Broadway luminaries Liz Callaway, Stephanie J. Block, Shoshana Bean, Darius DeHaas and Jonathan Groff have all appeared at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club. Now, Scott Alan, the renowned composer/lyricist whose songs many of them have sung, will himself perform alongside yet another Broadway star in “Scott Alan & Caissie Levy: The Scott Alan Songbook,” at the downtown nightspot on Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6 at 8 p.m.
Best known for his heartfelt and reflective songs, such as “Home” and “Never Neverland (Fly Away),” Alan has recorded four albums, including “Dreaming Wide Awake: The Music of Scott Alan,” “Keys,” “What I Wanna Be When I Grow Up” and “LIVE,” recorded at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City. All of Alan’s recordings feature many of Broadway’s and the West End’s biggest names, including Lea Salonga, Cheyenne Jackson, Sutton Foster, Nathan James and David Hunter, as well as all the aforementioned Cabaret performers.
Alan, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for “Detour,” has also composed songs that were featured on FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” A supporter of new talent, he also helped to conceive and produce “Monday Nights, New Voices” at Manhattan’s Duplex Cabaret Theatre, which ran for seven years. One of his compositions, “If I Own Today,” closes the documentary “The Standby,” about Broadway standbys.
Recently, tapeunit.com spoke by phone with the New York native, Alan, who currently lives in Nashville, Tenn. (he moved there in November but will be returning to NYC in May), where he has been writing songs for his fifth album which will be recorded soon.
How long have you been in show business?
Including working in Los Angeles … since 1999, and in the theater world since 2003.
What are you interested in as a composer? What do you like to write about?
Oh, depressing things (laughs). I just like to write about life. For me, the best kind of music is songs that make you healthy — if that makes sense. I like to cleanse my soul when I’m writing. If I don’t feel lighter after a song is written, it wasn’t an experience of writing, because at the end of the day I didn’t do exactly what it was that I was meant to be doing, and no one else is going to internally see that song as a healing type of subject matter. I leave the audience aside and I don’t really worry that much. I just worry about myself. There are definitely months that I can go without writing, and then I’ll sit down at the piano and write back-to-back-to-back songs. As far as themes, I just write about my life and where I am, how I am feeling and the nature of the business, the nature of my love life or just different matters of the heart.
How would you describe your music?
Honest. Passionate. Those are my two main words that I would use to describe my music.
Who are your musical influences?
I grew up listening to the Joni Mitchells, the Janis Ians and the James Taylors of the world. I would say that my influences are much more pop related than they are theatrical — from Joni Mitchell to Diane Warren to David Foster. I was a huge fan of those types of writers, and, of course, I was a huge fan of Steven Schwartz and Jason Robert Brown (who also appeared at the Cabaret) growing up … composers who wrote with a pop infusion but were very honest within their work. Frank Wildhorn … the chord progressions that he writes … No matter what anyone else says, I still think he’s fantastic. There were a lot of wonderful writers when I was coming up.
What are some of your favorite Joni Mitchell songs?
You name it. I love all of them. “Both Sides, Now” is my favorite. It’s like a lyrical masterpiece. You don’t get better than that song. And I would follow it up with “A Case of You.” I love them all. I have all her albums in my collection. My cousin, Ricky Ian Gordon, is also a musical theater composer, and he introduced me to Joni Mitchell. He said, “You have to listen to Joni Mitchell.”
How does it feel to have had all of these famous singers perform your work?
It’s been so lovely working with the Shoshanas and the Stephanie J. Blocks who were starting at the same time I was beginning my career … to the Liz Callaways and the Lea Salongas who represented so much of my childhood. I sort of have an arc. I make it a point to work with those who helped me make it through my childhood, as well as those who are prominent in the theatrical world now.
Do you ever feel jaded working with performers of this caliber?
I am constantly enthralled and excited. Shoshana has sung my songs since 2003. We just did a concert in Los Angeles and we both cried at the end. I am still so attracted to the performers who sing my work, and I try to keep good people around me. Not just great singers, but also people who have a story to tell, because at the end of the day they can tell my story or their own story through my music, and I’d rather have them tell their own story. Every time I have a new singer come along and sing my work, I always make it a very strict point … “tell your own song. Don’t tell the song you might have heard the story behind … tell your own song.” Each time I do a concert, it is a reinvention of my music because it no longer belongs to me. In that moment I am just sitting there, sort of being their bridge they are crossing over to the end of their being able to tell their story.
