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WHAT

I wrote a new song cycle consisting of 12 songs,
each dealing in some way with one month of the year,
starting June 2011 through May 2012,
inspired by ideas from my Twitter followers.*


HOW


In advance of the first of the month,
I fielded ideas via Twitter* for that month's song,
then I chose one idea and wrote, recorded, podcast,
and published the song in that month.


WHERE


The Jeff Blumenkrantz Songbook Podcast to hear the podcast episodes
and my online Music Store to purchase the sheet music


WHY


Why did I do this?
I was curious to hear people's stories and ideas
I was excited to write some new songs
I was ready to podcast regularly again
(And I'd been meaning to figure out how to use that Twitter thing for a while)


*Those who submitted song ideas for this song cycle agreed to contribute their stories or ideas for the purposes of inspiring a song (or songs), with the knowledge that there would be no compensation for the use of those ideas. Those people whose ideas served as inspiration for one or more songs have been and will always be credited with having provided the inspiration for said song(s) but will never be entitled to any compensation, ownership, copyright, or royalty at any time.




The Episodes


Kate WetherheadMonth Upon a Time, Episode 1: June 11, 2011 "Drink My Way"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Kate Wetherhead (recorded 6/9/2011)



It's opening night of my new podcast series/song-cycle, Month Upon a Time! And I'm thrilled to have the super-talented Kate Wetherhead on the bill to sing the first song, "Drink My Way!"

Kate first caught my eye in TheatreworksUSA's wonderful production of Sarah Plain and Tall, and she has continued to impress with performances in Broadway's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Legally Blonde, the Off-Broadway production of Adam Gwon's great musical, Ordinary Days, and most recently as Sally Bowles in the Dallas Theater Center production of Cabaret.

Meanwhile, as if that weren't enough, she and fellow super-talent Andrew Keenan-Bolger created, wrote, directed, and produced an original web series, Submissions Only, which is a knock-out! Six beautifully executed, fun, funny episodes which I highly recommend! Can't wait for Season Two!!

And if you want even more Kate, you can check out some of her many terrific youtube performances....

Special thanks to the outrageously talented actor, Steve Rosen, whose idea inspired this month's song. And one last big thank you to my old college buddy, set designer Bradley Kaye, for the adorable artwork for Month Upon a Time. (Don't you just love the little Twitter bird perched on March?)

If you're interested in singing "Drink My Way," the sheet music is now available from my online music store.


Helen SlaterMonth Upon a Time, Episode 2: July 17, 2011 "Pure Acceptance"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Helen Slater (recorded 7/14 and 7/16/2011)



I know this probably isn't a big deal to most tech-savvy people, but I'm feeling very 21st Century announcing this, my first virtual episode!

Last month, I selected Jon Orton's Twitter suggestion to write a song about July at the summer theatre camp Stagedoor Manor, which I attended in the 70's and where Jon was a musical director the summer of 2002. Once I started conceiving "Pure Acceptance," I knew that it needed to be sung by my friend, the stellar film and TV actor/wonderful singer-songwriter, Helen Slater. Not only did Helen and I attend this camp at the same time, but also Helen has a teenage daughter, and I knew I wanted to explore the mother/daughter experience in this song. Jackpot!!

Once Helen said yes, I wasn't going to let the fact that she was shooting a TV series in Austin, Texas stop me from making this episode happen. Luckily, Helen was game: she recorded the song in a studio in Austin and then did the interview via phone from her home in Los Angeles! And it pretty much sounds like all my other episodes. Amazing and space-age!! (Wait, are we post-space-age now?)

Back to Helen - her credits are an embarrassment of riches, so I'm only going to list a few of her films: you may remember her in the title roles of Supergirl and The Legend of Billie Jean, not to mention her performances in Ruthless People, City Slickers, and The Secret of My Success. She's also appeared on countless TV programs, but you can check all that out yourself on her IMDB page.

