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October 26, 2016
Q&A: Scotty Arnold and Alana Jacoby on NAMT and Their New Musical “Mortality Play”

alanascottymortalityplay195The National Alliance for Musical Theatre will hold its 28th annual Festival of New Musicals on October 27 and 28 at New World Stages. Mortality Play, by Alana Jacoby (book/lyrics) and Scotty Arnold (music), is one of eight new musicals this year.

What was the first musical that made you want to make musicals?

Scotty Arnold: Rent. It was the first time I realized that musicals could talk about the world around me.

Alana Jacoby: Into the Woods. It made me discover how musical theater can take old stories and make them new again.

Pitch the show in 3 sentences:

Todd wants to be a rock star, but he’s living in London in 1349, and the plague has just broken out. He’s a 16-year-old kid trying to figure out what he’s capable of, and what he’s passionate about, and how not to let his loved ones down, and meanwhile there’s this huge oppressive force making everything impossible. It’s a modern take on a medieval morality play that follows Todd’s struggle to balance his responsibilities to himself and to the world.

Describe the sound of your musical, it's like _____ meets ______:

It's like Blink-182 meets the black death. We’ve been calling it “plague-punk.”

Who is your favorite classic musical theater composer/writer? And your favorite composer/writer working today?

Arnold: Leonard Bernstein wrote scores that elevated the genre of musical theater, and Caroline, or Change is the first musical I ever encountered that had the dramatic integrity and nuance of a well-made play, so Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner have my vote for today.

Jacoby: Stephen Sondheim, can he count for both?  I grew up listening to his work and haven’t stopped. He proved that you can turn any subject matter, any story into a musical, and the level of craft he brings to each one is just inspiring.

What's one thing you would change about the current state of musical theater?

Jacoby: I wish “new musical theater” weren’t just a subset of musical theater. Revivals can be great but new work, both original stories and adaptations of old ones, are more exciting to me. There are so many stories out there waiting to be told, and this art form is continually pushing the boundaries of how to tell new and different stories as musicals, that it seems a shame to ever look backwards. Keep teaching the old work and learning from the old work and by all means enjoying the old work, but don’t keep producing just the old work. Let us take what it taught us and how it inspired us and show the world something new. Make room for new voices and new stories. That’s how an art form can grow.

Arnold: Taylor Mac answers this question better than I ever could:

Why is it important to bring your show to NAMT?

We’ve been thinking about NAMT as kind of a debutante ball for new musicals, and we’re ready to show Mortality Play off to the world. We’ve been writing and rewriting and workshopping and presenting bits and pieces for about six years now, and we’re finally ready to show it off. Making a new musical is such a collaborative process, and we’re looking to find the right people to help bring the show to the next stop on its journey as well creating relationships beyond this project.

What's next for the show?

We’re excited to find out! We’d love to see it on its feet in a full production. The oppressive, death-ridden atmosphere is almost its own character in the show, and we’re eager to see how the design elements can help make that real. We’d love to see the actors playing their own instruments and becoming more immersed in the world of the show than they can be when they’re trapped behind music stands. We want to see it for real!

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