Monday, January 2, 2012

Michael Patrick Walker!

"Love doesn't grow on trees like apples in Eden-it's something you have to make. And you must use your imagination too."
-Joyce, Cary (1888-1957)

Happy 2/1/12!
It's a new year, a new week, a new day, and a new blog! Today, I am writing about Michael Patrick Walker, whose star is definitely on the rise!

 Michael Patrick Walker’s debut album, Out of Context: The Songs of Michael Patrick Walker is now availble for purchase and download on iTunes and Amazon.com. The album is a brand new collection of original songs by Michael. The thirteen tracks cover a wide range of musical ground from driving pop to slinky jazz to lush ballads to comedic showstoppers. To perform this unique collection, Michael has assembled fifteen of Broadway’s finest, including 3-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific, The Pajama Game, Light in the Piazza), Cheyenne Jackson (“30 Rock,” Finian’s Rainbow, Xanadu), Telly Leung (“Glee,” Rent, Pacific Overtures) and Rachel York (CBS “Lucy,” Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, City of Angels). Backed up by a group of New York’s best musicians, led by Michael himself on piano, Out of Context is an album you won’t want to miss.

He agreed to sit down for the first blog interview of the year and as you are about to find out, we are off to a great start! 


He doesn't know if it was the first LIVE show he ever saw, but when he was in junior high, his high school did a production of "Something's Afoot" which he attended without knowing anything about it.  This was at Susquehannock High School in southern York county, Pennsylvania.  He might not think so today, but at the time,he thought it was amazing.  The story, the music, the characters and the humor all really clicked for him and it opened his eyes to a type of entertainment he didn't know much about up until then.
  
Michael was exposed to the arts growing up. At the age of four, he apparently told his mother he desired to take piano lessons.  
His parents skeptically rented a piano for a month and took him to some lessons and that same rather basic piano is still in their house to this day.  As a result,he played all growing up - including as a member of his school's various orchestras and as the pianist for the choirs.  Most of his exposure was not to musical theatre until he stumbled upon it.  In addition, his school had music classes and concerts and little class plays in elementary school as well as seeing touring musicals and local productions once he got into high school and beyond.  
Michael playing for Chita Rivera in Costa Mesa!
Michael had been taking piano lessons since he was four years old, so music and the arts weren't new to him, but seeing the way a musical told a story was an exciting revelation - or at least it seems so now looking back.  He thinks, at the time, he just enjoyed it in the way you enjoy lots of things you know nothing about as a kid.  He doesn't t remember knowing he was going before the night he went, and he didn't run home and immerse myself in musicals, but it was one of the first steps on a path that lead me to his eventual career path.  
 
Michael's first time on stage was in his first grade play - a story, as he recalls, about how the months of the year had gotten all mixed up and out of order.  The months were played by 12 children, but there were another 12 children who each played a character associated with a month - ie, Baby New Year, Cupid, etc. Michael played the March Wind and he was the hero of the piece when he finally blew all the months back into their correct order.

 
Technically, Michael's first professional job was when he was hired to play piano for his third grade teacher's wedding.  She was always a fan of his and, when he was in her class, she made him promise he would play for her wedding if she ever got married.  When he was in fifth grade, she had her wedding and, true to her and his word, she hired him to play a song or two.  He think she paid him $50 which was a LOT of money to him as a fifth grader.  His first adult professional job in musical theatre was on the national tour of "Joseph...Dreamcoat" in the mid-90s.  This was the production that had a bunch of kids in the show - on the road it was about 40, many more on Broadway.  When they toured, they knew they couldn't tour 40 children, so they did local auditions for two choirs with 16-20 kids each.  Michael would travel around, auditioning and choosing the choirs and then, a week before the show arrived, he (with one of his two partners) would go back to the city and spend a week teaching the kids their staging, choreography and directing them into the show - all while one of the two of them played their own rehearsal piano. When the tour arrived, they had about an hour during sound check with the kids on stage to space them into the show (they spent most of their time on staircases so it wasn't as bad as it sounds). Then, one of the two of them would remain with the show, standing just out of site of the audience dancing the show in mirror in case the kids got lost.  It was a very, very unique job, but it also was one he enjoyed a great deal.

Michael's Thoughts on Arts in Education

I'm not sure I could convey how strongly I feel the arts need to be taught in schools.  It infuriates me that many people regard them as the first thing on the chopping block or as luxury items.  The worst part is, you CAN easily get by without teaching the arts to children without much changing...for a while.  But the long-term effect on our society would be so detrimental and, by the time it truly manifested itself, it would be years before it could be fixed.  Children need to be exposed to all kinds of things - and I'm a prime example of that.  Yes, I took private piano lessons, but my true calling and career was in musical theatre and writing music and lyrics.  If my high school didn't do musicals, I would never have seen my first show which lead to the others which, ultimately, lead me to doing what I do.  There are countless others - I'd wager most people in the arts today - who were first exposed to music, theatre, fine art, dance, etc ,etc because of their schooling.  This feeling is one of the main things which lead me to write for the Disney Channel TV show "Johnny and the Sprites" since its inception - the chance to write real song that didn't "talk down" to kids and exposed them to many different styles of music was too good to pass up!

 
Your thoughts on Carol Channing (All my blogs focus on Carol Channing’s Foundation For The Arts)
I had the good fortune to see Carol in "Dolly" when it played Broadway in the 1990s.  It amazed me then, and amazes me now, the number of times she's played the role and how, as a first-time viewer, you'd never, ever say it was "old hat" to her.  The enthusiasm and energy she brought to the role makes her part of a vanishing class of performers - including Chita Rivera, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook and others - that so many in the industry could learn a lot from.

 
I’m campaigning for Carol Channing to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in 2012. If you agree that she should receive this honor, can you say why you think this should happen
I certainly think she should!  It surprises me she has not yet been so honored.  Just considering those who have, her name fits in perfectly and her career and contribution to theatre, film and television seem to warrant this honor in spades!

 
Michael's most recent appearances
Well, as a composer/lyricist, I don't necessarily "appear" many places as it were, but my most recent projects and places my work appear include:
            - My album "Out of Context: The Songs of Michael Patrick Walker" was released on the Yellow Sound Label on November 8, 2011 and I hosted and lead an album release concert at Birdland on November 7, 2011 featuring live performances from the album.  It is available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.
            - Altar Boyz, which I co-wrote and co-created is the 9th-longest running Off Broadway musical of all time and continues to be performed around the globe in both professional and amateur productions.  Most notably at the moment the Japanese production is about to return for its third engagement in January and February of 2012.
            - The new dance number I wrote for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular premiered this season and the New York Times review said that the number "...works so well that everything that follows it...now feels like a long anti-climax." and said that the only number which matches the new number is the signature "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers".
            - I have just finished a draft of a new musical I'm writing with Rick Elice - I can't say much more about that yet, but we're hoping you'll hear a great deal more about it in 2012! 

 
What is your biggest success in Show Business?
That's a difficult question - I'm certainly very proud that the first show I wrote (Altar Boyz) was so successful, but I think my biggest success is still yet to come - maybe sooner, maybe later, but I since Altar Boyz was only the beginning, I don't want to give it the "biggest success" moniker!

What was your lowest low and how did you surpass that?
Something that has always been hard for me - and maybe always will - is understanding why the entertainment industry can, at times, be so bereft of creativity.   Pushing through the doubts of whether it is worth trying to be creative and innovative - whatever that manes in each individual case - can definitely put me in a "low" place.  Thankfully, I've always been able to put that aside and keep working and writing and, frankly, hoping there are enough others out there like me that value quality - in its many forms - and creativity.  (I have been saying the same thing for years, Michael!)


Michael wishes there were more people producing today that would take chances on developing new works and new talent.  Some do, to be sure, but far too many don't have their own creative compass. Michael would be very sad if professional theatre ended up as one giant theme park - even a crowd-pleasing spectacle can be well written, well done and have a well-told story.  I am in total agreement!



Who are your TOP FIVE models and influences as an artist?
In no particular order: My boyhood piano teachers (I had two), Stephen Sondheim, William Finn, and Kander/Ebb.  I admire what all of these people have done and, in some cases, still do to tell stories.  I don't emulate any of them, but I learn and admire so much about all of them.
 (William Finn introduces Kevin Smith Kirkwood and 'I'd Rather Be Sailing' from his 'Infinite Joy' Concert at Joe's Pub. Vadim Feichtner musical directed the night featuring Mary Testa, Stephen DeRosa, Malcolm Gets, Carolee Carmello, and Kevin Smith Kirkwood, plus back-up singers Dana Steingold, Ben Roseberry, and Carrie Manolakos. These Broadway performers sang the songs penned by Mr. Finn, in celebration of Joe's Pub 10th Anniversary and the 2001 concert and recording of the same)

John Kander and Fred Ebb
 
What do you think ultimately made you become a performer? 
I began writing off and on at a very early age - but more dabbling - and then more earnestly in college.  I think, like any writer, I began to write music and lyrics because I felt I had something to say - both with a lower case "s" and a capital "S".
 
Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
I am and I'm not - I recognize that I'm very, very fortunate to have had the successes I've had and that many would kill for them.  But I also want more - which I think is healthy and necessary in this industry.  If you are content and completely happy, what motivates you to strive for more and work harder? 


If you had all the money in the world...that you needed...would  you continue working.
Absolutely - without a doubt.

 
A genie pops out of the lamp, he grants you three wishes. What are those wishes?
1. To always have ideas that excite made me and projects that fulfill me.
2. To always have collaborators I value and trust to tell the stories with me - writers, directors, music directors, actors, and on and on
3. To be happy and successful - in that order - but not always, so that I appreciate the happiness and success I have even more.  

Much success in 2012, Michael! Thanks to your CD, I will be celebrating you all year long!


Thank you all for the support you have given me over the past year and also in previous years. My career and my desires and goals have shifted and I am now traveling down a new path. I am at a very good place and I am very excited about what the future holds.
I have a lot of irons on the fire right now, and to paraphrase Jerry Herman, I promise you a happy beginning. Now go out and celebrate with those you love and let's all make the world a better place in 2012.


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Tomorrow's' blog will be... Celebrating Patrick W. Ziegler!

 Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


Now, GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TOMORROW!

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Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING  and HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS

TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED HOLIDAY SEASON
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

 In Loving Memory of Harry Kullijian Born: December 27th, 1919 in Turlock, CA. 
Died December 26th, 2011 in Rancho Mirage, CA.


2 comments:

  1. Wonderful. I see another star rising.
    Cheers,
    Stephan

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