As distinguished as her acting career is, her singing and songwriting is equally impressive. She has three CDs: One of These Days, Crossword, and Shine, and each one is as yummy and wonderful as the last. She somehow manages to blend folk and pop and jazz and warmth and charm and beauty and clarity, and I just love listening to her music. And maybe there's a musical or two on the horizon? Please??


Brooks AshmanskasMonth Upon a Time, Episode 3: August 21, 2011 "Burning Man"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Brooks Ashmanskas (recorded 8/19/2011)


How does one find words to describe the force of nature that is Brooks Ashmanskas? "Funny," "outrageous," "fearless" - they just don't seem to do him justice.

Brooks and I crossed like ships in the night 15 years ago, when he made his Broadway debut taking over the role of Bud Frump from me in the last (first) Broadway revival of How to Succeed.... That marked the start of a truly impressive Broadway career that has included such plays and musicals as Dream, Little Me, the Bernadette Peters Gypsy, The Producers, The Ritz, Present Laughter, Promises Promises, and of course his Tony-nominated turn in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.

Add to that a bunch of Off Broadway and regional productions and wonderful recordings (Songs for a New World, It's Only Life) and you start to get a sense of how versatile and accomplished and BUSY a guy he is!

Big thanks to Dan Adler, who put forward this month's song idea and is about to participate in his fourth consecutive Burning Man! If you don't know what Burning Man is, you should definitely check it out. It seems like an amazing event....

And special thanks to the wonderful composer Debra Barsha for her great song idea, which isn't the central idea for this song but is woven in nonetheless.


Alysha UmphressMonth Upon a Time, Episode 4: September 15, 2011 "Benny Go Home"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Alysha Umphress (recorded 9/12/2011)


The last time she made a guest appearance on this podcast, Alysha Umphress was just getting her feet wet in the New York talent pool. Now, five years later, she is positively drenched!

First came her Off Broadway debut understudying the two female roles in the Bill Finn revue, Make Me a Song. Then followed a very happy run, first at Berkeley Rep and then on Broadway, in Green Day's American Idiot (Check out her hot duet from the cast recording: "Too Much Too Soon".)

Along the way, she's performed in countless cabaret shows - here are youtube videos of her definitive performances of two of my songs "Celebrate" and "I Just Wanna Have Fun" in concert. Happily, one of her solo concerts was preserved with a live recording, which you can purchase from her outrageously not-up-to-date website: Alysha Umphress - Live at the Laurie Beechman.

This coming season, you'll be able to catch her on Broadway again (!!) in the upcoming revival of On a Clear Day..., as well as on television as a guest star on Showtime's Nurse Jackie. She's on fire!!

September inspired a flurry of song ideas, 95% of which were rooted in back-to-school, which made Karen Buerkle's idea stand out that much more: she wrote "That's when the Bennys go home." Not knowing what this cryptic sentence meant, I did a little research, which led me to this website and this Facebook page. (At the time of uploading this episode, the Benny Go Home website was experiencing technical difficulties. Hopefully, it will be live again soon, so you can see what I found.)

In a nutshell, a Benny is a summer tourist visiting the Monmouth or Ocean County Jersey shore. While there are several explanations for the origin of the name, the favored one is that it's an acronym for the cities these tourists primarily came from back in the day, namely Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York. The locals frown upon what they perceive to be disrespectful Benny behavior. A grass roots campaign called "Benny Go Home" has evolved, with logos, bumper stickers, and things like these three beach scenes.... Given that I grew up in Monmouth County (in fact, Karen Buerkle played the title role in our community theatre production of Annie Get Your Gun back in the early 80s), I couldn't resist this subject matter for the September song. And since I've been making it a habit of sneaking musical quotes into several of these Month Upon a Time songs, this title offered up a no-brainer. Thanks, Karen!

For the record, I think the members of the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore would definitely be considered Bennys.
 
Julia MurneyMonth Upon a Time, Episode 5: October 31, 2011 "Welcome to My Apartment"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Julia Murney (recorded 10/30/2011)

Warning: ADULT SEXUAL CONTENT in this episode
OK, you're been warned.

