Jamaica Plain resident Michael Wartofsky, who is a music professor at the Berklee College of Music and a composer for musical theater, will be officially releasing his first album, “All the Possibilities: Broadway Sings Wartofsky,” on Dec. 13. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session through email with Wartofsky about the new album and his musical experience. For more information, visit michaelwartofsky.com. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: What is your prior music experience?
A.: I fell in love with Broadway at the age of 3 when my mother played the original cast recording of Funny Girl. This led to a childhood of piano lessons, drama club and forming two punk/new-wave bands in high school. After attending just several schools to study music composition, including Harvard, Berklee, New England Conservatory, and NYU, I confirmed that I was afraid of the real world. Also, that I was best-suited for writing songs for others rather than performing myself, and that musical theater was my true calling.
Q.: Where did the idea for the album come from?
A.: When you write for theater, you are lucky to have a few weeks, or even a night, to hear your music performed. And then, poof, it’s gone, or it resides only in the memory of those who were there. After attending enough parties where people would ask if they could hear my music anywhere, I decided to assemble and record my best songs from the last dozen years for commercial release. My friend and former NYU classmate Sean Patrick Flahaven had been a producer on the original cast recording of Hamilton, so I asked him to help shepherd my project. It was Sean who suggested we aim to get Broadway stars to record the lead vocals.
Q.: How would you describe the music?
A.: I chose to title my album “All the Possibilities” after one of my most-performed works, but also to represent the diversity of the songs. They are alternately songs of foolish joy, devious schemes, secret longings, and dogged hopes. They may be fun, clever, or haunting; but they all pulsate with humanity.
Q.: There are many different collaborators who contributed to the album. How was the recording process? Was it difficult?
A.: It’s been a rich journey, and I’ve been truly blessed to work with some incredible people in some amazing studios. Berklee offers a faculty grant that allows access to beautiful campus studios for two days. My colleague, veteran Broadway music director Eric Stern, inspired the best out of my orchestra of students, alums and faculty, and another colleague, Chad Blinman, recorded the rhythm section, strings, and horns for eight songs in two days in May 2016.
Talented students and friends recorded the demo vocals, which the Broadway artists used in order to learn the songs. Then, song by song, over the next two years, the lead vocals were replaced by the Broadway voices at Yellow Sound Lab (YSL) studio in New York City, with guidance from producer Sean Patrick Flahaven and recording/mixing engineer Matthias Winter. When Michael Croiter, the head of Yellow Sound Label, heard about the project recorded in his studio, he became interested in releasing it on YSL.
Q.: This was your first album as a songwriter. What was that like? What material did you use for lyrics (i.e, personal experience.)?
A.: Although I’ve spent lots of time making demo recordings of my work, I feel so fortunate to have completed my first full, professionally mixed and mastered album! Mastering is this magical process that makes the audio sparkle in a way that home recordings struggle to match.
As for lyrics, there are three songs that deal with the personal loss of a loved one, including the title song interpreted by Kate Baldwin (star of Broadway’s Hello, Dolly); and what some may find a surprisingly uptempo “In a Dream”, performed by Boston Conservatory alum Alysha Umphress (star of Broadway’s On The Town) with strings and horns arranged by my Berklee colleague, JP-resident Jeri Sykes, who also plays tenor sax on the record.
On a lighter note, the album features three songs I co-wrote with lyricist and fellow JP-resident David Reiffel, including two for Cupcake, a musical comedy that ran for seven weeks at Boston’s Club Cafe in Boston in 2012. Those song titles are “The Lament of the Real Estate Agent” and the album’s only duet, “I’ve Got a Crush,” about a reference librarian and a hunky lifeguard who share more than just a cupcake obsession. Annie Golden took a break from filming Orange Is The New Black to give her unique spin as a demented kindergarten teacher in “Just Between Us,” also featuring lyrics by David Reiffel. The album features several pronoun-less love songs, including a song that I originally wrote and sang for my husband as a surprise during our wedding ceremony.
Q.: How long have you been a music professor for? How did that come about?
A.: I graduated from NYU Graduate Musical Theater Writing in June 1997 and joined the Berklee faculty that September to teach Harmony, our core music theory curriculum based on Jazz and the American Songbook. But my dream was to start a Berklee program in Musical Theater Writing. I ran my first course in that subject in 1998 and with support and collaboration from many students and colleagues, it grew into an undergraduate minor in Musical Theater Writing, one of the few in the world.
Q.: Where is the album available?
The best way to get the physical CD locally is at the Très Gatos record store at 470 Centre St. in JP. Alternately, Yellow Sound Label, which specializes in Broadway music such as the original cast recording of Heathers, is releasing the album digitally on December 13, on all major platforms. Listeners may stream the album, and if they really like it, a great way to show support is to download it on iTunes.
Q.: Anything else you would like to add?
A.: I’d love to see everyone’s faces at my free Album Release concert, at 8 p.m. on Thursday Dec. 13, 2018, at the Red Room of Cafe 939, 939 Boylston Street. I can’t guarantee any Broadway stars will be there, but my students and colleagues will put on an unforgettable show, and CD’s will be available for purchase. Also, please check out my new website for news, videos and to join my mailing list: www.michaelwartofsky.com.