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

By Michael Gioia
28 Jan 2014

Zack Zadek

Zack Zadek, a composer-lyricist and singer-songwriter, recently made his London concert debut. "I would say my sound, overall, is a blend between piano-rock and Top 40 pop music," said Zadek, whose musical influences range from Frank Loesser to Katy Perry, who he often covers in concert. (Check out Zadek's cover of Perry's "Roar" at New York City's Highline Ballroom.) "In general, I like fusing some more complex musical stuff harmonically with really simple melodies. To me, music has to make you feel — and my goal as a writer is to do that on some visceral, musical level. While I wouldn't say I write in one specific genre, I try for all of my stuff to be super accessible. I think each project calls for different stuff, and I love opportunities to write different styles with those same aesthetics." (Listen to Zadek's catchy tune "Just Me," a coming-of-age, feel-something song performed by Spring Awakening actress Emma Hunton. "I wrote [a song] in high school called 'Just Me' that has sort of been the gateway drug in getting people to check out my stuff," he said, "and it has a very special place in my heart — that song and I have been through a lot together.")

"Just Me" is from Zadek's fully developed musical called 6, the story of six isolated people in New York City who have unknowingly affected each other's lives in deep and profound ways, that was featured in the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in 2012. Another piece of Zadek's that was seen at NYMF was The Crazy Ones, a show about Steve Jobs and the people who ignited the computer revolution, that had its first reading last summer. (Listen to "Something There" from The Crazy Ones, performed here by Godspell's Nick Blaemire and Hair's Andrew Kober.) "I grew up listening pretty much exclusively to cast recordings," added Zadek, a member of ASCAP and the Dramatist's Guild of America. "The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof dominated my childhood, and growing up I collected different versions of cast recordings (I must have hundreds of versions of Sondheim). It was only later in high school that I started to get really interested in popular music, too, especially the piano playing icons I looked up to — Billy Joel, Elton John, Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles, etc. I think the two shows that really gave me 'aha' moments were The Last Five Years, which really influenced how I play and how I thought character stories and complex music can all go together, and Spring Awakening, which made me want to write musicals forever."

Zadek is also developing an immersive theatre piece called The Party In My Mind that combines electronic dance music and partying with a narrative; a commission for a theatre company in Connecticut; and a pop EP, among others. "I think musical theatre needs to unite more closely with other forms of music and storytelling. I yearn for the days when songs from a musical would be charting across America, performed by the biggest artists in the world… My 'mission statement' as a writer is to try and break down some of the gaps between musical theatre, contemporary pop music, some of the narrative aesthetics in modern filmmaking." (Listen to "Dancing All Alone," performed here by Emma Hunton.)

Listen to "Medicine":

Listen to "Hoist The Flag" from The Crazy Ones, a song, Zadek said, "was the moment — for a bunch of us working on the show — that we felt we really wanted to push ahead with the piece."


Expect Playbill's Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know, Part Four, in the future. Write us with suggestions at

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as the pages of Playbill magazine. Tweet him new music and composer suggestions at @PlaybillMichael.)


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