PLAYBILL PICKS: The Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know, Part Three

By Michael Gioia
28 Jan 2014

Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen

Composer Chris Miller and lyricist Nathan Tysen — Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Award nominees — were scheduled to make their Broadway debuts with the fantastical musical Tuck Everlasting, but without an available Broadway home in the busy 2013-14 season, the musical (based on Natalie Babbitt's popular 1975 children's novel) was postponed. (Watch "Everlasting" — Tysen's favorite song — performed here by Annie's Sadie Sink, who was set to play the musical's young dreamer, Winnie, in the pre-Broadway engagement. Also watch "The Wheel," performed by Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan.)

The duo, who characterize their sound as "equal parts James Taylor and Stephen Sondheim," specialize in a more folky and earthy tone, especially evident in their 2008 Drama Desk-nominated song cycle Fugitive Songs, a 19-song "journey across America" that follows a handful of characters and ran Off-Broadway at the 45th Street Theatre. (Listen to "Reasons to Run," the opening song of Fugitive Songs, performed here by Andrew Durand, Kyle Dean Massey and Andy Mientus as well as Karen Olivo, Alysha Umphress and Barrett Wilbert Weed, who are featured on the song cycle's recording.) "I was introduced to William Finn's Falsettos and Ani DiFranco's self-titled first album on the same day my sophomore year of college — mind blown," admitted Tysen on his influences. "I would never write the same way again. It was a good day. I also had the album of Jesus Christ Superstar spinning constantly as a kid. It was great to build legos to." Miller added that the musical theatre composers he is inspired by the most are "[Stephen] Sondheim, [Lynn] Ahrens and [Stephen] Flaherty, Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChuisa."

Miller and Tysen are also the authors of the popular musical The Burnt Part Boys — about the adventures of a group of teenagers in West Virginia's coal country in 1962 — which ran Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons and is currently licensed by Musical Theatre International with productions happening around the country; The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which premiered at Barrington Stage Company; and Super Circus Heroes, a show the two recently wrote for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey that is currently touring the United States. Aside from the Broadway-aimed Tuck, the two are developing commissions from Lincoln Center and Playwrights Horizons and hope to one day "do a show with holograms" and "score an animated feature." (Listen to "Town Goes Boom," performed by Hands on a Hardbody's Jay Armstrong as part of Playbill Video's Hot Off the Ivories series.)

Listen to "Everlasting" from Tuck Everlasting

Listen to "Annie's Party" from Fugitive Songs