While looking for a new musical to feature this week, I stumbled across a composer from New York City called Paul Fujimoto (pictured). After listening to some of his music online, (namely a musical he has written called Not Exactly Romeo) I decided to feature him in my next column.
I wrote a short email asking him some questions, and to my absolute delight, he responded several days later… with the following:
Sorry for the slow replies — I’ve been prepping for a recording session with Shoshana Bean on Monday. Exciting stuff, but also very stressful making sure the song is perfect”
The man writes for Shoshana Bean, ladies and gentlemen! I thought you might be interested in what he had to say about musicals and composing.
Also, if anyone is interested in finding new and innovative pieces to sing for auditions or cabarets, why not have a listen to his stuff?
So without further ado:
AussieTheatre: How did you become a composer?
I was heavily involved in both music and theater growing up and even briefly entertained the idea of being an actor (until I discovered that I didn’t have the talent for it…) Writing shows allowed me to have it both ways. I think Music Theatre is the greatest musical genre there is, I really do. There’s nothing quite so musically and lyrically satisfying as a good Sondheim or Ahrens & Flaherty song.
AussieTheatre: How would you describe your compositional style?
I’ve always had a really broad musical palate. I’m probably the only person you’ll meet whose iPod shuffles from Woody Shaw and Lennie Tristano to Bravo Giovanni and The Golden Apple to 19th-century sea shanties and Portuguese fado. In my MT work, I try to balance my odd-ball harmonic leanings by layering “hummable”, accessible melodies on top. My ultimate goal is to entertain and connect with listeners. I feel like too many tortured young composers try to alienate audiences FOR-THE-SAKE-OF-BEING-WEIRD. Don’t get me wrong, I take my work very seriously but, at the end of the day, it’s just music, not germ warfare. Music is supposed to be fun.
AussieTheatre: Do you prefer writing for male or female voices?
Well, obviously, if it’s for a show, I’m writing for a given character in a given situation. However, if it’s just a stand alone song for my own amusement, I do love me some belt-y/mix-y females 🙂 One look at my website will confirm this fact…
AussieTheatre: I stumbled across your show, Not Exactly Romeo online and was intrigued. Can you tell us about the show, and how you came to write it?
NOT EXACTLY ROMEO is the love child I’ve been nursing with librettist Eric Holmes for the past four years. (www.notexactlyromeo.com) It’s gone through a lot of changes. We often joke about how the show has grown up with us. When we started it, as starry-eyed kids fresh out of college, naturally, the show was focused on the younger couple, Lucy and Byron, who, in early drafts, were young artists hungry to conquer the big city. As we’ve grown, the show has shifted to focus more on the older couple, Jacob and Clarke.
In a nutshell, the theme of the show is the Internet and how it has the power to make stars and destroy families in equal measure. At the top of the show, Jacob and Clarke, thirty-something documentary filmmakers expecting their first child, are desperate to find a source of steady income. Observing the pathetic dating life of Clarke’s younger brother, Byron, they decide to pull a “Truman Show” on him and secretly film his life as a YouTube reality show. The show, entitled NOT EXACTLY ROMEO, soon becomes a viral sensation and “Byron” becomes a household synonym for “sad sack.” Soon, the TV vultures descend and Clarke and Jacob must choose between a lucrative network contract and family.
AussieTheatre: Which pieces from the show are most personal to you and why?
Paul: Out of the over forty (!) songs written for ROMEO over the years, my current favorite is probably A REASON TO SING AND DANCE. I like what it’s trying to say — no matter how bad you think your life is, there’s always a reason to sing, dance and be joyful. For us in the arts, it seems we’re never satisfied with where we are. We have to remember to stop and smell the roses.
AussieTheatre: What is your favourite male song from the show?
Paul: Probably the frat-boy rap song WHO’S THE MAN. It’s such a great moment of triumph for the underdog Byron. Also, it strongly divides listeners — some love it, some hate it. So, I must be onto something…
AussieTheatre: Favourite female song from the show?
Paul: Probably Clarke’s “I Want” song, PRIDE. It’s kind of my personal credo — life isn’t about fame and/or fortune, it’s about being proud of the work you’re doing. Also, our Clarke, Janine DiVita, sings the crap out of it. She’s the next big thing (www.janinedivita.com) and we’re lucky to have her.
AussieTheatre: If you could have anyone sing your music, who would it be?
Paul: I guess the standard response to this type of question would be an icon like Patti Lupone or Ethel Merman, but, honestly, I don’t know if my songs would fit their unique styles. I’m lucky enough to know many incredible performers who perform my work frequently and incredibly well, among them the aforementioned Miss DiVita. But…I suppose if I had to choose, I think the most versatile and mind-blowing singer around right now is Kelli O’Hara.
AussieTheatre: How do you manage to promote your music to the world?
Paul: Well, that’s basically what ROMEO is about. In this day and age, for better or worse, anybody can be seen and heard. You can upload a song or video and, within minutes, someone in Mongolia knows about it. It’s awesome and empowering, but at the same time, I’ve definitely released some stuff that shouldn’t have left my trunk. And now it’s out there on those trading sites forever — I can’t take it back.
Having said all that, I still honestly believe the best publicity is word-of-mouth, in-person referrals. Of course it’s important to make sure you have videos and sheet music available online (www.paulfujimotomusic.com) but when it comes right down to it, it’s the human element that counts. Most of the emails I get start out with “so, my friend sang one of your songs in class the other day” or “my cousin sent me a MT mix CD with one of your songs on it” and so forth.
I guess, my advice to younger composers is to surround yourself with kick-ass singers, write memorable songs and word will spread from there. If you’re doing good work, people will hear about it.
Check out Paul’s website www.paulfujimotomusic.com
Check out the Not Exactly Romeo website
I hope you find some new and exciting music here!