For a podcast that avoids repeat guests, I sure do a lot of double-dipping. But as you'll soon see, it's obvious why nobody but Julia Murney could sing this song....

As I was reviewing the October ideas that had been sent to me, I couldn't help noting Eloise Akehurst's suggestion that I write a song about "Julia Murney's Cocktober." It was certainly a noteworthy trio of words, but probably not a song. Meanwhile, I was working with Jason Robert Brown at the time, and I asked him to give me an idea for an October-themed song, and he replied, "Julia Murney's Cocktober." Well, then it started to seem like a downright challenge. Besides, when two people give you the same idea and it's as specific (and outrageous) as this one, it's time to do some research. So I tracked down Julia to get the first-hand version of the story, and thus this song was born.

It's not an accurate retelling - the names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent - but it was certainly inspired by her oh-so-true story.

Since her last visit to the podcast, Julia has kept busy as the belty green gal on tour and Broadway, not to mention pursuing an active concert and, as evidenced here, voice-over career. Also, her debut CD, I'm Not Waiting, which had yet to be released the last time she was on the podcast, is now available!

This month finds her back on the boards in the new Michael John LaChiusa musical, Queen of the Mist, with The Transport Group. It's so nice to have her back where she belongs.


Billy PorterMonth Upon a Time, Episode 6: November 30, 2011 "The Fifth of November"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Billy Porter (recorded 11/30/2011)

Look who I got for this month's episode: Ghetto Superstar Billy Porter! Billy has been a friend since the early days, and it was only a matter of time before he popped up on here. What an interesting journey and varied career he's had - everything from Star Search winner (1992) to Broadway musical theatre star to recording artist to film/TV actor to one-man-show diva to serious dramatic ekhtor, with some stops along the way for writing, directing, arranging, and choreographing. Kind of amazing.

Right now he's gearing up to play one of the leads in the upcoming workshop of the new musical Kinky Boots, based on the film of the same name. Jerry Mitchell + Cyndi Lauper + Harvey Fierstein + Billy Porter sounds like a pretty fabulous combo! Additionally, he'll be choreographing the cool new musical Pop at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh and continuing his affiliation with the fledgling theatre company Exit Pursued By a Bear. He does like to keep a full plate!

This month's song idea comes courtesy of the beautiful and talented Alexandra Silber (@alexandrasilber), late of this year's Master Class revival and the Transport Group's Hello Again. I guess having spent all those years in the UK studying and living and working, she came to regard Guy Fawkes Night as a holiday of her own. I, myself, had never heard of it until now. Special thanks to my Brit friends Suzanne (Squeezie) Thomas and John Blakey for confirming that it's really a holiday :-) and sharing their 11/5 experiences with me.



Swingers UnlimitedMonth Upon a Time, Episode 7: December 31, 2011 "Christmas in New York"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Mick Bleyer, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Gaelen Gilliland, and Sierra Rein (recorded 12/29/2011)
 
Remember back in the day when the holiday season would bring all kinds of special episodes of TV shows or even better, all singing/all dancing TV specials? Well, this is my interpretation of the holiday special, and what makes it so special is the fact that it's my first group podcast!

Actually, I think it was inevitable. First of all, even though this is the 7th episode of the Month Upon a Time podcast, it will ultimately serve as the 12th song in the final song cycle. So I was thinking I should give it some kind of big finale. Then came Rene Ruiz's (@ReneSRuiz) suggestion that I write a "lament of a Christmas Caroling quartet and you should write it in four part harmony." Bingo! (Meanwhile, do I need to mention that Rene is one of the members/founder of the amazing a cappella vocal group Toxic Audio?)

It so happens that I had just seen the Goodspeed Opera House's wonderful production of City of Angels (with amazing costumes by my best friend Tracy Christensen), and the great sounds of their Angel City Four were still in my head. So who better to sing this? However, given that it was the middle of the hectic holiday season, only half of the Angel City Four (Mick Bleyer and Sierra Rein) were available, so I brought in my friend and Broadway (Wicked, Legally Blonde, 9 to 5) ringer, Gaelen Gilliland, to sing the soprano part, with me on tenor completing the quartet.