Aren’t you a fish out of water down there in Nashville?
I am completely a fish out of water. I have been here since November 30. I got here because I was running away. I was stuck in a rut and in sort of a depression, which didn’t make matters any easier. I should have come here determined to do stuff with my career, but I came here to sort of hide from New York a little bit and calm myself down a little bit and just learn what made me love the theater in the first place and realize that setbacks are just those — setbacks. In reality, you can’t run from things too far. It’s been a great lesson and a great time being here — minus the 13 pounds I’ve gained here from all the fatty foods (laughs). Outside of that it has been a great lesson learned.
Have you been writing a lot down there? Has Nashville inspired you?
I have actually, and I just had lunch with one of my childhood idols last week. She works in the R&B/pop world. She was the big number one on the R&B charts back in the ‘90s. Her name is Wendy Moten. One of her songs, “Come In Out of the Rain,” was a huge hit in the ‘90s. We met up last week because I wanted to see if she’d be a part of my new album. I’m writing the song for her right now.
Will you be doing any music from the new album in your Cabaret show?
Yes. I might perform a song or two off the new album just to give it a little showcase. We’ll definitely do a song or two off of “Home.” (A musical he’s been working on for 10 years.) Then I’ll also do what I like to call the hits … the songs that people kind of expect — “Never Neverland (Fly Away)” and “Home.” Those are all songs, along with others, that Caissie will be singing. It will be great to have her alongside me to sing some of those songs and hear her story through them.
What do you like to talk about to the audience when you are doing your shows?
For me, I don’t have a script. I am a very sarcastic individual, so I am a dialogue guy. I’ll just start dialoguing and conversing with Caissie and with the audience. I just like to tell about the back stories of the songs and just give people an understanding of where each song comes from. A lot of people think they know where the song stems from, but there is always a very in-depth look at where the lyrical context started from or even the chord progression. I like to tell an audience that actually knows music exactly what is in the music they are listening to.
Do you have a pretty large core of fans?
I do. But I don’t know about Indianapolis. I sort of lucked out. I like to call it the “Wicked Syndrome.” I’ve worked with a lot of the girls that have played the Elphaba role in “Wicked.” So I pretty much had the luck of the draw when that became a cult phenomenon, where people were beginning to look for recordings of Shoshana, Stephanie J. Block or Eden Espinosa. They would go to my website and that is where my career started, in a way, because everyone was looking for vocals of these ladies. You know, YouTube wasn’t as ground breaking as it is now, so people were looking for audio files and there (his website) was Shoshana singing “Home” and Stephanie singing “Never Neverland (Fly Away).” Every time I hang out with Stephen Schwartz I thank him for my career (laughs).
When you’re here will you be teaching a master class for the Cabaret’s education program ?
I am doing the Saturday afternoon master class.
You enjoy working with young people, don’t you?
Oh, I love it. I love working with new voices. On my albums I always have two or three people no one’s ever heard. For me, it is so, so important. You never know what diamonds you’ll find in that group, and there is always a story to be told because you’ve never heard of this person, so I love it.
So you believe in paying it forward?
Always. In this industry you have to be kind to everyone and you have to realize that the moment you stop believing that you are a new voice, you should no longer be in it. We have to continuously be creative. The truth of the matter is there are no stars in this industry. There are a lot of people who think that this industry is going to be all glamour and it’s not. You have to be completely honest with people and level with them. A lot of these people who are in college think they are the greatest thing that has ever happened. Then they are cocky when they walk into an audition and that is not what people are looking for. We’re looking for real talent. You know?
What can my readers expect from your show with Caissie?
I would just say to expect an emotional story that is going to relate to everyone’s life. I try to take everyone on a nice wave of a journey to their own story. And they definitely, or hopefully, find themselves within my lyrics and in my music.
For tickets and information about “Scott Alan and Caissie Levy: The Scott Alan Songbook,” call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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