PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes Writers Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond

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06 Jul 2013

Michael Kooman
Michael Kooman talks with songwriting team Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond about their musical The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, the story of a man trapped inside a musical.

Kooman and Dimond are purveyors of pop culture, and the classy duo is capable of producing some very funny work. The two are at the top of their game with their musical The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes.

Currently in development at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Music Theatre Conference, the show's cast is made up of Hunter Foster, Kate Wetherhead, James Judy, Sara Gettelfinger, Price Waldman, Natalie Charle Ellis, Harris Doran, Sarah Stiles, Sergi Robles, Veronica J. Kuehn, Olli Haaskivi and Hannah Laird. Throughout the week, the public readings have been sold out. 

Howard Barnes is a story of a man who wakes up to discover his life has become a musical, and his quest to escape is the crux of the story. 

Kooman and Dimond sat down with to discuss their work, the movies that inspire them and the perils of chugging too many iced teas before a show.

Question: How did you guys end up collaborating and why do you both like working together?

Michael Kooman: I was at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), an undergrad in composition and he was a graduate student. I was writing orchestral pieces in choral and chamber music. I felt that musical theatre was something that was really captivating me and I forced my way into the drama school. I took a lyric writing class with Chris, and there was about eight of us in it, and Chris was by the best lyricist in the class. I loved his lyrics. I asked him if he wanted to work together on a project. That project became Home Made Fusion, which was just a little song cycle for us in 2006. Then he asked me to write his thesis show, which ended up being Dani Girl.

Question: What about the song, "Random Black Girl"? How did that happen?

Kooman: Chris had the concept of the song.

Question: What motivated you?

Christopher Dimond: It was one of the first songs that we wrote together, it was something we thought would be funny to take this character that is always placed in the background and playing the token minority in an ensemble and give her a moment in the sun and allow her to air her grievances with the theatre industry.

Kooman: It's a pretty interesting story though, because Chris had some interviews with people at CMU to get some ideas for the song, and then we wanted Patina Miller to sing it.

Question: Did you know her because she was also at Carnegie Melon?

Kooman: Not really. She was at Carnegie Mellon but I didn't know her because I was mainly in the music school. So we were just like, "Hey Patina, we have this song we'd like you to sing." Chris wasn't available so I had to sing this song for Patina, on my own. I was so nervous. Even in college Patina had a lot of respect and she was this amazing performer and I was singing for her. Basically the story is that I finished and she goes, "It's supposed to be funny, right?"

I said yes and she had a couple of thoughts and we worked the song around what she thought and she just turned the song into what it became.

Question: Was this around the time when you guys got the fellowship to come to the O'Neill?

Dimond: We were here in 2008, because of Dani Girl, which we wrote for my thesis project, and was as a result eligible for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, where they recognize theatre students across the country. We ended up winning the musical theatre award for Dani Girl and then got to go the festival. They introduced us to Martin Ketteling who was the O'Neil's literary manager. They ended up figuring out that we could come here on a four-week residency. Consequently, Michael carved out the role of the music assistant. He was the first one to do that.


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