Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Scott Wasserman

Walking down a coral pink hallway, I’d feel like I was in a tropical ‘80s motel were it not for the framed posters upon posters from Broadway shows lining the walls.

I’m at Ripley-Grier Studios, where performers of all stripes can rent practice space. I’m looking for Studio M, and I’ve made several
wrong turns already. Is this what it felt like to be in A Chorus Line? Someone is singing operatically as I walk past yet another door until I see the room I’m looking for, open with a lone black upright piano. I wait for Scott and Douglas—I’m early, as usual.

Scott Wasserman and I have known each other for over 10 years—a dear friend from college, he’s an extraordinarily talented musician and composer. In the past few years, he’s been on the music teams for Broadway shows like the incredibly successful Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Great Comet of 1812, among many others. His friend is Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, an actor and fiddler most recently in the cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of The Robber Bridegroom, who is working on a new bluegrass musical. They’ll have Studio M to themselves for one hour.

When Douglas writes the songs, Scott tells me later via email, he just writes melodies and lyrics, occasionally with fiddle accompaniment. Douglas then sends recordings of himself singing the songs to Scott, who makes sheet music of them, including ideas for additional musical accompaniment like piano and guitar parts, and more. Tonight, Scott will play the sheet music for Douglas’s newest song and help him edit songs they’ve already worked on.

Scott sits behind the piano and gets out his laptop. With a software called Finale, he’s able to have instruments playing the accompaniments he’s written as he plays the piano parts for Douglas, who is smiling in amazement, as am I. My brain does flips as I’m understanding everything Scott has done—notated by ear not just a song, but a number of things the song could potentially do in the future. Music theory is completely foreign to me and even though this is apparently a very necessary skill for musicians like Scott to have, I am totally blown away.

At one point, Douglas brings out his fiddle to play along. Made of strawberry blonde wood, its name is Chauncey and it belonged to his great-grandfather. He picks it up in his hands and begins to play, and I have the worst visions of myself accidentally knocking it and breaking it into a thousand pieces. Luckily that doesn’t happen.

The clock approaches 7 and the next residents of Studio M let themselves in and begin setting up. Studio time and space is precious around here, it seems. Scott and Douglas finish up in the hallway and say their goodbyes. I tell Scott later about my experience before, if this is what A Chorus Line is really like. “It is!” he smiles. “The cast of the Sunset Boulevard revival is rehearsing down the hall.”

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