Most performers move to New York and pound the pavement for a while in hopes of landing a job. They set their sights on a dream and work their whole lives to get there. With the demands inherent in the arts, it’s rare to find someone with the passion and determination to succeed in more than one area; but Nick Blaemire isn’t just “someone.”
At 23 years old, the recent graduate of the University of Michigan, is busy in previews right now preparing to make his Broadway debut in the new John Waters musical Cry Baby. Then, two weeks later, he’ll make another Broadway debut…as the composer of the new musical Glory Days.
I sat down with Blaemire a few weeks ago to
make sure his head hadn’t spun off from the excitement pick his brain about what it’s like to make your Broadway debut…twice in one month.
Can you talk a little bit about the origins of Glory Days?
Welll Matt (in my best important voice), I started writing Glory Days when I was 18, after I went through an experience with my three best friends from high school that was really life changing. I hadn’t really written much of anything at that point, but I loved musicals so much. This period of in my life felt so important, and had so little written about that I just thought I’d try being the one to find a way to talk about it as accurately as I could through music.
Five years later, I’m still trying, but I’ve had some amazing help from my high school buddy (and book writer) James Gardiner, and our incredible director Eric Schaeffer. He took the show under his wing three years ago, and has been helping us cultivate it ever since. The show used to be something I was really embarrassed by, that I didn’t really think was very good, but I always knew there was a reason I started it, and I’m so glad I didn’t stop working on it just because we didn’t know how to make the technical stuff around the heart work yet.
What initially drew you into writing musicals? Did it start during your time at University of Michigan?
I grew up on musicals (as I imagine most writers and performers in this community say) listening to my mom and dad's copies of Phantom and Les Mis and being overwhelmed by the grandeur and emotion of them.
But the stuff I really listened to the most when I was growing up was my dad's rock music - The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Crosby, Stills, Nash ‘n Young were kind of my childhood. So when I realized I wanted to write musicals, I decided that my way would be to combine those two worlds, and prove that any situation, no matter how naturalistic, could sing.
My writing partner and I call what we want to do "kitchen sink musicals" - they don’t have helicopters, but are still emotionally viable. I kind of got that idea from being around musicals so much in high school, and loving them but not really connecting with much besides Rent, which completely changed my life when I heard it in 7th grade.
When I got to U of M, my interest in writing only grew. A big reason was because a student production company there called “Basement Arts” let me produce Glory Days (in an early, embarrassing form, when it was titled ASS BACKWARDS) for 3 nights. It totally re-infected me with the idea that I could write AND perform, and that was what was going make me happy.
What songwriters are your most significant influences?
As I said before, rock music is a huge inspiration to me - but especially writers from this generation like John Mayer and Jason Mraz are doing things that give me so much hope for what’s possible to create under the umbrella of "pop music."
In terms of musical theatre, the one and only Stephen Sondheim is a
pretty amazing teacher just by way of listening to his shows. There
are a ton of other musical theatre composers I really admire - but
another huge inspiration in my life are my friends who also write
music: Benj Pasek, Brian Mazzaferri, Zia Hassan, Danica Dora
and Theo Klose, just to name a few. They INCREDIBLE talents who
constantly influence the way I think about writing music. It's the
best feeling in the world to be most inspired by the people who are
closest to you; it’s definitely true for me these days.
What performers are your most significant influences?
Edward Norton, Matt Damon, Norbert Leo Butz, Brian d'arcy James, Tom Hanks - guys who seem like good guys, who have discretion in the stuff they choose to work on, and who give their all to it. Again, I could name a million people my age who inspire me in that same way - it's really hard to be young and make an impression in this city. So many of my buddies are out there doing just that, and it's so inspiring.
What were you out of town experiences like with "Cry Baby," and "Glory Days?"
They were both dreams. I’d never been out of town with a show before Cry Baby, and literally the day I finished the run I went into rehearsals for Glory Days in DC; it was kind of the perfect crash course.
Cry Baby tried out at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, which is one of the most gorgeous, luxurious towns in America; it was like vacation. I actually spent most of my time there working on Glory Days, but when I wasn’t working there were palm trees and 80-degree weather to reap the benefits of. Not to mention a really fantastic group of people working at one of the most technically advanced, prestigious regional theatres in the country on a new John Waters musical! Like I said, a dream.
We changed a lot out of town with Cry Baby and it made me realize how much you can’t have an ego about your work as a writer - that you have to let stuff go if it’s not working - and that was a great lesson to bring with me to DC.
We did our Glory Days tryout at the Signature Theatre, where our director Eric is Artistic Director. It was like a Frat house - 8 guys and 1 girl in a room just telling poo jokes, laughing so hard every day, and learning so much about each other. And in the process putting together a better version of the show than I ever could have dreamed existed. It was the most fulfilling few months of my life.
How will you juggle performing eight shows a week in Cry Baby, with readying Glory Days for its Broadway bow?
Oh it's going to be awesome! The people at Cry Baby are being so wonderfully accommodating to let me even TRY doing both, since I am most definitely under contract with them first. Basically I’ll be at Cry Baby (since we're in previews) from 1-5 every day for rehearsal, and then at the shows at night, and then working on Glory Days every other minute of the day that I’m not sleeping.
It’s going to be a lot, yea, but I’m 23 and its the freaking chance of a lifetime so I’m not gonna let being "tired" get in the way. The double duty time only really criss-crosses for a month, so it's probably just gonna be the coolest, most ridiculous month of my life. I can’t believe I’m getting a chance to do this.
(A little signage at the Broadway home for Glory Days.)
Have there been any significant changes to the material since the DC premiere of Glory Days?
There probably won’t be a lot of huge things changed in between DC and when we open up here. Mainly because the show is what it is: it's a small story with big themes, and we could keep tweaking it until we're blue in the face but that kind of editing could compromise the chemistry that our incredible four actors have found with each other. That is the most important element of the show - much more important than us being clever or figuring out the most intelligent rhymes. So we're being really careful.
I’m rewriting one song and there will be small tweaks, but we were really proud of the show in DC, and are really proud to bring that production to NY, and see if this town can relate to it.
What type of changes will the Glory Days undergo to play in such an atypical theater as Circle in the Square?
As of now, the plan is to transplant the set and lighting design from the DC production straight to Circle, and thankfully, it sounds like its going to fit in there perfectly! The show was directed in a thrust configuration and that's exactly what Circle is, so it really couldn’t be more perfect for that space. I can’t wait to be in there and see it - its such a dream come true.
How many times a day do you pinch yourself?
1,000,000,000 times a day! Pretty much anytime anyone says anything about it. This is the biggest, greatest surprise I could have ever imagined, and I never expected it in a million years - so right now it's just about trying to prepare myself for whatever's to come. But as I do, I keep pinching myself because I GET to prepare for THIS. I would never let myself dream this big, and now that it's coming true, all I can do is pinch…and go to the theatre, I guess.