The Broadway Warm-Up sits down with Bobby Cronin, an NYC based award-winning composer/writer. We cover a lot of ground in our conversation. Bobby was extremely generous with his time and insights, and I am so excited to share this podcast with you.
In this interview, we cover topics such as:
* Bobby’s background, early influences and mentors
* Bobby’s creative process and the craft of writing
* The relationship between directing, writing and acting
* Bobby’s advice for actors
* Selflessness, resilience and positivity
* Manifesting dreams
On his background & early music influences
You know, I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin from one brother, and Neil Diamond from another, and Fleetwood Mac and Pat Benatar from my sisters; all these different styles going on, but I’d never heard theater music. When I finally did, I remember asking my Mom, “What is that?” She said, “It’s from what’s called a musical. A musical is when they use songs to tell a story. Like a movie, but with singing.” And I was like, “I love this.” Fast forward to the performance. I was in the back of the theater, I was sitting right next to the spotlight. It was in the gym of the school. The lights went down, the spotlight came on, and I swear it was as if something inside of me woke up. I saw the curtain open, and the light hit, and like I was in a dream, I walked from the back all the way to the front. I remember saying to my Mom, “I want to do that. I want to be a part of that.”
On catching the bug & inspiration from MT writers
My high school drama teacher Frank Roberts started introducing me to different musicals in class. He would show PIPPIN. I remember SWEENEY TODD and thinking, “This is incredible.” I actually went to college for hockey, so trying to do both was really difficult, but I was able to do it. Once I started really learning musicals, I became so inspired by Stephen Schwartz, I became very inspired by Jerry Herman. He was able to do something that a lot of writers don’t, which is this incredible melodic hook that would keep coming back. With any Jerry Herman song, you could sing the title. I love Sondheim – I love, lyrically, Sondheim. I would leave a Sondheim show unable to sing you a thing, however I was so moved – it’s so smart, so different. So I would say in theater, Schwartz, Menken, Jerry Herman…but my real influences are QUEEN, Elton John, Billy Joel.
What excites Bobby about writing in 2016, and on the flip side, what are the challenges?
When I first started out, I was a director. I did national tours, I had my own production company here – I was directing on a project with Stephen Schwartz’s music. Stephen said, “Bobby, you’re a writer. Why aren’t you writing?” He really pushed me to find my voice and to use it. I switched careers in my early thirties, which was scary, but exciting. Once I knew what I really wanted to do, which was to write, the audiences were looking for a challenge. They wanted to hear something they hadn’t heard before. Because of cable, ShowTime, HBO, Netflix – people want unconventional stories. They want something that’s going to challenge them, surprise them. That’s my favorite part of writing now. It gets to be, “What’s the strongest way to tell this moment? What’s gonna challenge people?
On watching his work being performed
“I feel like I have three modes – there’s writing mode, there’s rehearsal mode, then there’s performance mode. I love the first two. My first big production in London, I will never forget opening night. There was a joke coming – I knew it was filthy. I didn’t know if the Brits would laugh. Right before the joke came, I was close to fainting. I was seeing stars. Then the audience burst into laughing and I was like, “Thank God. Thank God.” For that project specifically, certain notes were really rough – it’s a super contemporary, pop driven score. I was always thinking, “Is the actor gonna hit it?” They never missed. Not once. My thing is – I always go to see my projects once. That’s it. I know I have to get better at that, but it’s just so stressful for me.
Part of it goes back to what I was saying earlier – writing for me has always been so private. To share it with hundreds of people at a time, it’s scary for me. I’m sure it’s what an actor feels like. I’m literally putting who I am in front of thousands of people.”
What Bobby looks for in the actors he collaborates with
My favorite type of actor is someone that comes in with choices. Someone that’s bold and brave. Fearless. Nuanced. They’ve done homework. Even if I just give them a song and we’re working on the fly – someone who will ask questions. If I hire an actor for a project, and something that I wrote is not in their range, I will change the key. I look for someone that will embody a character. Someone that will understand every single word and every single note. Why is this word stressed? Why is this word held over the bar line? Things like that. That, to me, is a very smart, detailed actor, and that’s what I love.
