Tony Sheldon, who earned a Tony Award nominations for his performance in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, will topline an August 10 salute to budding songwriter Sam Willmott as part of the New Writers at 54! series at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York.
Sheldon will appear with Kerstin Anderson, Robert Ariza, Angel Desai, and others to perform songs by the composer/lyricist whose work has been performed at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Joe's Pub at the Public Theatre, and other venues across the country, including previously at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
What does Willmott write about? Producers are promising “Viking chants, intercollegiate competitive Punjabi folk dancing, and fantasy creatures upon fantasy creatures.”
Winner of the 2015 ASCAP Foundation Cole Porter Award, the 2015 Kleban Prize for Most Promising Musical Theatre Lyricist, a 2015 Jonathan Larson Grant, the 2013 ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Award for Lyrics, the 2012 Fred Ebb Award, and other awards, Willmott has written scores to shows including Standardized Testing—The Musical!!!! (2009), the mini-musical Scarlet Takes a Tumble (2011), and Yo, Vikings! with lyricist Marcus Stevens (2011 Richard Rodgers Award Finalist).
Performing songs from these and other shows will also be Hudson Loverro (A Bronx Tale, Assassins), Elizabeth Crawford (Tuck Everlasting), Latoya Edwards (Nikola Tesla Drops the Beat), Salena Qureshi, Deep Singh, Kuhoo Verma, Josh Lerner, Laura Dadap, Ronald Peet, and Jessica Tyler Wright.
Willmott grew up in a Virginia suburb outside Washington, D.C. He told Playbill, “Some of my earliest memories are doing Sound of Music- and Little Mermaid-themed cosplay when I was four, re-watching the ‘Small House of Uncle Thomas’ ballet [from The King and I] until I knew every single track, seeing my first Broadway show (Guys and Dolls), and panicking when they opened the trapdoor to go into the sewer, and then videotaping my own marionette adaptation of that show in my basement and sending it to the Clintons. So, yeah, no discernible catalyst...it’s just my stasis.”
He said his musical theatre heroes are, “Anyone who devotes themselves to this career, their craft, and the enormity of being able to truly help people through the empathic power of storytelling. This includes my teachers and, now, my co-teachers, and my collaborators, students, and friends. Beyond that, writers like Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Frank Loesser, Kander and Ebb, R&H, Sondheim, Shaina Taub, and Benjamin Scheuer.”
Some stage creations that have inspired him to write include Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring, Justin Peck “doing basically anything,” Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty exhibit; the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania; Ted Chiang’s anthology Stories of Your Life and Others; How to Train Your Dragon; Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn; An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; and, “to be so real,” Game of Thrones, Parks and Rec, and Doctor Who.
One of Willmott’s more unusual assignments was adding additional lyrics to Bob Merrill’s originals for a stage adaptation of the TV special, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. “It was a thrill,” Willmott said. “The wonderful Tim Pinckney adapted the TV script for an Actor's Fund benefit concert in 2014, and it was brought to life by a stunning 28-piece orchestra under the baton of John McDaniel and an absolute dreamscape of performers. I helped pitch in a couple lyrical tweaks to make it better work on stage. It was an enchanting night. I hope it happens again!”
Regarding the Feinstein’s/54 Below showcase opportunity, he said, “I’m just so happy to be able to make music with some of my most trusted, wonderful friends for the beautiful folks who want to join us. I’m going to butcher this quote, but I read recently that Colbert said something like: I love performing, mostly because it allows a wider audience to see how much fun we all had in rehearsal. To that, I say: preach.”
The show will have direction and music direction by Sammi Cannold and Madeline Smith, with help from assistant director Lindsey Ruggles.
Feinstein’s/54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street below Studio 54. There is a $25–$35 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets can be ordered at 54Below.com.