By Donna Herman
You’ve already missed “Introducing Sam Salmond,” at Joe’s Pub on Wednesday night. But unlike the perfect newly renovated NYC one-bedroom apartment you missed for under $1,000 a month, the opportunity to get to know this fledgling Broadway composer’s work will definitely come your way again.
Sam Salmond is the 2016 Jonathan Larson Award winner. Like Larson, and Salmond’s mentor, William Finn, whose own Tony Award-winning musical “Falsettos” is being revived this season on Broadway, Salmond’s work mostly centers around marginalized and misunderstood sectors of society. He is clearly an emotional and empathetic person himself who feels deeply, and has a burning desire to reflect that back to his audiences. He got visibly choked up during his acceptance speech when receiving the Larson Award, and he did so on Wednesday night at Joe’s Pub when introducing the evening. As he explained, he was presenting an evening of music from three of his musicals in development and this was a moment Salmond had been dreaming of since he was a teenager. And I must say that Salmond’s enthusiasm and passion is infectious.
The evening was mostly comprised of works from three of his shows that are currently in development, “Eighty-Sixed,” “Uncool: The Party,” and “Mother, Me & The Monsters.” Rounding out the 16 song set were three songs Mr. Salmond has contributed to shows by other people. Although we weren’t hearing the songs in the context of a narrative, it is clear that Salmond is not just a catchy songwriter, he knows how to use music in a musical. Starting with the rousing opening number from “Eighty-Sixed,” “Dance With Me,” engagingly sung by Ronald Peet, that exhorts the listener to do just that, you can feel the seduction, the intention of the character to get a reluctant partner out on the floor. And you can smell opening night showstopper. “It Glows” from the same musical, which he chose to have sung at the Larson Award acceptance and which performance can luckily be seen on YouTube, is a masterpiece of a theatrical duet. Not only is the music hauntingly beautiful, but the back and forth between the two characters is subtle, ironic, heartbreaking, honest and without any other information, made me want to see these two people together forever. When this show gets its first Broadway production and the accolades it deserves, “It Glows” is going to become a classic.
Another crowd pleaser during the evening, and sure to become an audition mainstay for the rest of time was “I’m Cool.” It’s from Salmond’s “Uncool: The Party,” described as “an immersive night of songs, storytelling, games, booze, dancing and revelry. Four actors, a host and a band lead the audience through a hilarious, heartfelt, foot stomping celebration of the things that make all of us ‘Uncool.’” The song is a textbook example of how to introduce a character and reveal his public and private persona with a humorous 4 minute lyric. It was performed brilliantly by Taylor Trensch who made the obviously “off” nerd appealing.
Salmond did none of the singing, instead he gathered together a group of ridiculously talented young Broadway performers to showcase his work: Lilli Cooper (SPRINGTIME AWAKENING), Michael Linden (SPRING AWAKENING tour), Bonnie Milligan (KINKY BOOTS tour, GOD BLESS YOU MR. ROSEWATER), Julia Murney (WICKED, WILD PARTY, FALLING), Shakina Nayfack (Hulu’s DIFFICULT PEOPLE, MANIFEST PUSSY), Larry Owens (FAT CAMP), Ronald Peet (HBO’s GIRLS, THE GOLEM OF HAVANA), Jon Rua (HAMILTON), Preston Sadleir (NEXT TO NORMAL, tour), AJ Shively (BRIGHT STAR, Drama Desk nom), Taylor Trensch (CURIOUS INCIDENT), Adrienne Warren (SHUFFLE ALONG, Tony nom), Barrett Wilber Weed (HEATHERS, Drama Desk & Lortel noms, CABARET Helen Hayes Award), and Noah Zachary (POSTER BOY).
If you live in NYC it helps to be one step ahead of the crowd or you will spend your life in line, and cursing those who somehow knew to get there first. I was lucky enough to be in the audience on January 11, 2012 at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Series for an evening of songs by Lin Manuel Miranda, including a few from what was then being billed as “The Hamilton Mixtapes.” It was an exciting night and I started following his career closely. That’s how I knew to jump on it when I heard it had been turned into a musical and would be produced at the Public Theater. I scored two sets of tickets before the first preview performance.
I’m giving you a head’s up about Sam Salmond right now. Start watching this guy. Look for his name. Look for the musicals “Eighty-Sixed,” “Uncool: The Party” and “Mother, Me & The Monsters.” Get tickets early when they open Off-Broadway. You can thank me later.
Introducing Sam Salmond Directed by Marlo Hunter
WITH: Lilli Cooper, Michael Linden, Bonnie Milligan, Julia Murney, Shakina Nayfack, Larry Owens, Ronald Peet, Jon Rua, Preston Sadleir, AJ Shively, Taylor Trensch, Adrienne Warren, Barret Wilbert Weed, and Noah Zachary.
Produced by Natasha Sinha; Assistant to the producer, Justice Longshore; Graphic designer, Nicholas Coburn.