Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Los Angeles, CA
Janet J. Lawler
July 24, 2018
Jason Michael Webb, Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Michael A. Kerker
As a member of the Dramatists Guild, I received an invite to attend "In It Together: An Evening with the Music Team Behind The Color Purple” at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, CA. 

Having no desire to write a musical, or even a song, I almost didn't go.  Wow, I'm so glad I did attend.  What a wonderful evening about music and the creative process.  And, I found it of great professional interest -- since writing a song is a lot like writing a screenplay.  It requires character(s), tone, pacing, an arc, and hooking your audience.

It turned out to be a lively panel with The Color Purple songwriters/composers.  They covered team collaboration, creating in new mediums, embracing technology, and how writing of any kind (novels, scripts, plays, songs, musicals) is all about... REWRITING.  

Sorry, folks, there's no escaping it.  Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite!
The Color Purple team consisted of Grammy-winning Stephen Bray, Allee Willis and Brenda Russell.  Each songwriter had success writing pop songs prior to writing The Color Purple: 

Allee Willis, a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, wrote hit songs like September, Neutron Dance, Stir It Up and the TV theme song "I'll Be There for You" for Friends.  (Cool songs and lady!) 

Producer/drummer/songwriter Stephen Bray wrote songs for Madonna including "Into the Groove" and "Express Yourself".  Stephen knew Madonna from Michigan before her mega success.

Singer-songwriter and keyboardist Brenda Russell also has hits, including "Piano in the Dark" and "So Good, So Right". 

The three composers (none had written a musical before, never mind a Broadway musical!) joined forces on The Color Purple, checked their egos at the door and labored on the show for over five years.  

They said often after having created a song they agreed was perfect, the director or producers would ask them to rewrite it, or even worse, completely "throw it out".  Their tenacity paid off as each co-wrote the Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway musical, The Color Purple.  

As a screenwriter/playwright, I found this question to the panel "How is writing a theatrical song different than a pop song?" of particular interest.

Each songwriter agreed that writing a song for the stage requires a story -- an arc -- just like in a screenplay -- the character should change or evolve -- where as in a pop song, it's more about the melody, chorus and hook.

Special shout out to music director Jason Michael Webb for also taking part in the evening and to the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) SongArts LA for sponsoring the event, in association with The Dramatists Guild. The evening was moderated by Michael A. Kerker, director of musical theatre for ASCAP.  
Hmm... I might just have to go off now and write a song.

Until next time.