INTERVIEW: Songwriter Steven Cagan Will Fill Feinstein's With His Love Songs
The veteran composer gives a sneak preview of his special musical presentation at the famed New York nightclub.
The sung-through piece, which involves six people at a wedding, will be directed by Tony Award nominee Lynne Taylor-Corbett and star Tony winner Debbie Gravitte, Kevin Spirtas, Bryce Ryness, Fleur Phillips, Ken Clark, and Ashley Kate Adams.
Cagan had a long, celebrated career as both a conductor -- with gigs including the first national tour of Dreamgirls -- and film composer, before he began working on this show in the 1990s. "I was lucky enough to work with people like Michel LeGrand, Michael Feinstein, and Barry Manilow, and they all encouraged me to start writing my own music," says Cagan. "For me, it's all about the melody."
Asked to name his musical influences, Cagan doesn't hesitate. "In 1957, as a 15-year-old, I staggered into the Winter Garden Theatre and heard West Side Story and that changed my life. I left that theater knowing that I had to pursue music," he says. "And to this day, I consider myself a disciple of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. I've even corresponded with Sondheim; he loves writing letters. And he's also one of the people who tells me to keep going and doing what I'm doing."
Without question, Cagan is passionate about what he's doing -- and the subject matter he has chosen. "I always thought that the best reason to burst into song was to sing about love. It's what moves me most on a gut emotional level," he says. "I started with this one song called 'Carpe Diem' and then I began to conjure characters to accommodate my lyrics. The actual storyline for Love Songs actually came last, but as I've worked on it, it's developed more integrity."
Over the years, the show has had a few different presentations -- with such stars as Alexander Gemignani and Robert Cuccioli taking part in previous incarnations -- but Cagan couldn't be more thrilled than with his current set of players. "They have the most beautiful voices," he notes. "I ended up having to do the casting myself and while some of the people, like Fleur and Bryce, have done the show before, I also asked a casting director, Carol Henzel, for some names."
One of those names was Gravitte -- and Cagan admits he wasn't familiar with her work. "I went onto YouTube and listened to some clips of her singing, and I immediately got in touch with her," he says. "She's playing Rose, this hooker with a heart of gold, and she's just perfect. She can be broad and brassy, or tender."