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March 28, 2017
Interview: The Producers Behind ‘Project Broadway’ on the Importance of Collaboration

The second edition of Project Broadway takes place from March 27 to April 2 at Symphony Space. This year the theme is the art of collaboration and will include performances by the likes of Adam Kantor, Santino Fontana, Rebecca Luker, Kyle Scatliffe, Nikki Renée Daniels and more. We spoke to producers Annette Joles and Joel Fram about how they came up with the theme and what made them want to work in musical theatre.

The idea of collaboration seems more timely than ever, how did you settle on it as the theme for Project Broadway this year?

Joel Fram: The most important inspiration is that Annette and I are collaborators in every sense of the word, we’ve been co-producing and co-creating concerts for 15 years, and one of the things we love about musical theatre is that it requires collaboration. You need the composer, book writer, choreographer and set designer, among others to collaborate. We wanted to celebrate that sense of collaboration because it’s what we share.

Annette Joles: We came up with a list of 25 things we wanted to do and as we narrowed them we realized that the theme that was emerging was the collaborative spirit. We were talking about Alexandra Silber’s After Anatevka and we decided one of the things we wanted to do was commission writers to make new songs, and to pair them with the literary aspects of her work. We were also speaking with Noah Racey and Lorin Latarro who have worked together for a long time in combining song and dance in the modern world, we took it one step further so it’s not just about choreographers but we brought in composers who would make new pieces to be choreographed. All the things we were setting up were about bringing people together.

You’re also shining a light on people who are quite undersung when it comes to Broadway, cause we never see most of these people onstage.

Joel Fram: Absolutely, one of the great joys of a project like this is giving a voice to people like them. We’re not just doing it in the traditional sense either, we’re asking choreographers to do pieces that are personal expressions of what they feel about the world right now, we’re asking composers to bring to life scenes from novels. We’re asking them to bring parts of themselves beyond what they’re usually asked to do on Broadway shows.

How does this come to play into your program On the Horizon: Three New Musicals in Concert?

Annette Joles: We are fans of new work, so in this concert we’re taking a look at three upcoming shows, each show will do thirty minutes, but rather than doing one song from each, we wanted the writers to be involved so they can see how the material plays in front of an audience, and so that audiences can hear new material.

Joel Fram: Maybe this is a little bit like looking into a crystal ball but we want to see how these writers are going to impact the form, what style do they write in? Will they celebrate the form or reinvent it? There’s more than one answer in how these people are embracing musical theatre, or how others want to change the form and tell new stories. We want to understand where the form is going.

Annette Joles: They’re not writers we’re plucking out of obscurity either, these are people who have won awards and have been working for a long time. We wanted people who had projects on the verge of going into something, we wanted to celebrate the diversity of the pieces.

You mentioned starting with two dozen concert ideas, what was the Sophie’s Choice like process of figuring out which ones to do in the end? Will the ones you left behind appear in any other way at Symphony Space?

Joel Fram: One of the wonderful things about coming up with many ideas is knowing Symphony Space is behind our project, we’re already talking about what we want to do next year. Project Broadway is now part of the Symphony Space world, when something we want to do falls on the wayside we know we can do it next year. One of our greatest strengths is we like bringing together various disciplines, in the After Anatevka concert we have composers, an actress who wrote a novel based on a musical she starred in. Our programs have that multidisciplinary feeling. The ones that fall away are usually evenings dedicated to a single artist, and there will always be space for those, perhaps special events in the middle of the festival.

Annette Joles: We don’t skip them because we don’t love them! We also want to celebrate Symphony Space, they’re a multidisciplinary space, so one of the reasons why we do Project Broadway there is because of how they embrace all these artforms. If you look at our concert Perfect Harmony one of the great things is we have people like Santino Fontana and Nikki Renée Daniels, but none of them are getting a solo, they’re all going to be part of harmonies, they might get to do songs from shows they’ve never done before. They get to do material they might not be asked to do otherwise.

Joel Fram: One of the loveliest things about a concert like that is when we get emails from the artists asking us if they can sing with so and so because they love their work and have never performed with them.

It sounds like you’re getting to do the work of mad musical theatre science which is awesome! What were the musicals that made you fall in love with the form?

Joel Fram: I was going through my parents’ closet looking at their albums, I’m from Houston, Texas, so they were things like Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, but actually on their first date my parents went to see Stop the World I Want to Get Off, so I think it was destined. Going through their albums I discovered My Fair Lady and Camelot, which opened up and had booklets attached, I thought they were so cool and they became the first two shows that made me want to do this.

Annette Joles: I’m always bad with favorites because there are so many things that touch you at different times. My first Broadway show was the original production of A Chorus Line which was something special. My whole family is professional classical musicians, so when I was very young I went to the Bowdoin College Summer Festival where I made my mom take me to see a production of Mame where everything went wrong. The sets fell down, there was a stage hand trying to fix it, everyone was shouting, and I wanted to go back to see it, not knowing that it wasn’t supposed to be that way. I remember how great the score was in spite of everything going wrong, and I was thrilled by the orchestra and the actors and how they kept going. One more show is March of the Falsettos which I did with Joel in college during my freshman year. It was a defining moment knowing I was getting to create something with people like Joel, the fact we’re still doing now what we did in the laundry room where we did the choreography, is truly the greatest gift I have in my professional life. We both do a lot of other things, but when we come back together and do this it’s a labor of love.

Joel Fram: Getting to work with Annette is what I love most of all, it takes us like 38 hours a day to do this, but getting to spend time with her is the upside.

The Broadway Open Mic Night sounds terrifying! But what songs would you like to perform if you got the chance?

Joel Fram: My audition song when I was in high school and in college and I misguidedly thought I could be an actor was “How Are Things in Glocca Morra”, it’s still my party piece to this day. I know Kate Baldwin does a better version that I ever will (laughs)

Annette Joles: You’re the genius musical director here, what would you have me sing?

Joel Fram: We did Guys and Dolls in college so maybe one from that.

Annette Joles: Talk about misguided! I like “Stormy Weather”.

I don’t know how to sing either but I wanna play too, so I’d do “Maybe This Time”!

Joel Fram: In this world you just entered us in I think we can all pull off whatever we want.

For more information on Project Broadway click here.

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Written by: Jose Solis
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