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and as the voice of Prince Hans in Disney’s blockbuster film Frozen. But for me, first and foremost, he'll always be Aaron from the web series Submissions Only. In this episode, Santino sings “At Sea,” a song from the abandoned show Hashi, a piece on which I collaborated with Beth Blatt. Loosely based on the Pollyanna story, the young, recently orphaned boy Hashi has been sent to live with his Aunt Barb, a single, hardened New York City working woman. In this song, Barb’s ex-boyfriend and upstairs neighbor Ben is back on a break from the cruiseline doctor job he accepted directly after their breakup. In a conversation with Hashi, Ben reflects on his choices over the past few years. (FYI, the sheet music and piano accompaniment track for "At Sea" have just been added to my online music store.) As for Santino, he is tireless! Here's what he has coming up: On July 21 and 22, he'll be performing in a concert with Laura Osnes and Ted Sperling in ChicagoOn July 28 he'll be doing a concert version of The Music Man with his wife, Jessica, in the PoconosFrom August 12-20, he'll be appearing on the Broadway on the Rhine River Playbill Cruise Also look out for him in some upcoming episodes of Mozart in the Jungle, returning to play yet another title role, Mozart himself! This episode was recorded on April 20, 2017.
Special Episode #11: Five years later!! Here I am again with a new episode and an extra special guest star, THE bright star of Bright Star, Carmen Cusack! Carmen exploded last season with her highly acclaimed Broadway debut as "Alice Murphy" in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's musical, garnering every lead-actress-in-a-musical nomination that exists. While Bright Star did mark Carmen's Broadway debut, it certainly wasn't her first theatrical outing. Her career began in the UK, including such star turns as Christine in Phantom, Fantine in Les Mis, and then back in the US on the national tours of Wicked as Elphaba and South Pacific as Nellie. Add in regional gigs playing Annie in First Wives Club, Mother in Ragtime and Dot in Sunday in the Park... and you've got a seriously impressive resume! Since Bright Star closed, Carmen has kept busy with numerous concert gigs and a one-woman play, Do This, at the Gulfshore Playhouse. Coming up are appearances at the Kennedy Center for a Pete Seeger tribute on April 15th, a solo show at 54 Below on April 16th, and a concert with me (!) at the Axelrod Arts Center in Deal, NJ on May 20th! Today's selection is a "trunk song" from yet another one of my abandoned musicals, Hashi, on which I collaborated with Beth Blatt. Hashi was loosely inspired by Pollyanna, i.e. a hardened, spinster aunt gets custody of the newly orphaned child of her estranged sister. In our version which takes place today, the aunt, Barb, is a 40something, single NY businesswoman with no time for parenthood, and instead of a niece, Hashi is her nephew, born and raised in Africa and Asia by Barb's free-spirited, hippie sister. Barb has just learned she will have to take custody of the boy, who arrives the next day. With no information about him and his life, she speculates on how "Nothing's Gonna Change." This episode was recorded on March 20, 2017.
Special Episode #7: It's been so long since I've done one of these episodes that I omitted a word from my intro! (Did anyone catch it?) I'm thrilled to welcome back the incomparable Sutton Foster. Not just a ridiculous talent, but also one of the warmest, most generous people with whom I've had the privilege of collaborating. Sutton is currently giving a stellar performance as Princess Fiona in the musical Shrek, but only through January 24, 2010, so if you haven't seen her in it yet, get moving! With one Tony Award and three Tony nominations under her belt, she is one of Broadway's great leading ladies, infusing everything she does with her idiosyncratic charm, humor, and heart. Sutton is here to sing "My Heart Was Set on You," the song I wrote for her wonderful debut CD, Wish. A new activist, Sutton has been outspoken in her support of Marriage Equality and has sponsored a bus to take people to the National Equality March in Washington DC this weekend. Check out Sutton's video for the organization Broadway Impact. Coming soon is her eponymous website, a concert tour, and a teaching stint at NYU! Those lucky kids!! To see what kind of soup I served her from my Jeff and Martha cooking project (a la Julie and Julia), visit my blog! This episode was recorded on October 9, 2009.