BWW Interviews Randy Schmeling of The ’70s Songbook
Kristen Montag, Broadway World Minneapolis 10/8/15
James Rocco and the Ordway’s Broadway Songbook® series have been seen in this space many times before. Usually, the shows are a virtual musical theatre master class with a local slate of triple threats. This time is no exception, but The ’70s Songbook is a slightly different show, just as the decade was a slightly different musical theatre experience. Cue the Disco beat. (Or maybe not!)
A face familiar to regular Songbook goers, and to many others who’ve watched shows from stages across the Twin Cities, is tackling some of the tunes as the series commences this fall. Randy Schmeling offered a little insight into the latest show and his busy career in this edition of Six Questions & a Plug:
You’ve been part of a couple other Broadway Songbook® series performances as well as many other shows at the Ordway and other theaters all over town. What is different about this particular series, covering the songs of Broadway in the 1970s? What sort of changes do you sense happened during that time of musical theatre history?
This Songbook focuses less on specific Broadway shows and instead highlights the work of the great singer/songwriters of the ’70s. Before then, Broadway influenced popular music. That changed in the ’70s when Broadway was struggling. The introspection of the popular songwriters lead to the creation of non-linear concept musicals, which in turn lead to a resurgence on Broadway. A Chorus Line is a great example.
Can you give us an example or two of songs you’ll perform? And, any insight you want to share about the show?
The songs that James Rocco and Jeff Scott have chosen for me this time around highlight a softer side of my voice than in previous Songbooks. “Fill In The Words” from They’re Playing Our Song is a good example, as is “Traffic Jam” from Working. But they’ve also got me stretching my range in “Eli’s Coming.” The chance to sing so many different styles is one of the things that draws me to the Songbook series.
How is working on this series the same or different than doing regular musical plays? Do you think these shows are more of a draw for non-musical theatre people who may want to sample and learn more about it?
This Songbook, even more than the others I’ve done, is set up more like a concert. There’s very little in terms of staging and choreography. We’re really trying to highlight the music of the great singer/songwriters of the ’70s by letting the songs speak for themselves. This is much different than doing, say, The Pirates of Penzance, which is all about creating a specific world on stage with costumes, choreography, dynamic lighting, etc. Songbooks are challenging in a different way because you have less support from a technical aspect, which can make you feel quite vulnerable at times.
To answer your second question, I believe the Songbook series is equally enjoyable for those new to the genre of musical theater as well as the longtime fans. With this particular Songbook, fans of the Musical genre will gain insight into the music of the ’70s and fans of the music will gain insight into the Musical genre. It’s a music history lesson as much as a theater history lesson.
With the resume you’ve built, anyone who has attended a show in the area in the past several years is bound to recognize you. Which shows have been favorites of yours, and why?
This is such a tough question to answer. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on so many excellent shows with so many excellent theaters. A Christmas Carole Petersen and Violet with Theater Latte Da come to mind, as do The Pirates of Penzance and Rocky Horror with the Ordway. My personal favorite has to be POWER BALLADZ, which I hope to have a chance to perform again some day. And while it may sound like I’m pandering, the Songbook series has been so fulfilling and can definitely be counted amongst my favorite shows. But, really, any chance to be on stage is a gift.
How did you get started in Minneapolis/Saint Paul musical theatre professionally, and if you trained, where and what did you go to school for?
I started performing in 2001 after graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College with a Theater degree. My first two shows were at Theatre in the Round: Ten November and She Loves Me.
Do you have any advice for the many aspiring musical theatre actors coming up the ranks about how to have a long and varied career in this area?
Just follow the work and see where it takes you. Be easy to work with. And nurture your relationships with family and friends, they will help you through the hard times.
Time for a plug: What’s your next project?
THE SOUND OF MUSIC at the Ordway. Don’t miss it!