Fringe by Numbers: Creators of Great American Horror Movie Musical Not Too Scary

One thing that is certain.  There is never a shortage of new oddball musicals in the Fringe.  You can normally tell them by their titles which are followed by the words "The Musical!"  In past years we've seen works such as Jaws: The Musical and Google: The Musical!  This year we have been blessed by a number of musicals in this vein.  There is even one titled Musical the Musical.  The musical that this particular entry is about, however doesn't have the words "The Musical" at the end of its title.  No.  It's missing the word "the".  I'm talking about Great American Horror Movie Musical.

Looking the cast list over on the Fringe Festival website makes it clear that this production managed to get some real heavy-hitters to play ball.  Some of the places you may have seen them before?  The Ordway, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Chanhassen Dinner Theaters, the History Theatre, and many more!

Before I go on any more, I'll give you the official description of the show:  "A criminal is at large; 7 brave filmmakers promise to hunt him down. Armed only with a camera, this kooky bunch sing and dance their way to making the greatest horror movie ever made - 80's Karaoke Style!"

Yup.  This isn't technically an original musical.  It is an original play with the music of the 1980's providing the soundtrack, sort of in the same way as ABBA songs provide the soundtrack for Mamma Mia!

At the Fringe-For-All they were featured singing their rendition of "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics.

I posed my standard list of questions to the producers of Great American Horror Movie Musical.  Sheridan Zuther is co-producer and also appearing in the production.  Daniel Ellis is the other co-producer, as well as the director of the show.  Playwright Jonathan Howle chimed in as well.

Q:  What prompted you to start performing?

SHERIDAN:  My earliest memory where I didn't think twice about what do with a stage was when I was 4 or 5 years old.  We were putting up the Christmas tree and always used a little platform on which the tree set.  While my dad was preparing the tree, I stood up on the platform, grabbed the end of an extension cord as a microphone and started singing "Hot Child in the City" (my favorite song at the time – I'm sure my mother was so proud).  Being a farm girl, I started really honing my talent in our empty concrete grain silo.  It had the best acoustics and I would sing in there for hours.  Shortly thereafter, my Dad decided to take me to the local livestock auction and had me sing the National Anthem before the sale began, as I stood in dirt and manure.  I simply loved an audience, even if it was a crowd of cows that didn't really pay attention as I performed on stacks of hay bales… I think it was good practice for any sort of house I now encounter!  I simply love to entertain. 

 Q:  Fill me in on your Fringe history:

DANIEL:  I directed a show back in Fringe 2005 entitled AT THE END OF THE DAY written by Gilad Segal.  After working once in the Fringe I knew that GAHMM would be a perfect show for the festival.  GAHMM just had to wait a few years for the stars to align properly and my lottery ball to be picked!

Q:  What inspired this work?  Why the Fringe?

JONATHAN:  During Christmas of 2002, at a small Methodist church in North Carolina, I heard some older men joking around about a friend they hadn't seen in a long time.  One turned to his friend and said, "Well, maybe he's up in the mountains helping all those people hide Eric Rudolph."  They laughed. I just had one of those "writer" moments where I thought to myself, "I have to write about this."  Then, on the way home from church, I heard "I Found Someone" by Cher on the radio.  I began to research Rudolph and began to research the music that he might have listened to at the time.  GAHMM was born!

DANIEL:  An 80's Karaoke style musical - part documentary, part horror movie, part musical - what better place to try out such an original idea for a musical than the Fringe!  The Fringe seemed like a good place where we could test Jonathan's play in an environment that would be well received and appreciated, while being enough removed out of the commercial market that record companies would allow us the rights to use 80's songs within the context of the piece.

Q: What are you doing right now to prepare for the Fringe?  Other than this interview:

SHERIDAN:  Along with promoting, promoting, promoting, I just mailed off a check and license forms to Sony/ ATV Music Publishing for the right to perform the song "Eternal Flame" in our show.

Q: Are there any unique challenges working on this project?

SHERIDAN:  Daniel and I started working on rights to perform songs in March.  We had a list of about 22 songs that Jonathan suggested to fit in the show.  I first did a search for the songs with ASCAP and BMI (songwriter unions), then began contacting each publishing company that represented the writer(s) of each song.  Sometimes a song that had multiple songwriters had a different publisher representing each person.  I had to fill out forms for each publisher that described the production, how the song was going to be presented in the context of the show, along with show logistics (number of performances, number of seats in the venue we were performing, ticket costs, etc.).  Once the forms were submitted, it took a couple weeks – up to a few months – to know whether or not we had rights to perform the song and how much it would cost us each time the song was performed.  After we received approval, there was still the final step of actually licensing the song for our show, and mailing in the check with the proof of approval to each publisher to acquire a formal license. 

Another challenge for this show is its cast size.  Fringe shows typically have a shorter rehearsal process and it's tough to get everyone's schedule coordinated to work together at the same time.  We had to find people who could act, sing and dance, as well as discover their character in a less than a month's time. 

And money is always a hurdle.  This show is a great example how to have champagne taste on a Kmart budget.  You really can do theatre without all the bells and whistles if you get a little creative. 

Q:  Will you be hanging out at Fringe Central this year?

SHERIDAN:  A chance to meet new theatre friends and future collaborators?  Of course!  Theatre is a mélange of creative minds and I love to be a part of that.  Daniel and I are also encouraging our entire cast to hang at Bedlam during the Fringe.  You never know who you're gonna meet!

Q:  What are you reading this summer?

DANIEL: Naked by David Sedaris and The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

SHERIDAN:  The House That George Built… With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty by Wilfrid Sheed and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne


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