Emma Grimsley and Kaitlyn Nicole Davis met on the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera, where Grimsley headlined as Christine Daaé and Davis was her alternate. After a full year of spending every day together, the cast played their final performance February 3 and headed home to rejuvenate. Little did they know that their next meeting would have to be over Zoom—as the cast gathered virtually to celebrate Davis’ March birthday amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
While on tour, Grimsley (also a librettist) and Davis (a composer and lyricist) had always talked about collaborating, but the Zoom call ignited an idea for Davis. “She called and said, ‘Is there a way for this to be a medium for performance or a conduit for performance?’” Grimsley recalls. For the past six weeks, the duo have written and recorded their new original song cycle Forty Minutes, which drops exclusively on Playbill May 1. (Watch the opening number above and click here for the full album playlist.)
Similar to the recent Public Theater digital production of Richard Nelson’s new Apple Family play What Do We Need to Talk About?, Zoom not only provided the inspiration, but the format. “What we ended up with was using the idea of a Zoom call which, unless you've got a fancy Pro account, the duration of a call is only 40 minutes,” says Grimsley. “What we came together with was a tapestry piece that was somehow representative of different experiences during this crisis of people who are limited in their ability to communicate, reaching out to each other.”
Forty Minutes serves as a visual album—the lo-fi musical theatre pandemic version of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, if you will—and a fundraiser for Broadway Cares’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. Watch the album in full or pick one story, one song at a time.
“There's a song about a couple that's just broken up and are suddenly also in quarantine, you know, making that new aloneness really alone, but there's also a song about a couple who's just fallen in love and are now forced to be separated, trying to sort through that. There's a song about a couple that is dealing with the virus in a certain way,” says Grimsley. “We wanted to represent, you know, the sort of typical musical theater fare of love and romance.”
As much as the song cycle hones in on couples coping, the duo also incorporated songs for characters like a nurse and a teacher.
“The song from the nurse's perspective, for example, is her video-calling her family before bed,” Grimsley explains. “She's not going to be home to tuck them in, so she's calling to say good night.”
The cast stars former Phantom of the Opera tour performers Jim Hogan (also of recent Instagram/TikTok fame), Michael Maliakel, Kathryn McCreary, Liz Shivener, Steve Czarnecki, and Eva Tavares. The ensemble includes Adam Bashian, Stephen Mitchell Brown, Krista Buccellato, Morgan Cowling, Jordan Craig, Daniella Dalli, Derrick Davis, Tynan Davis, Dan Debenport, Julie Eicher, Mark Emerson, David Foley, Jr., Charlotte Hovey, Robert Anthony Jones, Edward Juvier, Ted Keener, SarahGrace Mariani, Susan Moniz, Adryan Moorefield, Sarah Mossman, Constantine Pappas, Herb Porter, Emily Ramirez, Austin Sora, Edward Staudenmayer, Katie Travis, Julia Udine, Carmen Vass, Jessica Wagner and Micki Weiner, accompanied by Mike Tedesco on piano and Simon Cross on guitar.
Forty collaborators, Forty Minutes, one moving and uplifting musical time capsule.
1. “Forty Minutes” (Ensemble)
2. “Beside You” (Jim Hogan)
3. “Cooking for One” (Kaitlyn Davis)
4. “Spontaneously” (Michael Maliakel)
5. “Promise” (Kathryn McCreary)
6. “Fly Away” (Liz Shivener, Steve Czarnecki)
7. “Back Door” (Eva Tavares)
8. “Nonessential” (Emma Grimsley)
Graphics by Max Knoblach, editing by Davis, Grimsley, and Suzie Baer.