“Un-Block The Music” continues to have the amazing experience of talking to those behind the scenes; artists that pull a musical together. I continue to find the road to New York’s stage is, by no means, a predictable one, but certainly a gripping one. Today’s new musicals are not the musicals your grandmother loved, but rather are based on re-life struggles, inspiration, and often times are healing. Ian Eisendrath has been at the center of the music for several of these works including: Diana, A True Musical Story (in previews now) and Come From Away.
As a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ian learned all aspects of musical theater. He was part of a program that is only offered to select students, allowing them to pair with two academic teachers and two artistic teachers to learn every aspect of musical theater. While Ian’s ultimate goal was always New York, his first professional experience was at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle as Director of New Musicals. He was there for 13 years and worked on productions that ultimately went to Broadway, including Hairspray which won a Tony for Best Musical. His pathway to New York, however, was A Christmas Story in 2012 where he served as musical supervisor.
Then there is the musical Come From Away, which means a lot to anyone who lived through the terrorist attacks of 9-11. “The show was never pitched to me as an idea, but as a finished piece,” Ian told “Un-Block The Music”. “I was instantly drawn to it.” The emotionality of the story, he said, was not something he was necessarily aware of, but rather “it was fascination of the story and the quirkiness of the characters; it’s inspirational colors. I never thought of it as sad.”
(For those of you who are not familiar with Come From Away, the show’s subject is Operation Yellow Ribbon which was put into place by Canada to divert civilian airline flights away from U.S. targets on the day of the terrorist attacks in New York. The aircrafts landed in Canadian provinces. The subject of the show is what happened in Gander, Newfoundland. For tickets, go to: www.comefromaway.com)
Ian said, “I remember the first time we did a run through; I saw people crying at sporadic moments not necessarily to do with what was happening on the stage. “It occurred to me that, people are not only taking in our story, but are also re-living their experience during September 11th. The show is more of a healing opportunity than a tragedy.” (Check out my previous interview with musician Larry Lelli of Come From Awa, https://unblockthemusic.blog/2019/09/18/come-from-aways-drummer-larry-lelli-offers-a-glimpse-of-his-career-what-makes-this-9-11-musical-so-special/).
“Un-Block The Music’s” next experience with Ian’s work came when I was invited to the first private industry reading of The Tin Woman. The musical, based on the play by Sean Grennan, was composed by Ian and his wife Anne Eisendrath. It starred Jenn Colella (who originated the role of Captain Beverley Bass In Come From Away) as a heart transplant survivor dealing with her emotions and the emotions of the donor family. Ian says, The Tin Woman is much like Come From Away, in finding the right mix of sentimentalism and realism, he said.While the show is still a work in progress, it is a wonderful experience working with his wife. “Composing is not my primary identity, but I loved doing it. We wanted to realize something together. We have a great time.” “Un-Block The Music” will watch its development closely, as I love watching shows grow.
Ian has now stepped into the role of music supervisor and arranger for Diana, A True Musical Story, currently in previews. “Un-Block The Music” spoke to Ian when he was three weeks into the rehearsal process. If there is not a music supervisor on a show, than the music director is the defacto supervisor.
“The Music Supervisor emerged as our industry has gotten more complicated dealing with sound and electronic music. It’s a larger team. On Diana, we have a team of five or six or us constantly working on various elements. I am the through line and responsible for communication to make sure the show is present as a whole musical picture. It’s a very collaborative experience working with the writers, the director and the choreographer to create the show,” Ian explained.
Princess Diana was very much adored by Americans as she was by the British. In a time when people were afraid to touch an AIDS victim, she did it. When others would not go into the mines, she did it. Our hearts broke for her when the affair between Prince Charles and his now wife Camilla was exposed. I certainly remember where I was when it was announced that Princess Diana was killed.
“I think people will be shocked and surprised by this show, in the best possible way,” Ian said. As a huge Bon Jovi fan, “Un-Block The Music” is excited to hear the music written by the band’s keyboardist David Bryan. “It is a highly energized rock infused score. It has been fun to collaborate with David in bringing his rock and roll sensibility to the theatrical stage. Diana is the best of all worlds. It’s really wonderful.”
When asked if the Americans have “the right” to tell Diana’s story, Ian said, “The British are probably too close to the story to be able to look at it from an objective perspective. We look at the triangle between Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles (Now the Duchess of Cornwall) and Diana as three human beings not as the monarchy that was revered. Their humanity is incredible and is what people connected to about them. You have to have perspective when telling the story otherwise it is so charged.”
Ian said he likes working on real I life stories. “Life does not necessarily work as a three-act structure. I enjoy the challenge of capturing the essence of a person in a dramatic arc without it becoming a bio pic. What’s the overall arc of someone’s life? The show has a beginning, a middle and end. It makes you think about the challenges you are living and you learn so much. I love it.”