In 1988 Paul L. Johnson* and I worked on a revival of Cole Porter’s “Leave It to Me” at Equity Library Theater. He played piano in the orchestra. I played the comic lead, Alonso Goodhue, a part created by comedy star Victor Moore. Paul and I became friends and happily he has gone on to many successes as a music director and especially as a composer. So when I approached him with my need for two original songs for my act, he agreed to have a go at collaborating. The results were excellent and one of the two songs “Night before Christmas Jig” is my favorite song in the show. It is a delight to perform and warmly received.
Paul has extensive experience in the cabaret scene in and around New York. In addition to composing full scores for several musicals, he had a noteworthy collaboration creating songs with Hector Coris one of the founders of Opening Doors Theatre who won a MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs) Award for Male Vocalist of the Year in 2010. They clearly had a wicked sense of humor when they wrote the award-winning 2006 musical comedy revue “What’s Your Problem?!” Check it out on Youtube.
From the first time I was privileged to introduce an original song in performance, this has been one of my singular joys. I was working with Edith O’Hara at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood where we had closed her wonderful production of “Boy Meets Boy.” Among the shows she subsequently produced at this theater which was then called the Lyric Repertory Company was a revival of a children’s show she had done before, but which needed a new score. This effort became “Gingerbread” the Hansel and Gretel story with music by Ron Browning and Ron Creager, the music directing partners we had worked with on “Boy.” Ron wrote a beautiful duet for Papa (me) and Mama, and singing that lovely duet was one of the highlights of my time in Los Angeles.
Ron has gone on to a noteworthy career as a Voice and Performance coach in Nashville, TN with a distinguished clientele. You can learn more about Ron Browning here.
“Boy Meets Boy” was a long running off-Broadway hit in NYC and the original production was spun off into several west coast companies. I was in the second S.F. company playing Clarence Cutler. This brilliant show had a juicy 1930’s style pastiche score by Bill Solly. Although I didn’t create the role of Clarence, I was about the third person to ever play the part.
After a long stint in classical theatre (my other love being performing in Shakespeare), I made my return to musical theatre when in 1982 my friend Mike Snider cast me in his Cinnamon Bear Show: “Who Needs Sneeds.” This was a children’s musical sponsored by IBM and it had an original score by Dana Libonati and Mike Snider. The score and the show were full of pizzazz and I was about the second actor to touch that material, the show having been developed in Portland, OR.
Also in New York about 1989 I was cast to play original roles in “Troubadour” by Bert Draesel and John Martin, a musical about St. Francis of Assisi, I played Francesco’s dad and the Pope! The score existed before I was cast, but I was among the first actors to fully perform it (as far as I know, although there may have been a concert version before our staging). This had a nice little run off-off Broadway at Riverwest Theatre and was a pleasure to perform. The piece has been rewritten since and was revived in 2009.
So, I hope original music will always have a place in my repertoire. I’m also very fond of parody and will continue to write take-offs on popular tunes (like my partner David Stephens and I did in “Dear Ole Santy Claus”) when inspiration strikes. I’m currently working on the program for “In the Good Old Summertime” which has me knee deep in Cole Porter, a place I dearly love to be! More on that next.
*Paul L. Johnson “is a musical director, arranger and award-winning composer. He composed the scores to several popular musicals at Wings Theatre (Cowboys!, Tango Masculino, The Three Musketeers and Nile Blue). He has composed a over twenty shows, numerous songs for cabaret and has several more musical projects in the making. Most recently, Mr. Johnson scored and co-wrote a musical adaptation of As You Like It for Vital Children’s Theater. In the last 22 years, Mr. Johnson has musical directed more than 120 shows Off-Broadway, off-Off-Broadway and regionally; his credits include She Loves Me, Gigi, and Side By Side By Sondheim. He received OOBR Awards for Tango Masculino and Cowboys!. His and Hector Coris’popular debut show Not Me garnered a 2004 MAC Award nomination for Outstanding Special Material.” (Source: http://www.the-chimes.com/authors.html, accessed 2/12/2014)