The City Center revival of Merrily We Roll Along may have closed, but I found myself humming “Old Friend” several times throughout my conversation with Alan Schmuckler as he discussed his upcoming concert at Joe’s Pub. Schmuckler, a Chicago-based actor, composer/lyricist and singer/songwriter, had much to say about music, theatre, and acting, but he kept returning to one theme during our conversation – friendship.
Schmuckler is currently preparing for Alan Schmuckler – I Miss the City, a one-night concert at Joe’s Pub that features his original compositions, sung by several of his friends in the performing arts community. Schmuckler’s work has been performed at various venues in New York, but I Miss the City is the first evening devoted exclusively to his music. It was through a reunion with his oldest friend from childhood, Co-Executive Artistic Director of Magic Futurebox Kevin Laibson, that the idea for the concert began.
“Old Friend” is a familiar song to Schmuckler, who has played he role of Charlie in a production of Merrily We Roll Along in Chicago. In an extra twist of fate, Charlie’s friend Mary, who duets with him on the song, was played by Jessie Mueller, an old friend of Schmuckler’s who will perform in I Miss the City.
Predicted to be a “major Broadway composer” by the Chicago Tribune, Schmuckler began playing the piano at age 5 and performed in musicals throughout his childhood, but he did not compose his first song until college, when he attended Northwestern University and participated in the Waa-Mu show. He currently performs in the band The Lincoln Squares and is developing a new musical called Summertime as well as a pilot of a television show. Schmuckler has composed The Emperor’s New Clothes, which was performed at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in the summer of 2010, and he and Michael Mahler co-wrote the book, music and lyrics for How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?, which premiered and remounted in 2007, and has since been produced nationwide. Schmuckler’s music and lyrics have been featured in numerous venues, including the York Theatre Company, the National Alliance for Music Theatre’s 2005 New Works Summit and 2007 Singwriter’s Showcase and the Kennedy Center. Schmuckler has performed in various plays and musicals, including Sugar, Murder for Two, and A Minister’s Wife.
“I’m a writer because I’m an actor. I’m an actor because I’m a writer. Doing one sort of inspires the other…There’s a lot of give and take,” Schmuckler said of his busy schedule. “Not everything is worked on every day certainly. There are some days when I rehearse from 10-6, some days when I sit down at the piano and write. There are some days when I am doing a concert. I don’t know that I’d be able to enjoy doing just one of those things. I think I’d get bored or a little impatient or stir crazy. There’s something fulfilling about being able to bounce around.”
The roster for I Miss the City will include musical theater songs as well as work that Schmuckler categorizes as singer/songwriter. When asked the roots of his music, Schmuckler laughed and said, “The first song I ever wrote without going into all the gory details was of course about a girl back in high school.”
While his topics may have broadened slightly since his teens, Schmuckler, who cites Ben Folds Fan, Sondheim, and Frank Loesser as some of his favorite composers, remains committed to expressing emotion honestly through his music. When composing for shows, he said he strives to depict what the character is experiencing and responding to in single moment.
“When I’m writing, there’s a quality of experience,” he said. “What I’m looking to crystallize in a song is what does the moment feel like…directly from personal experience. What does that moment feel like? If I could say anything I wanted to say at that moment, what would I be saying? If I can share what does it feel like to me, maybe the audience will resonate or feel a recognition there?”
The recognition that music offers is something Schmuckler loves, saying, “It cuts right in there. You hear a chord and immediately you’re there with person. It’s a special experience.”
Schmuckler expects this concert to be a special experience, because all of the performers are friends of his. The lineup includes Jessie Mueller (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), Carey Anderson (Avenue Q, Mamma Mia), Jen Sese (Carrie, Hair), Adam Kantor (Rent), and Steve Rosen (Guys and Dolls, The Farnsworth Invention, Spamalot). Mueller has been a good friend of Schmuckler for several years, having worked with him in How Can You Run with Shell on Your Back? Kantor went to school with Schmuckler and he and Rosen worked at the French Woods Festival Summer Camp several years ago.
Schmuckler described himself as reaching out to New York with this concert, saying he believes the rapport, which is personal as well as professional, will be evident to the audience.
“There are really strong personal connections there with everybody,” Schmuckler said. “They are really exceptional actors and singers but we’re also good friends. There’s a lot of warmth and history there. I think it’s so easy to have a good time when there’s a shared admiration. It shows. It almost shines through and jumps across to the audience.”
The warmth and admiration that Schmuckler predicts for I Miss the City is evident as he discusses the concert, which he says will be a very personal experience for him.
“What excites me is I feel like the hour and change of material we’re presenting, really feels like me,” he said. “We’re talking about this concert as a way of introducing me to the city. We’re introducing my songs to the city but also introducing me as a person to the city. Even when it’s a character singing them, in a way they are – I hope it’s going to add up to me.”
Alan Schmuckler – I Miss the City will be held on March 12th at 10 PM at Joe’s Pub. E-mail TheTheatreSource@gmail.com to enter to win two free tickets!