Hamlet is a musical? Damn right. “Un-Block The Music” was more than excited to talk to Joel Kirk who conceived this musical debuting during a weeklong writer’s retreat presented by Discovering Broadway in Central Indiana. Wait…Adam Pascal is in it? Love…
Anyway, Joel is the founder of Discovering Broadway which is a theater development company that had its inaugural season this year. “Hamlet is truly the first time I conceived, an idea, wrote the book, directed the show and produced the show as well. However, it won’t be the last time,” he told “Un-Block The Music.”
Joel grew up in Carmel, Indiana. “Ever since I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a storyteller.” He talks about the effect epics such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter had on him, “I grew up with these greatest fantasies…the adventures couldn’t be more dangerous for the good of humanity.” His goal was to create an epic.
Joel was involved in the arts in high school, mostly directing. And, that is the path he took when he moved to New York. He got involved with the playwriting programs at Fordham University, NYU and Juilliard. “I was making a living at directing which essentially meant I had to be involved in seven New York shows a year!” However, Joel was frustrated. While the plays were good, the productions weren’t always good “because they didn’t have the time or the resources they needed to make it great. Everything was rushed. I had to start to think about what I wanted to do..the legacy of my story. Working with so many playwrights gave me the confidence that I could do it all.”
“Hamlet all came to me in a rush. I wanted to work, with all of these writers and all of these actors. And, I wanted to do an epic story.” There have been attempts to make Hamlet a musical before. Joel’s approach is different. Many of the past attempts were punk rock, but Joel says Hamlet is a genius. He is not a teenager. He is an orphan, a stranger in his own land. He has been through so much betrayal. “Punk rock is about initial emotional reactions to things.” Hamlet’s character is deeper than that, he said.
Joel’s whole approach to the show has been multi-dimensional. He said it was important for each character to have their own voice, so for this musical each character has their own writer. One of the writer’s is someone you may recognize from “Un-Block The Music’s” article about Songbird two summers ago, with music by Lauren Pritchard (aka Lolo). For this musical, she wrote for Ophelia. (She needs to be the subject of a Woman Wonders column…stay tuned.) Anwyay, Joel thought, “What voice do you give to a character who can sing angst but also see the world as her oyster?” Lolo’s voice. (In addition to Songbird, Lolo wrote “High Hopes” for Panic at The Disco.)https://unblockthemusic.blog/2018/06/26/when-chekhov-goes-to-nashville-you-get-magic-songbird-a-new-musical/
Then there is Douglas Lyons and Ethan D. Pakchar who wrote for Laertes. Is Doug hot or what? He and Ethan wrote Five Points and Doug wrote the upcoming Broadway show Chicken and Biscuits!https://unblockthemusic.blog/2021/01/20/more-than-a-triple-threat-douglas-lyons-mission-is-healing-unity-checkout-polkadots/
Multiple writers for one show is not a new concept. “I am not a pioneer. But, I just asked myself ‘why do we expect one writer for all of the characters?’ That’s why it takes so long to get a show to the stage. To have more than one writer is expedient economical and more thoughtful and more honest (at least for this show),” Joel said.
The other characters and writers include Prince Hamlet written by Cody Fry (American Idol) and Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry; King Claudius by Zoe Sarnak (Empire Records); Ghost of King Hamlet by The Bengsons (Hundred Days); Queen Gertrude by Joel Ansett (Marvel’s The Punisher); Polonius by Amanda D’Archangelis (Single Rider) and Anderson Cook (Pop Punk High); Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the Gravediggers by Andrew R. Butler (Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future); and The Players by Jeff Daye (Cleopatra).
Music supervision and direction for Hamlet, as well as arrangements and orchestrations are by Beetlejuice’s Kris Kukul. (“Un-Block The Music” can’t stop saying …wow!) Broadway performers Adam Pascal (Rent and Aida), Jordan Donica (My Fair Lady), Samantha Pauly (Six), and Bryonha Marie Parham (Prince of Broadway) will perform for a ticketed concert presentation on August 20 in Indiana!
It’s funny because, I was driving home today and I heard “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head on the radio and I got to thinking…is that the last time a musical theater song was on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart? That song was from Chess (a musical totally underrated in the U.S. in “Un-Block The Music’s” opinion). I can’t think of another theater song on the radio after that. I think that was 1985! If any readers can think of one, EMAIL ME..firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joel offered input about the trend towards pop on Broadway. “Musicals sounding like the radio; that’s how you get the younger audience. Even when it comes to casting, we look at musical theater performers, but we also look at American Idol audition tapes.”
When Joel founded Discovering Broadway, he also thought about what else he could take into consideration when building a musical. “I asked the question, ‘Why shouldn’t the process of building musicals start where it ends?’ For Broadway, shows usually end with a tour which tends to have a different cast, different sets.” Shows go into communities without anyone ever asking if this is the kind of show they want to see. “It is useful for producers to discover whether there is an audience for a show before they actually produce it. With Discovering Broadway, we can build a dialog in a safe environment outside of New York.”
So far so good, earlier this year, Discovering Broadway launched The Devil Wears Prada and Ever After. To find out more about this company or to buy tickets to Hamlet, go to https://www.discoveringbroadway.org/.