Taken By The Throat

7.14.2008

By Noah Michelson

You just came off the road about six months ago from promoting American Doll Posse and already it seems like you're working on 4,000 different things. Do you thrive on being busy?
I live a creative life. It's not my job. There are aspects to what I do that I think are more job definable, but creating isn't one of them. There are parts of the creative process that get challenging and that sometimes feel as if it can become work. When you're in a place of delivery, when you have to deal with the business side of it, it can seem like work. But if you don't deal with that side then it's all unsustainable. You still have to get everybody paid. Even though there are people to deal with that, you have to make sure that the choices you've made will make this happen. I live my life like this -- I don't think 'when do I get a break from creating?' And some projects take you by the throat and say, 'You thought you were doing a musical and you were doing the comic book, but guess what? You're doing me as well!'

You want to talk about that?
No! I can't! It's brewing!

Well, how about the musical? There have been rumblings about it for the last few years, but now you're really in the trenches getting it done?
I'm in the trenches. I'm delivering act one to the British National Theater in July. I have the guys in the mix room at Martian Studios now mixing one of the many pieces that have to be submitted into act one. The playwright Samuel Adamson -- he adapted All About My Mother for the stage -- that's who I'm working with.

So what was the process? Was the idea yours and you brought him along? Was it totally collaborative?
I told a few people at CAA. My music agent -- I've been working with her since the '80s, if you can believe that -- said, 'Alright, if this is really what you want to do, then let's get that department involved.' Cut to loads and loads of these 'properties' being stacked in front of my eyes and I start to go through them and finally I put my hands on this one called The Light Princess and I say, 'This is the one for me.' It's a book from the 19th century and another client at CAA had the property. So we got along and then it went to the next stage. We went to producers on Broadway and they practically laughed me out of the room saying, 'Who's doing the book? Who's doing this? Who's doing that?' or 'Until you have this, we can't talk.' And I said 'OK, but I'm coming to you so that we can work together and you put it together -- can't you see that idea?' 'No. That's not how we do it.' So the last stop was the British National Theater. We flew into London and sat down with Nick Hytner who runs the National, and he said, 'I want you to meet with some of my team.' Part of the team was Samuel Adamson. So I brought the project to the National and then Sam and I started to go back and forth and hammer out the concept. And then he writes the book and I'm writing the songs. And it's very collaborative -- he's great to work with. He and I have been working on this, on and off, for two or three years.

When do you think you'll be done?
Well, the goal is that we'll be in workshop before Christmas. The goal is that it will open at the National late 2009 or early 2010. It's really involved.

It seems like a logical extension of what you already do -- a lot of your albums have very strong narrative arcs to them. It seems like something that would come naturally to you --
Naturally is a good word. But I set myself some benchmarks. For instance, there were certain sonic bibles, certain musicals I surrounded myself with -- West Side Story being one of them. I felt like if I were going to do this, then I wanted there to be a representation of different styles of music, not just, 'Well, it's an '80s-themed musical,' or, 'It's a takeoff on the '50s.' I wanted music to span from all of the 20th century and into the 21st century. So that has taken a lot of time. It isn't something that I've done as a hobby -- it's something that I've done for eight hours a day since I got off the road.

But it sounds like it's immensely satisfying.
Ask me that in a year. [Laughs] I mean, on some level, working with Sam is great. That's fun. But I'm not just handing in piano/vocal demos. I'm handing in full percussion. I had Phil Shenale arranging a couple, so there are orchestral arrangements -- on boxes, not with live pieces because I'm funding this out of my own pocket. When you're commissioned by the National, they don't pay you. You don't get paid unless you're selling tickets and there are people coming in.

So you have to go into it blindly just hoping for the best, then?
Really. And you have to realize that they can pull out at any moment.

That's got to be nerve-wracking.
Yah, it is. But I will say the greatest thing about working with someone like Sam is that they will -- the key word when you're working with them is development. They're really great about that. When I went to some of the Broadway producers, the idea of development and a workshop and that structure was not in their definition of how to bring a show onto the stage. And logically I couldn't understand why it's not part of it, because now that I'm a part of this process, it's a solid process.

You once said that that Strange Little Girls was your 'Cindy Sherman moment.' Would it be fair to say American Doll Posse was your Lady Bunny moment?
[Laughs] I guess you could say that.

I think there was something very drag about what you were doing -- and when I say drag I mean that in terms of camp, but also performativity. The shows on the last tour were so much more theatrical than anything you've ever done before.
Yes. If Ziggy Stardust is a drag moment then I'll agree with you.

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