Jane McNealy is an astounding composer, who along with her partner Alice Kuhns, has written songs and entire musical scores for many years. Read on to learn how music inspires her and her audiences.
I am so entranced especially by"Why Does the Sky Keep Changing" and "Running Around." The first is so lilting and beautiful and the second so jazzy in its delivery, I wanted both to go on without stop. Love is at the core. What are your feelings about love and how it makes music so vibrant and alive?
(J.) First of all, thank you for your kind words about two of my favorite songs. I think, “love,” or the lack of it, or the disappointment in it, or the being angry about it, or depressed about it, or obsessed about it (« Of Human Bondage ») is what drives us. We die for love (Romeo and Juliet).Disputes and wars have been fought in the name of love (Helen of Troy). Love has altered the course of history, and the fate of lives (Wallis Simpson & the Duke of Windsor, the former King-Emperor Edward VIII). We are motivated and driven by our emotions - Desire, Greed, Revenge, Jealousy, Madness (Salieri and Mozart) all forms of love.Music is like the universe - no one knows where it comes from. And no one really knows where love comes from - it’s a feeling. It is the driving force behind everything we do and are- Hence love is the basis for what & why I write. I may not know why, it just happens. It’s my raison d’être.I have attended, loved, and reviewed the Nine O'Clock Players for many years. These women are so talented and devoted to children's theatre like no other group. Please explain your connection. Have music theatre groups—like them or others—influenced your compositions?(J) Alice and I joined the Nine O’Clock Players in 2009. And yes, they are a wonderful children’s theatre group. The beauty of the Nine O’Clock Players, as you also know, is we perform for thousands of children who have never seen live theatre before. It’s extremely rewarding.Most importantly, having worked with the NOP for years, we certainly got a “first hand look” and greater understanding of Children’s Theatre.As the NOP doesn’t perform works by members, Alice and I decided to revise and update an old children’s musical, Take a Fable, and try to get it produced. The story was originally by Marjorie Sigley (who has since died). Our musical was first performed at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the 1970s and then by the Young People‘s Theater in New York.Eventually Alice and I and some ex-NOP members formed our own theatre company (The Pasadena City Players). The end result was Take a Fable thrilled young children for several months in 2013.I cannot stress, that if it hadn’t been for the Nine O’Clock Players, and what we learned from them, this experience never would have happened. So if you want to do something really worthwhile, I can only say, Do it! And children are your best audience.Tell our readers about your music partnership with Ms. Kuhns and how it thrives. What do each of you contribute to the process?(J) Every collaboration is different. And over the years Alice and my roles have changed.Alice is highly educated, with a literary background in theatre. When I first started working with her, I had never written a musical before, so basically followed her lead, as I wrote the music, and we collaborated on lyrics.As the years evolved, I became more involved with the libretto. I learned why songs advance the action, and why it was important not to have exposition, which writers tend to get trapped in when they’re not familiar with the theatre format.Basically, what Alice and I share, is a deep love of the musical tradition and the classic musicals from the 1920s through the ’50s and ’60s. There practically isn’t a song from any famous older musical, that I can’t play by ear, or Alice can’t sing all the lyrics to.This isn’t saying we don’t like modern musicals - it’s just to say, that in our opinion, musicals today aren’t as lyrical, musical and memorable as the classic Broadway showstoppers from the past.Which of the songs on your new album, Marsha Bartenetti sings McNealy & Kuhns, are from your musicals? What makes these songs different from the others? Do you have a favorite? If so, in what way is it special to you both?(J) Three songs on the Marsha Bartenetti album are from musicals:“Why Does The Sky Keep Changing” from the musical Gauguin,“Love” from the musical, Hotel Romeo and Juliette, and “What Is Today Without You” from the musical To Be Fred. WITWY is probably my favorite song for sentimental reasons, more than anything, because it is from the first musical Alice and I ever had produced.Edgar Lansbury optioned To Be Fred in the early ‘70s, flew us to New York, and we worked with a director named Marvin Gordon for about six weeks. When we finished, Lansbury had to choose between our musical and another to produce, and he chose Godspell. And the rest is history, except we did get To Be Fred produced in Los Angeles at the Words and Music Theater a year later. Hope springs eternal as they say.I laud you...especially for forming your own record label, Lo-Flo Records, later in your career. Tell our readers what this means to you.(J) Creating Lo-Flo Records has been life-changing (literally). I have a library, CLOSETS full of reel-to-reel music tapes from the 1960s onwards, that I had always considered archiving, but never seemed to get around to doing.Then, in 2015, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I knew then, with lightning bolt certainty, that it was then or never that I was going to pull my music library together into some kind of digital format. The hope would be to leave my accomplishments, with all its evolutionary changes, as a legacy for others to learn from.For example, the musical Primrose Hill is inducted into the California Library system through the Audrey Skirball Foundation.Since then I have put together a wonderful, creative team who have helped me fulfill this dream. But what is most important is that Lo-Flo Records has been a life-saving project at a very difficult time in my life.What happened to the standards and great old shows from Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe?? What can we do to keep them thriving?(J) The beauty of musical theatre is people will always go. There is nothing like the experience of watching and listening to live actors performing – singing and dancing and taking you out of your daily routine with its problems and stress.I believe that singable, memorable songs, melodies and words that touch the heart, will survive. Classic musicals by, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe, whom you mentioned, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, my favorites, Noel Coward, Kurt Weill, and Edward German (The Just-So Stories), to name a few, will continue to enchant future audiences because of their beautiful, memorable music and lasting stories.As long as regional theatre to equity waiver (smaller non-union) theatres survive, so will classic American musicals.