In the midst of the final openings of the Broadway season and on the very day that the would-be Times Square car bomber failed, I had the opportunity to sit down a few blocks away with forward-looking composer Robert (Rob) Reale.
A Tony nominee alongside his brother Willie for their collaboration on the underappreciated musical A Year With Frog And Toad, Reale has earned his keep as composer for television shows ranging from "Good Morning America" to "Inside Edition." But just talking with him, it becomes evident very quickly that his heart belongs in the realm of musical theatre, and his enthusiasm is contageous.
Reale and his brother are currently at work on an original tuner called Johnny Baseball, which begins performances this Friday at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Boston. The Bean Town world premiere is apropos, given how the new musical is about the notorious Red Sox curse and its ultimate repudiation in 2004.
ART describes Johnny Baseball as follows:
It traces the origin of the Curse to a collision of three orphaned souls: Johnny O’Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox; his idol, Babe Ruth; and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling African-American blues singer and the love of Johnny’s life. These three lives contain both the reason for the Curse and the secret to its end off the bat of Big Papi in 2004. Johnny Baseball packs a thoughtful commentary on American social history into a fun and spirited musical that will bring cheers and tears to baseball fans everywhere.Directed by Tony Award-nominated director Diane Paulus (Hair), Johnny Baseball's impressive company includes Colin Donnell as Johnny O’Brien, Stephanie Umoh as Daisy Wyatt, Burke Moses as Babe Ruth, Charl Brown as Tim, Jeff Brooks as Tom Yawkey, Charles Turner as a fan, as well as Joe Cassidy, Paula Leggett Chase, Kaitlyn Davidson, Alan H. Green, Carly Jibson, Robert McClure and Kirsten Wyatt.
Here's the first part of my interview with Reale, conducted jointly with Patrick Lee of Just Shows To Go You:
Reale on Theatre Bloggers:
I love the fact that blogging is coming to the forefront in theatre. I mean, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Is it not? It’s more like, here’s the people’s critic. Here’s another voice.
Reale on Critical Response in Theatre:
We’re told when you start out in this business some people will say don’t go near what critics have to say because it will make yourself crazy. They can say that basically you’re the second coming and it won’t feel like enough given everything you’ve put into it.
You’ve been killing yourself off this play or this musical for three or four years and then they like it and you feel like, "What do you mean, you didn’t notice…" There’s a million things you could talk about that went into making that play. And then if they say they hate it, then you have all the more reason not to like them.
Reale on American Idiot vs. Rent and Spring Awakening:
The biggest disappointment for me so far (this season) was American Idiot. I saw that online there was a five minute video of them doing "21 Guns" and I thought, "Oh," because I was a huge Rent fan.
I saw it and I sat in front of Jon (Larson’s) parents at New York Theatre Workshop, and you’re swept up and in tears all night listening to the music, and you’re not hearing that the book isn’t working. You’re just sitting listening to the music and crying. And so, of course, it’s going to be great. I still like Rent. I still love the score to this day.
And then I loved Spring Awakening – I loved it. I really enjoyed the music.
I just want to hear some interesting music rather than the same old eight notes -- the tired eight notes we’re trotting out to get our points across.
I didn’t care about the story (in American Idiot). I went with my brother and a new collaborator on the show -- we wanted to get to know each other -- and my girlfriend and we went and checked it out.
We stopped talking about it seven minutes into the appetizer. We were no longer talking about it. There was nothing to talk about. It was like going to a concert. I was bummed. I had such high hopes for it.
Reale on Sondheim and Composers Following in His Footsteps:
You have Sondheim. He’s the greatest. He’s certainly the greatest living. And you put him in with the Gershwins, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter and lyricists and composers through the last century.
And I’ve also met him before and really loved him.
But there’s one tiny disservice he did us, and I think he spawned a generation of people who wanted to be him. And there’s only one him.
So what I tell the young people -- I write music for television and I have some composers who come in every day -- I just tell them to try and listen to their own voice. They can have all the influences they want, but go your way and don’t try to be somebody else. There was a lot of that in the last 20, 30 years I thought.
I think in terms of what’s on the score. So if I’m hearing a “Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah," it’s all the eighth notes are going long, and I want to hear like Gershwin open up, I want to hear Puccini, the operatic stuff. It’s like when I went to see Adam Guettel’s The Light In The Piazza. It was pretty great. What those guys were attempting was beautiful. I would love to see more of that stuff.
The second part of this interview will focus on Reale's current project, Johnny Baseball.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).