What should we call ourselves? How about "Swingers Unlimited," since I found myself thinking about that popular Singers Unlimited Christmas album as I wrote this?

It should also be mentioned that Mick and Sierra are 2/5's of the singing group, Marquee Five, the 2010 MAC Award winners for Best Vocal Duo/Group, who've just released their first recording, 8-Track Throwback! And those of you in the Cleveland area can look forward to Gaelen's performance in the upcoming production of Sondheim on Sondheim at the Great Lakes Theater.

Best wishes to all for a Happy New Year!


Courtney BalanMonth Upon a Time, Episode 8: January 31, 2012 "This Will Be the Year"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Courtney Balan (recorded 1/29/2012)


January... all about new beginnings, right? Well then, isn't it appropriate that my first special guest of the new year is my new bff, Courtney Balan? I've known about Courtney by reputation, ever since she stood by for both of the superstar ladies of [title of show]. But I'd never met her until last month, when we became fast friends at a mutual friend's Christmas party and then sealed the deal at the same friend's birthday party last week.

How fun to find out about all the interesting and varied projects in which she's been involved: the original casts of Broadway's In My Life and Crybaby, as well as Off-Broadway's I Love You Because, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, and I Love Being a Marvelous Wonderette. (OK, that's not really the title, but I couldn't resist.)

And this season, we almost got the chance to maybe catch her playing Fanny Brice on Broadway, as she was set to understudy Lauren Ambrose in the now-cancelled revival of Funny Girl. Drat!

But wait! There always seems to be a great job awaiting her when another one falls through. This time it's being part of the original cast of the new Off-Broadway musical, Rated P for Parenthood, starting previews on February 8 at the Westside Theatre! Break a leg!

Special thanks to my college pal Allyson Rice for her one-word January suggestion that inspired this song: "Dieting." Says it all....


Dee RoscioliMonth Upon a Time, Episode 9: February 29, 2012 "Double-Whammy Birthday"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Dee Roscioli (recorded 2/28/2012)


I've been a big fan of Dee Roscioli's from the minute I laid eyes on her at the meet-and-greet for the 2010 24-Hour Musicals. Little did I know that she had already distinguished herself as the actress who performed the role of Elphaba in Wicked more times than any other performer in North America, a "title" I believe she still holds! I'm sorry to say, I didn't get to see her in the role, but everyone who has, either from the stage or from out front, is all raves! If you want to know more about her experience as The Green One, check out this adorable backstage video.

After five years on the broom, Dee recently appeared in the Off-Broadway play Dedalus Lounge with Anthony Rapp and a full Irish brogue. As for what's next, I predict a slew of starring roles in original Broadway musicals. And possibly a CD? You can play your part by going to her fan page and telling her what you want to hear her sing!

Special thanks to my beloved college pal Marjorie Harris Newman (aka Margie Harris) for the idea for this month's song, inspired by her sister Melanie's attitude about her 2/14 birthday. Also, thanks to my friends Suzanne Thomas, Alan Filderman, David Krane, and Chantal Bilodeau for sharing tidbits with me about their 2/14 birthdays....


Jeff BMonth Upon a Time, Episode 10: March 31, 2012 "March Hair"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Jeff Blumenkrantz (recorded 3/31/2012)


As you might have noticed, this month I give new meaning to the concept of waiting until the last minute. I'm literally recording, editing, and posting this episode on March 31, so I'm singing the song myself, out of necessity. (OK, admittedly, maybe I was ready to sing one of these songs anyway.)

This month's idea comes from my friend Nathan Brisby (@nbrisby), who suggested I write a song about St. Baldrick's. Like some of my other favorite Month Upon a Time suggestions, I had never heard of it, so I embarked on a reconnaissance mission and pretty quickly found the official St. Baldrick's website. Instead of my telling you about this amazing and relatively new institution, why don't you listen to the song and then poke around their website. You could also see any number of videos on youtube chronicling various St. Baldrick's events across the country.