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #12 (May): It's the final installment of my yearlong song cycle! I did it! And I have the perfect guest with whom to complete the cycle, someone who knows a thing or two about song cycles himself: Michael Winther! I've known Michael since the early 90's, when we were Plaids at the same time (but never in the same production). Since then, Michael has had quite a distinguished theatre career, bouncing between musicals and plays, including the Broadway productions of Artist Descending a Staircase, Damn Yankees (with me!), 1776, The Crucible, Mamma Mia (with last month's guest Dee Hoty!), and most recently, 33 Variations. But the reason I think of Michael when I think of song cycles is that he was at the center of a very distinguished one, Songs from an Unmade Bed, which began as an offhanded idea from the very talented lyricist/librettist Mark Campbell and blossomed into a theatre piece that became part of The New York Theatre Workshop's 2005 season, earning Michael a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance! His interesting collaborations continue, most notably My Coma Dreams with Fred Hersch, the brilliant jazz pianist and composer, and When We Met with another previous podcast guest, Sally Wilfert! The inspiration for this month's song comes from Brett Lowell, who gave me so many great ideas this month that I had to narrow it down. I particualrly liked his idea of incorporating "Mayday!," the distress signal, into a song about how in May, thoughts turn to love, etc. Add to that my own fascination to learn that "Mayday!" springs from the French, "[Venez] m'aider!" and the next thing I knew, there was a samba! (Special thanks to Caroline Bergonzi, David Turner, and Marcy Scott for their help with the French translation.) What a fun way to end the project! In closing, I'd like to express my gratitude once again to Bradley Kaye for the adorable Month Upon a Time logo, to all the wonderful singers who lent their time and talent to my songs, and to all of you who offered up ideas for songs each month. Don't forget, if you want to perform any of these songs, they're available as sheet music in my online music store. Until the next episode... This episode was recorded on May 28. 2012.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #11 (April): Remember last month when I said I wanted to do something special to celebrate my 50th podcast episode? Well, I'd say I hit the jackpot with a visit from the very special Dee Hoty! I've been a big Dee Hoty fan since seeing her as Alaura in City of Angels, and she has never disappointed, giving standout performances in every show she graces. And she has seemingly graced them all! Between her work on Broadway and in national tours, regional theatre, and summer stock, I'm pretty sure Dee has played every leading lady role ever written, and then some. Dee is one of those actors' actors: she'll camp out on Broadway for years in big shows (did I mention she's received three Tony Award nominations?), but then she'll also pursue those labors of love, like The Transport Group's The Audience (which happens to be the only time Dee and I have appeared in the same playbill). After years of saying "We should do something together," what a treat for me to get to hear her sing my little April song. This month's idea comes from an old friend and fellow Plaid, Richard Roland, once actor, now director, whose one-word suggestion was simply "Taxes." (For the record, there were multiple people who suggested taxes, but Richard was officially the first. Thanks to everyone who sent ideas! One more month left... I'm going to miss that process, you guys!) FYI, my love affair with Dee Hoty continues into May, when she will be performing (along with Drew Gehling, Sarah Stiles, and recent podcast guest Dee Roscioli) in my upcoming concert, Trunk and Disorderly: Songs from the Deep, Dark Trunk of Jeff Blumenkrantz. Did I mention that I won the Fred Ebb Award this year? Well, as part of my prize, they're sponsoring a concert of my songs on May 14 at 6:30 at the York Theatre. Seating is limited, so I can't offer you seats outright, but if you want to come, please put yourself on the waiting list by filling out the form on the other side of this link, and I'll let you know ASAP if we can accommodate. (FYI, there is no charge.) This episode was recorded on April 27, 2012.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #10 (March): As you might have noticed, this month I give new meaning to the concept of waiting until the last minute. I'm literally recording, editing, and posting this episode on March 31, so I'm singing the song myself, out of necessity. (OK, admittedly, maybe I was ready to sing one of these songs anyway.) This month's idea comes from my friend Nathan Brisby (@nbrisby), who suggested I write a song about St. Baldrick's. Like some of my other favorite Month Upon a Time suggestions, I had never heard of it, so I embarked on a reconnaissance mission and pretty quickly found the official St. Baldrick's website. Instead of my telling you about this amazing and relatively new institution, why don't you listen to the song and then poke around their website. You could also see any number of videos on youtube chronicling various St. Baldrick's events across the country. Next month's episode is going to mark my 50th podcast, so I'm hoping to do something particularly festive... any ideas? Lay 'em on me! Until then... This episode was recorded on March 31, 2012.