On what makes a great audition
Be yourself. Remember, it’s your audition. It’s not my audition, it’s YOURS. From behind the table, we are praying that every person who comes in will be the one we are looking for. That makes our jobs so much easier. As a writer, part of my decision making process is – Do I want to spend six weeks with this person? Do I trust that this person will be passionate about the project? Easy to work with?
Look at every famous musical theater person. Do any one of them have a “beautiful” voice? Patti LuPone. Bernadette Peters. Mandy Patinkin. These are all unique, but so story-based voices. They make us feel something. It is so passionate. The story is getting told. Carol Channing. As she got older, she could hardly carry a tune, but there is something about her. And that’s what we’re looking for.
On the best advice he ever received
The best advice that I got would be from three people, and they all said the same thing. They would be Stephen Schwartz, Hal Prince and Alan Menken. They all asked me the following question: “What do you want?” I had never really envisioned anything. So, I really couldn’t answer it. It took a lot of self-exploration. I made a vision board. Who do I want to be? What footprint do I want to leave in this world? That’s what helped me transition out of directing and into writing – If this is a secret passion of mine, why am I keeping it secret? These pieces of advice were five years apart, by the way, but always the same question.
An award-winning composer/writer rep’d by Sarah Douglas (Abrams Artists) & James Beresford (Shepherd Management, UK), Bobby’s projects include: The Cover which is being developed for Glee’s Ali Stroker, had a lab presentation at West Texas A&M 2015 and made the short list for the New American Musical Theatre Prize, with bookwriter Crystal Skillman, also chosen for 54 Below’s Development Series; Mary & Max [based on the claymotion film of the same name] with Crystal Skillman, Honumculus Mask Theatre, AchesonWalsh Puppetry Studios, and director Stafford Arima; ‘Til Death Do Us Part (2016 Overtures Series directed by Kent Nicholson; 2012 Alec Baldwin Fellowship Winner, UK’s S&S Award Finalist) with bookwriter Caroline Prugh; Sunset City with bookwriter Wade Dooley (2013 Running Deer Theatre Lab, 2014 Goodspeed Mercer Project, 2014 the Pitch, 2015 The York Theatre, NYC);Welcome To My Life (W2ML); Alone in the U.S. with Terry Berliner, which was commissioned by CAP21 and performed at Penn State, CAP21, NYFA, Marymount Manhattan College (Best Production winner) and was produced at the University of Cumbria under the title Alone in the UK; The Concrete Jungle, commissioned in 2011 for London’s esteemed ArtsEd (President: Andrew Lloyd Webber) opened in London June 2012; Daybreak (winner of the 2011 New Jersey Playwrights Contest) premiered in Wayne, NJ & London’s Tristan Bates Theatre June 2012. Bobby composed the scores and songs for several musical films, which have been in and won festivals all over the country, for NYFA, where is also on faculty teaching pop/rock performance and history, audition technique, business, and performance lab. He was part of the 2015 Prospect Theatre Company’s Off-Broadway show Fright Night where his 15-minute musical My Boyfriend Is An Alien written with Christine Toy Johnson premiered. His music is featured in the new webseries Settling Up and won “Best Score of a Mockumentary” for the webseries Thank You, Next and Best Music/Lyrics for Ten Reasons I Won’t Go Home With You in 2010’s MITF. Bobby was one of the NEO Writers for the York Theatre Company’s 2014-2015 season with Stephen Flaherty as his mentor. He was commissioned to write a pop song for the 2013 winner of Italy’s televised singing competition Lo Canto. Other: 54 Below, Lincoln Center Songbook Series, Birdland, Symphony Space, London’s The Players Theatre & St. James Theatre, etc. “Reach The Sky: Live” & “The Concrete Jungle International Studio Cast Recording” available on iTunes featuring theatre stars Caissie Levy, Kate Shindle, Jared Gertner, Rebecca Trehearn, & Alex Gaumond. Bobby has taught Master Classes around the world for musical theatre actors on song interpretation, audition technique, and his specialty, the ever-popular pop/rock genre. He’s a Yale graduate where he won the Michael P. Manzella Award for excellence in Arts, Scholastics and Character. Member of ASCAP, Dramatists Guild. @bobbycronin IG: croninbobby SC: rojocro