Next month's episode is going to mark my 50th podcast, so I'm hoping to do something particularly festive... any ideas? Lay 'em on me!

Until then...


Dee HotyMonth Upon a Time, Episode 11: April 30, 2012 "There Has to Be a Reason"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Dee Hoty (recorded 4/27/2012)


Remember last month when I said I wanted to do something special to celebrate my 50th podcast episode? Well, I'd say I hit the jackpot with a visit from the very special Dee Hoty!

I've been a big Dee Hoty fan since seeing her as Alaura in City of Angels, and she has never disappointed, giving standout performances in every show she graces. And she has seemingly graced them all! Between her work on Broadway and in national tours, regional theatre, and summer stock, I'm pretty sure Dee has played every leading lady role ever written, and then some. Dee is one of those actors' actors: she'll camp out on Broadway for years in big shows (did I mention she's received three Tony Award nominations?), but then she'll also pursue those labors of love, like The Transport Group's The Audience (which happens to be the only time Dee and I have appeared in the same playbill).

After years of saying "We should do something together," what a treat for me to get to hear her sing my little April song.

This month's idea comes from an old friend and fellow Plaid, Richard Roland, once actor, now director, whose one-word suggestion was simply "Taxes." (For the record, there were multiple people who suggested taxes, but Richard was officially the first. Thanks to everyone who sent ideas! One more month left... I'm going to miss that process, you guys!)

FYI, my love affair with Dee Hoty continues into May, when she will be performing (along with Drew Gehling, Sarah Stiles, and recent podcast guest Dee Roscioli) in my upcoming concert, Trunk and Disorderly: Songs from the Deep, Dark Trunk of Jeff Blumenkrantz. Did I mention that I won the Fred Ebb Award this year? Well, as part of my prize, they're sponsoring a concert of my songs on May 14 at 6:30 at the York Theatre. Seating is limited, so I can't offer you seats outright, but if you want to come, please put yourself on the waiting list by filling out the form on the other side of this link, and I'll let you know ASAP if we can accommodate. (FYI, there is no charge.) 


Michael WintherMonth Upon a Time, Episode 12: May 30, 2012 "Mayday! M'Aider!"
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Sung by Michael Winther (recorded 5/28/2012)


It's the final installment of my yearlong song cycle! I did it! And I have the perfect guest with whom to complete the cycle, someone who knows a thing or two about song cycles himself: Michael Winther! I've known Michael since the early 90's, when we were Plaids at the same time (but never in the same production). Since then, Michael has had quite a distinguished theatre career, bouncing between musicals and plays, including the Broadway productions of Artist Descending a Staircase, Damn Yankees (with me!), 1776, The Crucible, Mamma Mia (with last month's guest Dee Hoty!), and most recently, 33 Variations.

But the reason I think of Michael when I think of song cycles is that he was at the center of a very distinguished one, Songs from an Unmade Bed, which began as an offhanded idea from the very talented lyricist/librettist Mark Campbell and blossomed into a theatre piece that became part of The New York Theatre Workshop's 2005 season, earning Michael a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance!

His interesting collaborations continue, most notably My Coma Dreams with Fred Hersch, the brilliant jazz pianist and composer, and When We Met with another previous podcast guest, Sally Wilfert!

The inspiration for this month's song comes from Brett Lowell, who gave me so many great ideas this month that I had to narrow it down. I particualrly liked his idea of incorporating "Mayday!," the distress signal, into a song about how in May, thoughts turn to love, etc. Add to that my own fascination to learn that "Mayday!" springs from the French, "[Venez] m'aider!" and the next thing I knew, there was a samba! (Special thanks to Caroline Bergonzi, David Turner, and Marcy Scott for their help with the French translation.) What a fun way to end the project!


In closing, I'd like to express my gratitude once again to Bradley Kaye for the adorable Month Upon a Time logo, to all the wonderful singers who lent their time and talent to my songs, and to all of you who offered up ideas for songs each month. 

Don't forget, if you want to perform any of these songs, they're available as sheet music in my online music store.


Until the next episode...


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