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #9 (February): I've been a big fan of Dee Roscioli's from the minute I laid eyes on her at the meet-and-greet for the 2010 24-Hour Musicals. Little did I know that she had already distinguished herself as the actress who performed the role of Elphaba in Wicked more times than any other performer in North America, a "title" I believe she still holds! I'm sorry to say, I didn't get to see her in the role, but everyone who has, either from the stage or from out front, is all raves! If you want to know more about her experience as The Green One, check out this adorable backstage video. After five years on the broom, Dee recently appeared in the Off-Broadway play Dedalus Lounge with Anthony Rapp and a full Irish brogue. As for what's next, I predict a slew of starring roles in original Broadway musicals. And possibly a CD? You can play your part by going to her fan page and telling her what you want to hear her sing! Special thanks to my beloved college pal Marjorie Harris Newman (aka Margie Harris) for the idea for this month's song, inspired by her sister Melanie's attitude about her 2/14 birthday. Also, thanks to my friends Suzanne Thomas, Alan Filderman, David Krane, and Chantal Bilodeau for sharing tidbits with me about their 2/14 birthdays.... This episode was recorded on February 28, 2012.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #8 (January): January... all about new beginnings, right? Well then, isn't it appropriate that my first special guest of the new year is my new bff, Courtney Balan? I've known about Courtney by reputation, ever since she stood by for both of the superstar ladies of [title of show]. But I'd never met her until last month, when we became fast friends at a mutual friend's Christmas party and then sealed the deal at the same friend's birthday party last week. How fun to find out about all the interesting and varied projects in which she's been involved: the original casts of Broadway's In My Life and Crybaby, as well as Off-Broadway's I Love You Because, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, and I Love Being a Marvelous Wonderette. (OK, that's not really the title, but I couldn't resist.) And this season, we almost got the chance to maybe catch her playing Fanny Brice on Broadway, as she was set to understudy Lauren Ambrose in the now-cancelled revival of Funny Girl. Drat! But wait! There always seems to be a great job awaiting her when another one falls through. This time it's being part of the original cast of the new Off-Broadway musical, Rated P for Parenthood, starting previews on February 8 at the Westside Theatre! Break a leg! Special thanks to my college pal Allyson Rice for her one-word January suggestion that inspired this song: "Dieting." Says it all.... This episode was recorded on January 29, 2012.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #7 (December): Remember back in the day when the holiday season would bring all kinds of special episodes of TV shows or even better, all singing/all dancing TV specials? Well, this is my interpretation of the holiday special, and what makes it so special is the fact that it's my first group podcast! Actually, I think it was inevitable. First of all, even though this is the 7th episode of the Month Upon a Time podcast, it will ultimately serve as the 12th song in the final song cycle. So I was thinking I should give it some kind of big finale. Then came Rene Ruiz's (@ReneSRuiz) suggestion that I write a "lament of a Christmas Caroling quartet and you should write it in four part harmony." Bingo! (Meanwhile, do I need to mention that Rene is one of the members/founder of the amazing a cappella vocal group Toxic Audio?) It so happens that I had just seen the Goodspeed Opera House's wonderful production of City of Angels (with amazing costumes by my best friend Tracy Christensen), and the great sounds of their Angel City Four were still in my head. So who better to sing this? However, given that it was the middle of the hectic holiday season, only half of the Angel City Four (Mick Bleyer and Sierra Rein) were available, so I brought in my friend and Broadway (Wicked, Legally Blonde, 9 to 5) ringer, Gaelen Gilliland, to sing the soprano part, with me on tenor completing the quartet. What should we call ourselves? How about "Swingers Unlimited," since I found myself thinking about that popular Singers Unlimited Christmas album as I wrote this? It should also be mentioned that Mick and Sierra are 2/5's of the singing group, Marquee Five, the 2010 MAC Award winners for Best Vocal Duo/Group, who've just released their first recording, 8-Track Throwback! And those of you in the Cleveland area can look forward to Gaelen's performance in the upcoming production of Sondheim on Sondheim at the Great Lakes Theater. Best wishes to all for a Happy New Year! This episode was recorded on December 29th, 2011.
