Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spotlight On...Eric Sirota

Name:  Eric Sirota

Hometown:  Brooklyn, New York; Living in Flemington, NJ for the past 32 years.

Education:  Stuyvesant High School, NYC (Frank McCourt was my homeroom teacher throughout high school);  Brown University ScB '80; Harvard University; PhD (Physics) 1986.

Favorite Credits:  Frankenstein (currently playing Off-Broadway at St. Luke's Theatre).  Your Name on My Lips, showcase production at Theater for the New City (March 2017).

Why theater?: I definitely came to theatre first from the music side, having studied composition.  I wanted to take people on emotional journeys, and I know I could do that with the music.  But there are also stories I wanted to tell.  Music can stir the soul and is a universal language.  But when you find the words that join the music as equal partners, and in service to the story, propelling it forward in both plot and emotional arc, nothing is more creatively fulfilling.   I just had to learn how to do that - which took me a few decades.

Tell us about Frankenstein: For many of your readers whose knowledge of Frankenstein might be the Boris Karloff movie, or more likely the Mel Brooks parody of it, let me first say that this is not that.  No flat head.  No bolts.  And no Igor! This Frankenstein is a sweeping romantic musical based on Mary Shelley's novel, which happens to be celebrating the bicentennial of its publication this year. This work attempts to honor that source material, while adapting it into a compelling work of musical theatre. The plot:  Having lost his mother at a young age, Victor Frankenstein seeks to end human mortality and arrogantly enters territory beyond his control. While he enjoys unconditional love from Elizabeth, he grants none to his creation.  Some people have used the Frankenstein story to stoke fear of science and technology.  But Frankenstein's Creature was not a piece of technology, rather, a living being, and the musical I wrote is about the human need for love and companionship.

What inspired you to write Frankenstein?: During winter break of my first year in grad school in 1981, my mother took me to a preview of the infamously short-lived Broadway production of the Gialanella play, based on Mary Shelley's novel.  I thought, "Why AREN'T they singing?!"  I re-read the book and heard the story sing in my head as a musical.  Like Victor Frankenstein, I was a scientist working towards my degree, far from home and far from the girl I loved, and the story spoke to me both intellectually and emotionally. 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: For me, it is mostly material driven emotionally and intended to elicit an emotional response, more so than an intellectual one: thus, my interest in musicals rather than plays.  Through my school years, I had a Beethoven poster on my wall, where I had appended to his famous quote "Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. . . And visa versa." After seeing Massenet's Werther as a 12 year old, I developed a love for opera, even in languages I did not understand.  It was Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar which inspired me and taught me that such an emotional musically-driven score could live in the contemporary world of musical theater.  Later, I became equally inspired by Stephen Sondheim, his work and his discussions of the importance of the lyrics.  On developing the "book" for a musical theatre piece, my inspiration came from Stephen Schwartz and his co-panelists at the ASCAP musical theatre workshops.

If you could work with anyone you've yet to work with, who would it be?: As far as in creating the work, a lyricist/co-bookwriter on a new project.  Book, music and lyrics myself is overwhelming!  I will have to find the right collaborator and the right project.  As far as performers, I would like to work with the actor Rodney Ingram (currently in Phantom). But I'm not sure if it counts, since he was in a 15-minute workshop presentation at the West Village Musical Theatre Festival when he was a student. But in terms of developing my next project in the works, his favorite quote (according to Facebook) happens to be the basis of that musical.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Band's Visit;  The Book of Mormon.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  "Arts and Sciences" or "The Hopeless Romantic".  I'd be played by Omar Sharif, from the past.  I had a mustache my first year of college, and my classmates said I looked like him; and for the next 4 years, I answered to the name 'Omar'.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?:   The original Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar; and Hamilton, early on when you could get tickets.

What's your biggest guilty pleasure?: A rich creamy pasta with salmon.

If you weren't working in theater, you would be _____?: If I wasn't working in theatre, I would be a scientist.  But even though I am working in theatre, I am also a scientist.   Specifically a condensed matter physicist, studying the properties of soft materials such as waxes and polymers.  I am very fortunate that my "day job" is something that I am equally passionate about.  Even though my research is highly cited, I think more people have seen my theatre work than have actually read my specialized papers.

What's up next?: Staged reading of Go, My Child, a new musical about the untold story of biblical Sarah, Abraham and their parents: Infertility, xenophobia and the search for truth.  (My daughter, Julia London Sirota is my co-bookwriter/co-lyricist on this.) Starting a new musical based on a specific novel, if we can get the rights.   Expanding A Day at the Whitehouse, (book and lyrics by Vin Morreale, music by me) into a full length musical.  We did a 15-minute workshop version in the West Village Musical Theatre Festival in 2012.   The story, according to Matt Mitchell's interview with you last year (Block Talk- Episode 11) "predicted Donald Trump."