What do Pulitzer winner Michael R. Jackson (“A Strange Loop”), Tony winner Ali Stroker (“Oklahoma!”), Guggenheim grant recipient Taylor Mac (“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”), “Hadestown” actor Amber Gray and composers Shaina Taub (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Suffragists”) and Dave Malloy (“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”) have in common? They all perform tunes on “The Liz Swados Project,” the new album celebrating an often-overlooked composer who influenced a generation of musical theater creators on the rise.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
On the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, Taub and the music director, arranger and orchestrator Kris Kukul (“Beetlejuice”) offer a deep dive on the late Elizabeth Swados’ reach, ranging from her early work at venerable Off Off Broadway venue La Mama to her Broadway shows (including her best-known musical “Runaways”) to her work as a teacher, which connected Swados with several of the performers who sing on “The Liz Swados Project.”
“She really knew how to challenge a young artist out of their comfort zone,” said Taub, who considers Swados a mentor. “I came into her class at age 17 and right after that class, she hired me to music direct and conduct her new oratorio at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I was 18 years old. I had never music director or conducted s—. I was not ready for that job at all, but Liz pushed me off the cliff. … She believed in me before I believed in myself.”
Kukul, who was Swados’ music director for several years, was one of the producers of the “Swados Project,” the new Ghostlight Records release that grew out of a 2017 concert for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. In the wake of that performance, “there was a desire to keep pushing her legacy forward,” Kukul recalled. “Music lives or dies on cast recordings, and because Liz really only had one known cast recording, we just wanted to make sure that there was some record of this amazing catalog.”
He added, “We really wanted to show the connection between this legacy and catalog and this next generation of the downtown theater tradition that’s now being thrust uptown.”
Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Kukul and Taub theorize about why Swados’ work isn’t better known, give updates on their own buzzy shows (“Prada” and “Suffragists” for Taub, “Beetlejuice” for Kukul) and explain why Swados’ work might be a perfect fit for these revolutionary times.
“I feel like there’s never been a more potent time for her work,” Taub said.
New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.