Special Episode #4: I'm so thrilled to add Donna Lynne Champlin to my list of special guest stars, first at my Birdland concert in November, and now on the podcast. After loving her performances in such Broadway shows as By Jeeves, Hollywood Arms, and Sweeney Todd, it's a real treat for me to get to hear her sing my songs. I do feel the need to mention: As wonderful as Donna Lynne has been in other people's shows, she could never be better than she is in her own one-woman show, Finishing the Hat. It is, hands down, the most spectacular solo show I have ever seen in my life. Donna Lynne tells a series of stories about herself and her life (chosen from a hat by the audience), and she does so with a level of wit and comedy and pathos and musicality and drama that is truly in a league of her own. DO NOT MISS THIS if she ever does it again. (Donna Lynne, do it again.) In the meantime, you lucky D.C.er's can catch her at the Kennedy Center in Henry (Dreamgirls) Krieger and Bill (Sideshow) Russell's Up in the Air, playing February 7-10. In this special episode, she sings "I Burn," from the dearly departed, unfinished musical, Hush. (Recorded 1/11/08.) The song is from a show-within-the-show, i.e. the main character, Miles, is writing a musical which deconstructs Great Expectations and centers around the character of Miss Havisham. This song finds Miss H. on the morning of her wedding day, before she discovers that her fiancé has been deceiving her and will not marry her after all. The song would later be reprised as a duet between young Miss H and old Miss H, as the latter dies in a fire, still wearing her wedding dress. By the way, The BMI Workshop Songbook Podcast is now officially up and running. Tune in to hear me interview the wonderful members and alumni of this acclaimed writers' workshop and to listen to performances of their songs by our too, too talented guest stars! Subscribe here via iTunes.
Special Episode #5: I had so much to talk about that I simply HAD to do a new episode. Tune in to hear all about my upcoming UK concert "tour, " and find out about my limited-time special songbook offer. Also, check out this never-heard-before trunk song, "My Time with You," written for the now-abandoned Betty Boop musical. (Recorded 4/24/08.) If you can't make it over to Nottingham or London for my June concerts, why don't you hop/skip/jump down to the Jersey Shore for my July 17th benefit concert for the Jewish Community Center in Deal, NJ? Hope to see you there!
Special Episode #3: After a long break, I'm back! Last month, I finally got to meet Jose Llana at, of all places, Broadway Idol. (He was there as a judge, I was a there as a screaming Alysha Umphress fan.) As we were talking, I realized that I needed him to sing this song, so I pounced. And here he is! Jose is remembered, most recently, for his portrayal of the adorable Chip Tolentino ("My Unfortunate Erection," anyone?) in the Drama Desk Award-winning original cast of the Off-Broadway/Broadway hit, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. A Broadway "veteran" at 31, he made his debut at the tender age of 19 as Lun Tha in the '96 revival of The King and I, and he's been working non-stop ever since. On Broadway, he's also appeared in Street Corner Symphony, as Angel in Rent, and as Ta, the leading man, in the '02 revival of Flower Drum Song. Add to that his stints in Off Broadway's Saturn Returns (aka Myths and Hymns) and On the Town at the Public, the National Tour of The Return of Martin Guerre, appearances on the HBO series Sex and the City and the feature film Hitch, and an eponymous solo album, Jose, that reached #2 on the charts in Manila, and you'll realize we are talking about an amazingly accomplished young guy! Jose will be singing a self-contained song I wrote this past year, "Why Can't I Kiss You?" (Recorded 10/24/07.) After having spent the preceding six months writing songs for a project that was set in the 30's, clearly I was still in the mood. As for what inspired the song, I'll never tell.... But if you want to hear this and lots of other never-heard-before songs of mine, then hop on over to Birdland on November 4th at 7PM for a concert where I'll be bringing out the secret goodies, with the help of my amazing guest stars , Adinah Alexander, Donna Lynne Champlin, Laura Patinkin, David Perlman, and Alysha Umphress. Call 212 581-3080 for reservations, or get your tickets online now.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #6 (November): Look who I got for this month's episode: Ghetto Superstar Billy Porter! Billy has been a friend since the early days, and it was only a matter of time before he popped up on here. What an interesting journey and varied career he's had - everything from Star Search winner (1992) to Broadway musical theatre star to recording artist to film/TV actor to one-man-show diva to serious dramatic ekhtor, with some stops along the way for writing, directing, arranging, and choreographing. Kind of amazing. Right now he's gearing up to play one of the leads in the upcoming workshop of the new musical Kinky Boots, based on the film of the same name. Jerry Mitchell + Cyndi Lauper + Harvey Fierstein + Billy Porter sounds like a pretty fabulous combo! Additionally, he'll be choreographing the cool new musical Pop at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh and continuing his affiliation with the fledgling theatre company Exit Pursued By a Bear. He does like to keep a full plate! This month's song idea comes courtesy of the beautiful and talented Alexandra Silber (@alexandrasilber), late of this year's Master Class revival and the Transport Group's Hello Again. I guess having spent all those years in the UK studying and living and working, she came to regard Guy Fawkes Night as a holiday of her own. I, myself, had never heard of it until now. Special thanks to my Brit friends Suzanne (Squeezie) Thomas and John Blakey for confirming that it's really a holiday :-) and sharing their 11/5 experiences with me. This episode was recorded on November 29, 2011.
