Carner ’01 talks Broadway, music

Several cast members from “Wicked” were at Yale on Thursday.
Several cast members from “Wicked” were at Yale on Thursday. Photo by Sara Stalla.

Musical theater fans gathered Thursday afternoon in the Branford common room to hear Broadway performers sing and describe how they found their way into the industry.

Award-winning lyricists and composers Sam Carner ’01 and Derek Gregor, accompanied by former “Wicked” cast members Brian Crum and Julie Reiber, held a workshop in conjunction with the Yale Drama Coalition to discuss the musical theater industry and perform a few songs from Carner and Gregor’s 2007 Broadway musical “Unlock’d.” Both the speakers and audience members said they enjoyed the chance to interact and share stories about the industry.

“It’s amazing to revisit our path and try to relate to people. It’s great to look back from where we were,” Gregor said.

Carner and Gregor met as graduate students in the Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program at New York University. Although they had very different writing styles when they decided to collaborate in their second year, they said they soon found common ground. Their collaboration culminated in “Unlock’d,” a musical loosely based on Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” which tells the story of a woman who loses a lock of hair. The musical won the Richard Rodgers Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007, an achievement that introduced the young composers to the world of Broadway.

“It’s surreal that I used to not even be able to fathom reaching out to a Broadway singer,” Gregor said. “And now they’re accessible because [the musical] catapulted us into this world. That award was an amazing piece of leverage for us.”

During the talk, Crum described how he went from auditioning in Los Angeles to landing his first role in “Wicked” at age 18, while Reiber reminisced about singing and making money on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines before her Broadway debut in 2004. They then shared their insight on the industry and offered advice to the aspiring actors in the audience on how to break into musical theater.

YouTube, the speakers agreed, has been increasingly important to launching careers in the industry, serving as an important tool in promoting new actors as well as making the casting process a lot easier for both directors and the actors who audition.

“It’s a good thing to start building a portfolio,” Carner said, adding that he used YouTube clips to cast Felicia Ricci ’08 in his 2009 cabaret “Sing, But Don’t Tell.” She went on to play Elphaba in “Wicked.”

Carner and Gregor also emphasized the significance of “asking” and putting oneself out there as an up-and-coming writer or actors A $20 lunch with a current actor or writer is nothing in comparison to the opportunities one can gain by asking to work with theater professionals of interest, Gregor said.

The discussion was supplemented with performances by Crum and Reiber, accompanied by Gregor on piano, of songs from both “Unlock’d” and “Sing, But Don’t Tell,” which audience members said was one of the highlights of the talk.

“It’s interesting to see the perspective of these actors, lyricsts and composers,” Wells Thorne ’14, who attended the talk, said.

“Unlock’d” is expected to go off-Broadway in 2013, Gregor said.

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