Music by: Brendan Milburn
Directed by: Matt Walker
Featuring: Susannah Mars, Hugh Hastings, Joshua Carter, Benjamin Harris, Matt Shimkus, J Reese, Heather Apellanes Gonio, Kate Jaeger and Brian Lange Choregraphed by: Crystal Dawn Munkers
Music-directed by: Aaron Jodoin
Produced by: Village Originals
When: August 9 through August 18, 2013
Where: Francis Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, Washington
Tickets:$20-$25 (free with Village Originals membership). Call 425-392-2202 or visit www.villagetheatre.org Site for Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda
He was in the process of walking across Los Angeles from his Glendale home to the Pacific Ocean.
Sounding a little winded, with plenty of traffic noise in the background, he had just crossed from Beverly Hills into Century City. It was his third time to take the 20-mile concrete hike, he said.
"My feet hurt, but otherwise I feel pretty brilliant," he said. "I like to fill my life with experiences that are remarkable, that make good memories."
He didn't quite make it. His wife, musician/songwriter Valerie Vigoda, and son Mose, who will be 8 in September, picked him up at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Berkeley Street in Santa Monica, about a mile from the beach where he'd planned to dangle his toes in the Pacific Ocean.
It was the shoes, apparently.
The two times he made the trek before, he wore comfortable shoes. This time, he was wearing Vibram toe shoes, which he uses for running, usually not for more than an hour at a time. This trip took seven hours, including stops at a comic book shop and at a pawn shop (looking for used musical instruments), the toe shoes didn't really work out for that.
"I woke up in pain," he said the next afternoon, "But I'm better now. I have some blisters."
The other maybe crazy but probably admirable thing Milburn is doing?
Composing a rock musical about James Watt, who was secretary of the interior for the first two years of Ronald Reagan's administration.
For those of you who don't remember James Watt, he was a very, very bad secretary of the interior. In 2008, Time magazine called him the sixth worst cabinet secretary in modern American history. Watt was hugely anti-environment, opening up gigantic tracts of land for coal mining, huge areas offshore for oil drilling, resisting the donation of land to the government for conservation and otherwise just trying to use up all of America's natural resources as soon as possible.
Why? In part, apparently, because he believes Christ is coming, and we may as well use up everything before the "rapture."
He didn't like the Beach Boys and The Grass Roots performing at the National Mall for Independence Day, but thought Wayne Newton was just fine.
He got in trouble over some of his actions, and in 1983, while giving a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he made fun of affirmative action by saying, about a coal-leasing panel: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple." He submitted his resignation a few weeks later.
Milburn is joined in mining this rich territory for satire by David Javerbaum, who has major chops as a comedy writer. Javerbaum won 11 Emmys when he was a writer, head writer, then executive producer of "The Daily Show." He won his 12th Emmy for co- writing the song "Broadway: It's Not Just for Gays Anymore," for the 65th Tony Awards ("Attention, every breeder, you're invited to the theater"; here's a link to Neil Patrick Harris performing it).
And the show, "WATT?!?" is hilarious, with hard rocking tunes such as "A Black, A Woman, Two Jews and A Cripple," "Let's Lie and Distort Things" and "James Watt Stinks."
Milburn is part of one of the most amazing and entertaining power rock trios involving a violin I've ever heard of, GrooveLily. Milburn on keys, Vigoda on violin, and Gene Lewin on drums; all three on vocals. They have developed some fabulous musicals, including "Striking 12," a retelling of the "Little Match Girl" story, "Sleeping Beauty Wakes," and "Wheelhouse," which is an autobiography.
"Sleeping Beauty Wakes" is moving toward Broadway, with a fuller cast than the trio. The trio, meanwhile, may do "Striking 12" one last time themselves (it is produced elsewhere by others), sometime this year at Club Fox in Redwood City. That would be a fine experience, because it's a great show and Club Fox is a swell venue.
All three members of GrooveLily are busy all the time. Milburn and Vigoda have been married for 19 years and live on the West Coast, composing for their own shows and for Disney productions and many other projects. Lewin lives on East Coast and works a lot on Broadway shows in various places.
Milburn and Javerbaum met in grad school at NYU.
"In 2003, my graduate school classmate, David Javerbaum, approached me about doing a musical with him. ... he came up with the idea of taking James Watt's life and turning into a musical."
"It's a rise, fall and redemption story," said Milburn. "Never mind that I completely disagree with the man's politics and that he offended everyone he came in contact with ... he was completely true to himself."
Under the humor of Javerbaum's writing, said Milburn, there is a compelling tale.
Watt's rise, said Milburn, included "growing up in a small town in Wyoming, making his way to Washington as Secretary of the Interior, working for Joseph Coors, doing hard-right stuff in mountain states in the '70s, he was appointed by Reagan to oversee use of natural resources ...
"Watt is a very serious Christian of a particular bent. He believed that not many generations were left before the redeemer returns and takes people up in the rapture, and that we should use the gifts of Mother Earth before the rapture.
"He was very consistent in his beliefs, and acted on them."
Watt, who had, in fact, become the butt of jokes in the Reagan administration, was asked to resign after his shot at affirmative action.
His redemption, said Milburn, "If it has happened, happened mostly in his own mind. But he has children, grandchildren, a happy home life. As far as the plot of the show, the redemption is mostly in the eyes of the Lord."
God, by the way, has a part in the show.
Watt's wife, Leilani Watt, "wrote this amazing book, 'Caught in the conflict: My life with James Watt,' is really passive, afraid of conflict ... her character was part of how we found our way into the story," said Milburn.
Milburn and Javerbaum wrote three songs for the project in 2003, managed to get some attention, a producer and a little money in 2007, and used the money to hole up in Massachussets, writing the rest of the show "white-lightning fast," in a week.
The show is getting a developmental production at the Village Theater in Issaquah, Washington. It opened on August 9, 2013, with ten performances planned.
"The band is slammin'!" said Milburn of the production, which he had yet to see when we talked, although he'd heard recordings.
Milburn thinks "WATT?!?" "Because of its subject matter, has a somewhat limited potential -- it's not likely to become a big Broadway extravaganza -- but people who don't hate it will love it forever and ever. It has the potential to be a serious sleeper cult hit."
The Great Northwest is also home to the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle, which has commissioned Milburn and Vigoda to write "Beautiful Poison," which Milburn describes as "kind of a gothic thriller in modern New Orleans."
We can't wait!