Cooking up a lovely musical

Art Work for Jilted to Perfection (2).jpgAcclaimed opera singer Debra Cook’s musical love letter to her departed husband is a featured event of the NYNW Theatre Festival.


The New York New Works Theatre Festival
The Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Friday, September 7 @ 7 p.m. and Saturday, September 15 @ 2 p.m.

20120730_134828 (1).jpgMs. Cook is a celebrated opera singer and musical educator in Utah. She is a founding Board Member of Opera West and winner of the American Opera Auditions, U.S.A. World Showcase, and a regional finalist for the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, Cook has done opera and concert work throughout the United States, including solo performances with the National Choral Society at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Utah Symphony, and several seasons in repertory with Utah Opera Company. She performed off-Broadway and was featured as Roxanne in Stuart Crane’s cast recording of Cyrano.

Her original musical serves as a joyous melodious one-act and a catharsis.

Debra, a shamed and divorced Mormon mother, recounts the first sight of a strange and older man, Fred, who seems to know her already. Both working as extras in an opera, Fred claims that Debra is his “true wife,” and pursues her despite her fears, her missed dates, and her protestations. He steals a kiss that is like no other, and Debra’s passion fights with practicality.

Her 30-minute musical packs a lot in it time on stage so we wanted to hear from the author/composer herself.

Tell Us About Yourself as an Artist.

I love the term, “Artist, and it used to feel so sacred to me, only reserved to those of great prominence. Yet, I believe we are all artists, creators, at the very core. As creators, we shape art and lives by categorizing and then specifying what we will do, then refining by repeating that process over and over. Although we are taught to be original thinkers, our society often expects us to “tow the line.” Thus, claiming Artist status for the people in the middle is often a pejorative term, mostly because of the difficultly of monetizing Art. We confuse the viability of being an Artist is our society with its monetary value. Yet, the Artist is of prime value, the underpinning of what makes us a civilization, and it is of great value to our spirit and quality of life.

With that said, I am about promoting the value of art through education and performance, not only through the cliche’s of discipline and self-confidence, but through the critical place we have as Artists in our world. The Artist can be a child, like my 6 year old granddaughter, McKinslee, who sings at the end of this show. Her simple singing performances have brought stories of happiness and kindness to those I never knew before.

I am the executive Director of a performing arts school, Utah Conservatory. With over 400 students a week making music, we see our efforts build a supportive culture, provide precious family memories, and encounter a microcosm of our Park City community, a laboratory, you might say, of sharing ideas and challenges, and having a safe environment to make mistakes and weigh a variety of choices, and to build artists, one performer at a time.

In terms of my past experiences, I started as an opera singer, often encouraged to cross-over to musical theatre, and even taught musical theatre as faculty for an Actor Training Program at the University of Utah. Fred, the subject of “Jilted to Perfection: A MorMom’s Love,” was my greatest mentor as as Artist. I feel his understanding of performing, as well as his seminal work as an educator and teacher, shaped the artist I am today. In creating and performing “Jilted to Perfection: A MorMom’s Love,” my goal is to honor Fred and his exemplary lifetime of taking risks through embarking on new creative adventures. His is an authentic example of an Artist.

Jilted Art Work Fred & Mckinslee (1).jpg

This play is autobiographical in many ways? How does it feel to “relive” your life … with music.

It feels great! How? Music adds what I sense is an added dimension to communication. Expressing a viewpoint through music can be an effective conduit to high and delightful levels of awareness, recognitions that one might not experience otherwise. Through music, I find we can express the “essence of our experiences” without having to write a “novel” of words to find the same recognitions. Thus, music is more efficient and helpful, at least for me, to find a common thread of experience that the listener can share or understand on a level that is not solely intellectual. The “re-liveing” of this autobiographical piece is a joy, because music is effective in leading us to moments of significance in the human experience….moments of significance that most of us share in one way or another. And, if my story can help the “judicious one” (as Shakespeare put it) to find some joy in the ironies of life, to see the adventure in our challenges, to break down stereotypes towards our common humanity, or to find a little more joy, or to experience a catharsis through laughter and/or pain…..well, that helps me feel purpose about sharing through with very vulnerable activity.

Difficult topic … adding in humor and music. What was your thought process?

This was a fun process for me. You get so many recognitions about life through humor. which is reality on steroids. The humor works with irony, and life is, indeed, full of it. What might be irritating or tragic, can be assuaged through finding the irony. Think about your last accident and the smile you have in the retelling of it. What was once so painful is an adventure to retell, a victory to survive, and often funny in the retelling of the craziness of what you went through. If we can find humor, we can survive.

Is this your first festival? How has it been?  

I was in the festival last year after 4 years working on the creative team of  Sleepy Hollow: The Musical, and asked to help out as Music Director and lending a hand with related production aspects. I loved being part of the festival last year, especially because I learned so much about the process. First of all, producer, Gene Fisch, who started this festival as a “give-back” project for our theatre community, is a dream for all of we creatives.  He has provided us with “the real deal” in terms of the festival opportunities to develop and present new works.  He has lowered the cost and upped the quality and exposure for Festivals through his sponsorship.  A rare gift and a privilege.  

What made you want to write a play and what have you learned from the experience?

After last year’s festival, there was a challenge that I might have something of value in this story, and, certainly, we all have to start somewhere, right? And actually, I almost fainted when getting the call that the work had made it into the festival. Not only because it was the first musical where I wrote the music and lyrics, but because it is such an honor to play in this sandbox with other artists, many of high reputation. From the experience thus far, I’ve learned that you need a team. Thus, the concept was hammered out by two friends who might be able to tell their own stories is a more expanded version of the piece. Team members include a director, Kathy Morath, music advisors and coaches, a music copyist, a producing organization of Professional Artists Group to manage all the business of creating, JMAE for promotional assistance, and the list goes on. I learned that writing your own piece is extremely vulnerable, even stressful. That’s humbling, This new stress can tempt me into grumpiness, and if I get surly with people, it belies the very reason to enhance our lives through the play. We’ll see if it works, but my goal in this whole process will be to prove that “people are more important than the process” and, hopefully, I’ll be treated the same way. If not, I’m a big girl and can still have a great time working through it.

What’s next?

What’s next is, hopefully, moving this “Jilted to Perfection” A MorMom’s Love,” forward. It is a show that really only needs a piano, and can be performed in a intimate room or a big stage, so it’s pretty easy to repeat and refine. After the two showings through NYNW Theatre festival of “Jilted to Perfection: A MorMom’s Love,” at the Acorn Theatre at 7 PM on Friday, September 7, and 2 PM on Saturday, September 15, we just booked the show at the Triad Theatre on 72nd Street for 3 PM, Sunday, November 18, where I’ll present this mini-musical version of the show, sharing the afternoon with cabaret singer/songwriter Teresa Eggersten-Cooke’s smokey standards and original work. In December, it’s back to concert work, singing Messiah solos with American West Symphony, along with lots of music-making at Utah Conservatory, everything from rocks bands to preparing students for college auditions and community musicals.

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