Just sitting here

Monday, February 8, at 4 and 7, you can wander in to The Circle-in-the-Square, the Broadway theatre where Fun Home plays, and see an extraordinary hour of songs from musicals. It’s free, you don’t need a ticket, and while many will have reservations (212.307.0388), nobody without a reservation will be turned away. The 15 performers are students who will soon be handed a piece of paper and thrust into the real world. They’re a talented bunch and I have high expectations.

Here’s the complex part: I’ve been a key component in their training, and continue to be, but have only the slightest involvement in the showcase itself. So, I take pride in the consummate performers I’ve helped them to become, but I haven’t seen what they’re doing here. Some of them asked for my input about what songs to do, and Clara Regula and Michelle Bailey are doing just what I suggested. Mimi Pabon and Connor Coughlin will do, among other things, songs I thought of for them that nobody else would have thought of. So, naturally, I predict they’ll be wonderful. But the whole group is very strong, and likely to shine even in numbers I didn’t think of.

I’ve gotten a peek at the program, and counted four Tom Kitt songs but none from Next To Normal; three Andrew Lippa numbers not from The Wild Party; three Jeanine Tesoris; two Alan Menken tunes you don’t hear every day. So, one reason you might attend is to hear 21st century Broadway songwriting just in case, as I did, you missed First Date, Rocky, and It Shoulda Been You.

But it’s even more cutting edge than that when you consider the likelihood you’ll be seeing performers who will soon populate Broadway. It’s like getting a look at the 2025 season years ahead of time.

Ten years ago, at this truly tiny school, you could have seen Alan Shaw, now in Les Misérables; Michael Wartella, of the soon-to-open Tuck Everlasting; Christian Dante White, who just left The Book of Mormon to start rehearsals for Shuffle Along; Merritt David Janes, of School of Rock (he went on as the lead this week); Eric William Morris, one of two Circle grads recently in Songbird; Allison Guinn of the On the Town revival: she’ll soon be seen in a new musical in Bucks County, A Taste of Things To Come, which might as well be the title for Monday’s showcase.

Other schools do showcases and have grads on Broadway. But they’re usually much larger programs, connected to four-year colleges. We pack two years with more how-to, and you get to see them on a Broadway stage. And it’ll all be over in an hour.

For someone who sees puns in everything, “industry showcase” has a neat double meaning. Yes, casting directors, agents and producers are invited to catch a glimpse of singing, acting, and dancing talent. But “industry” can also refer to how hard you’re working and that’s what I get to see, behind the scenes, all the time. The nailing of a harmony, the sticking of a landing, the emotional shading. It all pays off in what the audience perceives as effortless and organic. The hard work – the industry – gets shown to great advantage.

When teachers get together, they often complain that kids today don’t work hard enough. I’ve witnessed plenty of that, but, at Circle, I get to interact with actors who are not quite kids (everyone’s over 18, last year we had one pushing 40) and I never see them shirk work. Gotta feel pretty lucky about that.

And I’m sure I’ve said this before: Watching actors justifying everything they say, every breath they take, every motion they make – well, it informs my writing. I spend a lot of time thinking about why the Broadway songwriters made all the choices they did, and then I come home to write and project into the future where somebody’s going to wonder at my reasons. As the song in Carnival goes, There’s Got To Be a Reason.

Monday, 50th between Broadway & Eighth. 4 & 7. Be there, at The Circle in the Square, or be…?

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