Pop and theatre singer-songwriter Daniel Zaitchik is testing his new musical romantic comedy, Darling Grenadine, in a May 12 concert reading in Los Angeles. Kristin Hanggi (Broadway’s Rock of Ages, original stagings of Bare) directs the presentation of the quirky new show about a commercial songwriter’s life and loves.
Zaitchik previously wrote book, music and lyrics for Picnic at Hanging Rock, a musical inspired by the novel by Joan Lindsay. He handles script and songs for Darling Grenadine, too, and plays the lead character, Harry.
The concert cast includes Emily Walton and John Shartzer, with Will Collyer, Lexy Fridell, Brian Muller and Leah Sprecher. Music director is Deborah Hurwitz. Acclaimed trumpet player Matt Von Roderick is featured. The concert plays Rockwell Table & Stage.
“I wanted to write something for myself and actress Emily Walton,” Zaitchik told me. “We had been singing together for years, and I was interested in shaping a show specifically for our voices and shared sense of humor. I wanted to play with telling a contemporary story with an old-fashioned sound. I had an idea of how I wanted the specific heightened world of the play to look, sound and feel. It has been taking shape over several years. It was on the back burner for a while, then the crux of the story finally clicked for me a few months ago.”
The show is billed this way: “Darling Grenadine is the whimsical new musical from singer-songwriter Daniel Zaitchik. It tells the story of a successful commercial composer and his precarious relationships with his girlfriend, his brother, and his Labrador Retriever.”
Expect “a singular melding of old and new, comedy and melancholy, it is an intimate, contemporary portrait told with the grandeur, magic, and fizz of a golden age M-G-M movie musical. The cinematic feel of the show may also call to mind such films as ‘Annie Hall,’ ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ or ‘500 Days of Summer.'”
“I play the main character, Harry,” the author said. “He is our narrator. This will be the first reading of the show. I have performed some of the songs before at non-theatre gigs, and I presented selections from the project a few months ago at a concert in L.A. featuring new musical theatre. The main goal is really just to finally hear the show in its entirety. I am continuing to make revisions as we rehearse. Changes are occurring daily.”
Zaitchik answered some questions in the days leading up to the May 12 concert. Learn more about his music and creative projects at his official website, danielzaitchik.com.
Is this concert of Darling Grenadine “just the songs,” or is there more to it?
Daniel Zaitchik: We’re calling this a “concert reading” — we will be performing the entire show, book and music, in a concert environment. I’ve orchestrated it for piano, trumpet, and cello. The goal is to present an aurally complete version of the show.
Is Darling Grenadine set today?
Daniel Zaitchik: The show takes place in an alternate present-day Manhattan, where people dress more formally, and occasionally magical things can happen. You will never see a telephone or a computer, and there is not a definitive line between casual movement and dance. There is a dog played by a life-size marionette and voiced by a trumpet.
Tell me about how you and Emily Walton met, what you’ve worked on together and what is special about her. I fell in love with her gifts the moment I saw her in …Spelling Bee at Pioneer Theatre Company in Utah.
Daniel Zaitchik: Emily is special. I met her in 2007. We were both in a workshop of Saved at Playwrights Horizons. When I heard Emily sing for the first time I was struck by her authentic voice. There is nothing forced or imitative about it. I don’t think you hear that many “honest” voices in musical theatre, and so it took me by surprise. I am attracted to voices that really allow the music to be heard, rather than voices that sound like they are announcing “Listen! I’m singing!” Emily has that kind of voice, plus a self-effacing, goofy sense of humor that I relate to. At the time I was working on Picnic at Hanging Rock and I knew she’d fit in that world. She was involved in the workshop of that show at Lincoln Center. A couple years later I started a band called Blue Bottle Collection and asked Emily to be a part of it. I quit acting after Saved, but I’d thought about writing something for us for a while — so I’m hopping back on stage for this project.
Where’d you grow up? What kind of exposure did you have to musicals? Are there some favorite foundational shows or films that influenced you?
Daniel Zaitchik: I grew up outside Boston. My family is musical. I grew up exposed to everything from Beethoven to Gospel. Although I acted in some musicals growing up, I wouldn’t say that theatre music was my biggest influence. I felt more connected to impressionistic composers like Debussy and Ravel, and singer-songwriters who felt like storytellers — Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel, etc.
My father was a writer and great lover of music and poetry. He introduced me to composers and writers that shaped who I am. In one car ride we would listen to Chopin; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Mahalia Jackson. I think the great range of music I was exposed to at a young age allowed me to feel free to do whatever I wanted with music, to make my own rules. My grandfather was a professional pianist, and my mother and brother also play. I studied acting at Boston University.
What are you influences as a musician? If someone asked the bald question, “What’s your sound?,” what do you say?
Daniel Zaitchik: This is always such a tough question. I don’t really think about genre when I write music, so I’ve always had a hard time describing my sound or knowing exactly where I fit. It’s easier for other people to tell me — and some comparisons I’ve heard have been to Rufus Wainwright, Regina Spektor, Adam Guettel and Nina Simone. I guess one of the main characteristics of my theatre music is thick layers of harmony and interweaving parts.
I love director Kristin Hanggi‘s work. How did you connect with her?
Daniel Zaitchik: Kristin happened to be in the audience of a concert I performed in a few months ago, where I presented a few pieces from Darling Grenadine. She approached me afterwards to tell me the material had spoken to her. A few days later we met to talk about the project, and we both felt inspired to work on it together.
What’s the next step for the show?
Daniel Zaitchik: For now Kristin and I just want to learn from this first step. We’ve been tossing ideas around for the future, but nothing’s set in stone.
You wrote the musical Picnic at Hanging Rock. Are these two musicals worlds apart, or do they share some similarities?
Daniel Zaitchik: The shows are worlds apart in terms of time period and story — but both explore a balance of light and dark. However, Darling Grenadine is a comedy, and Picnic most definitely is not. Both shows have an element of mystery and ask more questions than they answer — Picnic asks questions about our relationship to nature and the unknown, while Darling Grenadine asks more intimate questions about human relationships.
What else are you working on?
Daniel Zaitchik: I’m slowly teaching myself the engineering side of music, how to self-produce. I have a small studio in my house and I have been recording a new solo album at a snail’s pace.
You live in L.A.? Where is home now and how long have you been there?
Daniel Zaitchik: I moved to Los Angeles from New York three years ago. I’m sure I will continue to hop back and forth, but California feels like home for now.