Musical theater students have told “Un-Block The Music,” that one of the biggest problems with theater training in school is that “timing” is unrealistic. Shows come together in weeks, not months. And, although this pandemic has seemingly allowed artists more time for projects, in reality, creation time has been sped up not slowed down. Case in point; The Nice List. A couple of weeks ago, I profiled Phoebe Kreutz who wrote the book and lyrics (Gary Adler wrote the music.) Phoebe introduced me to Alan Muraoka who directed the show which you can watch here: https://www.nicelistmusical.com/.
You may recognize Alan from Mr. Hooper’s store on Sesame Street. It is also where Alan and Phoebe became acquainted. Phoebe was a puppet wrangler on Sesame Street for a few seasons. After she left, she became the puppet wrangler on the Broadway musical Avenue Q. Alan knew many cast members of that show including Ann Harada. “Ann asked me to direct a cabaret at Ars Nova (non-profit theater in NYC), and as we were compiling music for that show, Ann introduced me to a song that was written by Gary Adler and Phoebe. I immediately fell in love with the tone and the comedy. Her lyrics were smart, witty, and current.”
Soon after that, Alan directed Avenue Q actors John Tartaglia, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, and Jennifer Barnhart in a cabaret revue called No Strings, and again they used a song written by Adler/Kreutz. Jump to 2012 when Phoebe and Alan worked together on a revue of her songs called Awesomer & Awesomer. “We opened at the Triad (a cabaret space in NYC), and it was so popular that we revived it several times from 2012-2013. So, we have a long history of friendship and collaboration,” Alan said.
“Phoebe and I started The Nice List journey in June 2020, and the first thing we did was to see if Gary would jump on to the team. Once he signed on, we started working on the book. When we had a template, we added songs, worked more on the script, and got it to a point where we were happy enough to send it to friends to read,” Alan explained.
Most of the cast are actors that Alan has worked with in the past. “I knew we needed a group of actors who were both musical and who had the same comic sense as Phoebe, Gary and me. I also knew that I wanted a group of actors who are good in a room together. Since everyone had to self-tape, I needed folks who could keep their sense of humor in spite of the challenges.”
That was accomplished right from the start at the initial read through of the show. “What was wonderful was how inspired all of them became in trying to create little sets for themselves. We all now should have lighting design, set design, sound design, cinematography, hair and makeup on our resumes because we had to become adept at all of that,” Alan joked. “One of the toughest challenges was trying to keep all of the action with the confines of the blue screen. Since we are using virtual backgrounds, if any of the actor’s body parts moved out of that blue screen area, we could not use that shot because in the final product it would look like a hand or a leg was suddenly chopped off. Not very family friendly! We did have to do a few reshoots for various reasons, but for the most part each actor hit it out of the park.”
Knowing that this holiday season would be filled with challenges for the entire country, “I wanted to create something that would be family friendly and that both parents and children could enjoy on different levels.” That is not unlike Sesame Street which has been entertaining “Un-Block The Music” since its debut! So, I didn’t want this interview to be over! I thought…Alan has been on Sesame Street for 22 years! The show has always been known for diversity, but Alan was still one of the first Asian Americans I am aware of becoming a part of “our daily family.” So, I thought a full profile on Alan would be awesome. He said “yes” to my interview! So, look for that piece to run on “Un-Block The Music” in the new year! In the meantime, don’t forget to watch The Nice List! Not only will you recognize a lot of the talent, but you will have a darn good time and you will get in the much-needed holiday spirit!
To read the article on Phoebe, go to: