No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Steven Blier

We had our first day in the hall today. This move is less disconcerting these days than it was when we started NYFOS@Juilliard in 2006. Going from a small room—in those days, my apartment—to the 1000-seat Peter J. Sharp Theater used to feel like a Great Disappearing Act, a kind of “Hey dude, whadja do with my SHOW?” Everything that had been vivid suddenly seemed tiny, everything that had been colorful suddenly seemed pallid in the larger space.




 |  Steven Blier

Choosing a program for NYFOS’s annual residency at Juilliard is usually one of the year’s sweetest dilemmas. No dilemma this time, though. I knew more than a year ago that I would want to revive Kurt Weill’s Berlin as the 2019 project. My singers have strong feelings about today’s politics, and I was sure they’d see the connection between Weimar Berlin and contemporary New York. While Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler are not unknown to today’s crop of young artists, they still had a lot to discover about them. And I knew that they would enjoy the freewheeling sexual politics in the songs by Tucholsky and Hollander.




 |  Steven Blier

Last Tuesday I was ready to rehearse Kurt Weill’s Berlin, and I am now ready to play the show on Thursday. But I was not ready for how deep it was going to cut. My soul has gotten a workout this week, in a wonderful way. I guess it all began with my gradual awareness of just how significant the songs were.




 |  Steven Blier

Today we had two visitors: Marianne Barrett, who coaches German at Juilliard, and Jeremy Lawrence, a specialist in the songs of the Weimar Era. He did the translations for Ute Lemper’s CD of Berlin cabaret songs (we’re using two of them), and he also has his own show, Lavender Songs, where he performs material from the era.




 |  Steven Blier

It was a day of highs and lows. Some songs flourished in amazing new directions under the guidance of Mary Birnbaum. As I’ve written earlier in the week, I have had to adjust to seeing stand-and-sing songs I’ve done for years turn into mini-scenes that pull in several non-singing performers. Mostly it’s a revelation, once I let go of my preconceptions.




 |  Steven Blier

Today I invited my friend Jack Viertel to come watch some of our rehearsal. Jack comes from the highest reaches of the theater world. He’s written a masterful book called The Secret Life of the Broadway Musical (a must-read for anyone who loves American musical theater); he is the Artistic Director of the Encores! Series at City Center; he is Senior Vice-President at Jujamcyn Theaters; and he’s taught at NYU. It would seem a bit scary to invite such a person to give notes to the cast, especially after only a few days of rehearsal. But Jack is one of the greatest mensches in the business—indeed, in our entire city. And he’s a close friend—hell, he was the toastmaster at my wedding. I kept anxiety at bay.




 |  Steven Blier

There is a certain thrill—and a certain terror—to watching a beloved song receive a new, honest-to-god staging. I’ve seen these pieces acted as solos by a cadre of great artists in recital and cabaret settings, but this is the first time I’ve seen some of them turn into full-fledged theatrical numbers with choreography and fleshed-out […]




 |  Steven Blier

We had our first run of the whole program today, and it went extremely well. There were plenty of heart-stopping moments where we all felt the sacred fire in the room. And the program has a strong arc, just as I remembered. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how powerfully Kurt Weill and his fellow Weimar songwriters would speak in 2019.




 |  Steven Blier

For many years, Michael Barrett and I discussed doing a program devoted to the blues, that quintessential American genre. But we were never sure how to tackle such a broad topic. Then our friend, the musicologist and early blues scholar Elliott Hurwitt proposed that we devote an evening to W. C. Handy, and this magically opened up the long-sought path. I’d known about Handy—famous as “The Father of the Blues”—since my boyhood. One of his songs was in some anthology I pored over as a child—could it have been The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs? I found his music sweet and old-timey, redolent of straw hats, picnics, bandstands on summer days.




 |  Steven Blier

A student and I were talking about the operas we’d heard in recent months, as we often do at the beginning of a session. It was a slightly depressing discussion, and one I’ve had several times recently in my studio during a period when there has been a lot of alarming crash-and-burn singing across the […]