An interview with star and writer Cait Doyle.
By Shoshana Greenberg (Lyricist/Bookwriter)
Cait Doyle's new musical, Hot Mess in Manhattan, opens tonight and features songs from a myriad of musical theater writers, including Crazytown's own Ryan Scott Oliver. With a book written by Cait and her sister, Meggie Doyle, Hot Mess... was developed from Cait's cabaret act of the same name. Cait took a break from her busy rehearsal schedule to answer some questions about writing Hot Mess... and working with so many great writers.
How did you decide to use many different song writers?
There is no better musical landscape of a "Mess" than 12 different music styles! Amazingly, each song is very much written in the style of the composer, yet they all do blend together brilliantly. (Thanks to our out-of-this-world Music Director, James Cunningham!)
Did you ask writers to write songs specifically for your show or were they songs the writers had already written?
Every song in the show except one was written specifically for Hot Mess.... The only exception is "Starbucks," written by Michael Mahler. I had performed "Starbucks" in an evening of his music in New York early in my career. When assembling the show, the song kept popping up in my mind. [It's] very much on par with our lead character's viewpoint.
All collaborations were unique. The writers ranged from people I had worked with numerous times before to people I was literally introduced to the day we discussed their song. There is, as you all at Crazytown know, a niche of new musical theater songwriters that are truly doing exciting art, and I thought this would be the ideal platform for them all to share their music and get it more widespread--the Ryan Scott Oliver fans would learn about Gaby Alter, the Gaby Alter fans would learn about Cunningham & Salzman, etc.
There was more wiggle room at the beginning of the process, as there were less libretto parameters. The songs towards the end, like Keith Varney's "A Song to Sing(pod)" and Kerrigan & Lowdermilk's "Own It" were written essentially as the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
Was the book of the show built around the songs?
Partially. The process of accumulating the songs took over two years. I used to debut one new song roughly every other month in the cabaret version of the show at The Duplex. I was very open to suggestions from the composers (for example, I asked Gaby that his song be a about a place "mess" went for solace in the city; he came back with "Union Square" and bam!). I always knew, however generally, what moment I wanted each specific song to capture and where it might fit in the end product.
The libretto kicked into high gear about a year and a half ago. My sister, Meggie Doyle, came on board to co-write the book with me, and around the same time Hot Mess... headed to the Encore Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio as artists-in-residency. We were able to spend a week there (with our director David Ruttura) to play with the material, kick around ideas, and get it on its feet, no longer as a solo show but with two other actors as a fully-realized musical.
Are there any writers you didn't get to work with this time but would love to work with in the future?
What would you say is the most challenging song in the show to sing? The most fun?
The hardest song to sing in this incarnation is Ryan Scott Oliver's "The Mess." It's very early in the show, and I am belting, singing rapidly, and running/dancing up and down moving stairs in four-inch heels. Quite the workout! I suppose this is how Velma Kelly feels.
I honestly can't say which song is the most fun to perform. I love them all so much for different reasons (and if I didn't, I would just cut it, right?).
What singers and writers inspire you?
In terms of musical theater performers, I'm a huge fan of Leslie Kritzer and Sally Wilfert. I also love Michael Winther. Watching him perform a single song is as enlightening as an eight-hour master class.
Two writers that really excite me right now are Lena Dunham and England's Caitlin Moran. We all took up a similar torch in our own respective genres around the same time. It's a movement!
Hot Mess in Manhattan: The Musical runs through September 8 at the American Theatre of Actors. Click here for tickets.