Warning: ADULT SEXUAL CONTENT in this episode OK, you're been warned. Month Upon a Time, Episode #5 (October): For a podcast that avoids repeat guests, I sure do a lot of double-dipping. But as you'll soon see, it's obvious why nobody but Julia Murney could sing this song.... As I was reviewing the October ideas that had been sent to me, I couldn't help noting Eloise Akehurst's suggestion that I write a song about "Julia Murney's Cocktober." It was certainly a noteworthy trio of words, but probably not a song. Meanwhile, I was working with Jason Robert Brown at the time, and I asked him to give me an idea for an October-themed song, and he replied, "Julia Murney's Cocktober." Well, then it started to seem like a downright challenge. Besides, when two people give you the same idea and it's as specific (and outrageous) as this one, it's time to do some research. So I tracked down Julia to get the first-hand version of the story, and thus this song was born. It's not an accurate retelling - the names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent - but it was certainly inspired by her oh-so-true story. Since her last visit to the podcast, Julia has kept busy as the belty green gal on tour and Broadway, not to mention pursuing an active concert and, as evidenced here, voice-over career. Also, her debut CD, I'm Not Waiting, which had yet to be released the last time she was on the podcast, is now available! This month finds her back on the boards in the new Michael John LaChiusa musical, Queen of the Mist, with The Transport Group. It's so nice to have her back where she belongs. This episode was recorded October 30, 2011.
Month Upon a Time, Episode #4 (September): The last time she made a guest appearance on this podcast, Alysha Umphress was just getting her feet wet in the New York talent pool. Now, five years later, she is positively drenched! First came her Off Broadway debut understudying the two female roles in the Bill Finn revue, Make Me a Song. Then followed a very happy run, first at Berkeley Rep and then on Broadway, in Green Day's American Idiot (Check out her hot duet from the cast recording: "Too Much Too Soon".) Along the way, she's performed in countless cabaret shows - here are youtube videos of her definitive performances of two of my songs "Celebrate" and "I Just Wanna Have Fun" in concert. Happily, one of her solo concerts was preserved with a live recording, which you can purchase from her outrageously not-up-to-date website: Alysha Umphress - Live at the Laurie Beechman. This coming season, you'll be able to catch her on Broadway again (!!) in the upcoming revival of On a Clear Day..., as well as on television as a guest star on Showtime's Nurse Jackie. She's on fire!! September inspired a flurry of song ideas, 95% of which were rooted in back-to-school, which made Karen Buerkle's idea stand out that much more: she wrote "That's when the Bennys go home." Not knowing what this cryptic sentence meant, I did a little research, which led me to this website and this Facebook page. (At the time of uploading this episode, the Benny Go Home website was experiencing technical difficulties. Hopefully, it will be live again soon, so you can see what I found.) In a nutshell, a Benny is a summer tourist visiting the Monmouth or Ocean County Jersey shore. While there are several explanations for the origin of the name, the favored one is that it's an acronym for the cities these tourists primarily came from back in the day, namely Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York. The locals frown upon what they perceive to be disrespectful Benny behavior. A grass roots campaign called "Benny Go Home" has evolved, with logos, bumper stickers, and things like these three beach scenes.... Given that I grew up in Monmouth County (in fact, Karen Buerkle played the title role in our community theatre production of Annie Get Your Gun back in the early 80s), I couldn't resist this subject matter for the September song. And since I've been making it a habit of sneaking musical quotes into several of these Month Upon a Time songs, this title offered up a no-brainer. Thanks, Karen! For the record, I think the members of the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore would definitely be considered Bennys. This episode was recorded September 12, 2011.