Hartford Examiner Interviews K-L
August 11, 2011
By Andrew Beck
August 9, 2011 – Just as Samantha Brown, the heroine of a new musical now being workshopped at Goodspeed Musicals, waits with trepidation and anticipation as she prepares to leave home for college, the writing-composing team of Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan wait with equally bated breath as they prepare to see their show take flight through August 28 on the stage of the Norma Terris Theater in Chester, CT.
“The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown” reflects a major step forward for the young composing team who in recent years have developed an avid following in New York music and cabaret circles. Although they have written a popular children’s musical, “Henry and Mudge,” that is now touring the United States by the New York based troupe Theaterworks USA, and their first CD, “Our First Mistake” has just debuted, “Samantha Brown” represents their first “grown-up” musical to receive a fully-stage production. Yes, they have written other shows that have been workshopped at various venues including the New York Musical Theater Festival and Goodspeed’s own Festival of New Artists, but their fan base has grown largely because of their own appearances in the City and through performances by any number of popular singers who have included covers of Kerrigan-Lowdermilk music in their acts.
In fact, many knowledgeable New Yorkers look to Kerrigan-Lowdermilk as the leading rising musical theater team now writing. That’s quite a burden for a young team to bear, but their admirers claim that the quality of their prodigious output justifies that claim. Both Kerrigan and Lowdermilk are much more down to earth than such acclaim may indicate and, while genuinely grateful for their following, just seem pleased that their work has touched a particular, special audience: younger professionals who understand and relate to the issues and rhythms explored in their work.
“We are very committed to a generation that to an extent has had a hard time taking action,” Kerrigan explains. ” A lot of people our age or younger have had things spelled out for them, from parents’ expectations to test scores, with a lot of pressure to do what other people say they are supposed to do. One’s own identity can get lost in this shuffle and not know why you are doing things.”
That appears to be the dilemma faced by their title character in the Goodspeed work. The musical finds Samantha Brown sitting in her driveway in her fully-packed car on the morning she is supposed to be leaving for college. As she reviews the events of her senior year, from the loss of a close friendship, the discovery of first love and her relationship with her parents, she realizes that she is now faced with making the first crucial decision of her life–is college the direction in which she really wants to go?
According to Kerrigan, 30, she knew a lot of young people who went to college who never really belonged there. “I wanted the opportunity,” she stressed. “I really wanted to go. I was determined to go somewhere very academic. People who didn’t want to pursue academics perhaps could have better benefited from taking a year off to learn more about themselves and see how the world really worked.”
Lowdermilk, 28, cites his own story as an example of someone needing to figure out what they want to do. He spent a year at Harvard University, but dropped out in order to actively pursue a musical and theatrical career in New York. I was able to work for free with composers and learn about the theater in that way and spend time with actual musicians, which I found very valuable.”
The collaborators believe ultimately that the story of Samantha Brown has universal appeal for all audiences. “It’s really a coming of age story,” Lowdermilk explains. “It’s about a moment that everyone experiences in their lives and one that people will experience over and over again as they try to take control of your future. Sam is trying to make a decision that is not truly popular with her family and that is something that everyone can relate to. We are taking a specific situation and by the end it takes on greater significance.”
Kerrigan and Lowdermilk both hail from Pennsylvania, he from the greater Philadelphia area and she from the northeastern Wyoming Valley. Their paths first crossed at a summer theater camp where they appeared in some of the same productions, but they really didn’t reconnect until both were living in New York. By then, Kerrigan had graduated from Barnard College and was writing plays, while Lowdermilk was working on musicals. Kerrigan’s step-mother, who was Lowdermilk’s mother’s masseuse, suggested that the two should get together. Impressed with each other’s work, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk started collaborating with the result being “The Woman Upstairs,” which itself paved new trails in the musical genre in that its main character never sings.
Although Kerrigan tends to focus more on the words and Lowdermilk on the music, Lowdermilk points out that “we go back and forth, supporting each other. Kait sometimes will take the lead; sometimes I will. Since we’re in the same room, we’ve figured out different ways to work together.” Kerrigan is quick to pipe in and stress that “we’ve learned to trust the process and let it work out.” Lowdermilk is a self-taught pianist and has written five musicals, including “Reds” with Marcus Stevens, which won both of them a prestigious Alan Mencken Award. Kerrigan has written several plays, including one which was nominated for a Princess Grace Award, and has played the violin since she was three years of age. In addition, they both have proven to be quite adept at performing their music live, garnering them a loyal and devoted following.
They cite as influences the musical writing teams of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime,” “Once on This Island,” “My Favorite Year”) and Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford (“I’ve Got My Act Together and Am Taking It on the Road”), who served as mentors and guides into the musical theater world of New York.
That’s perhaps one reason why Kerrigan and Lowdermilk relate so well to young people and indeed have accumulated a great many younger fans. The two are well known (and much appreciated) for their willingness to take the time to respond to their young fans, especially those who are interested in pursuing careers in music. “I’ve taught at Young Playwrights,” Kerrigan indicates. “I have four students with whom I have developed a recurring, long-term relationship with. All are talented playwrights and I am enjoying watching them grow and getting better. They are all smart writers and I’m looking forward to see what happens.”
Lowdermilk also tries to help younger artists out, just as he was helped by composer Jason Robert Brown (“Parade,” Goodspeed’s “13″). “I like meeting the next generation of theater artists,” he says, ” and help connect them to other eager artists, just as Kait and I came together.” One notices that on their message boards, both Kerrigan and Lowdermilk spend considerable time with prospective artists, responding at length to questions and offering appropriate encouragement.
Their first CD, “Our First Mistake,” was developed in part in response to fan requests for more of their music. A formidable cast of up and coming Broadway professionals, among them Kelli O’Hara of “South Pacific,” Matt Doyle who is currently in “The War Horse,” and Meghann Fahy who stars in “Samantha Brown” at the Goodspeed, cover a number of songs from the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk canon, including several from “Samantha Brown.” A sample of some of the music is available on their website.
Kerrigan and Lowdermilk are also pleased with the work of director Dan Goldstein who they consider an equal collaborator in the further development and refining of their work as it is readied for a full-scale professional production. The two writer/composers have been busy tweaking and making adjustments to the show as it prepared for the start of its month-long engagement.
As an example of the type of following that Kerrigan-Lowdermilk enjoy, a number of their New York fans have been making the trek up to Chester to view the latest version of “Samantha Brown.” The duo hopes that they’ll be obtaining even more followers from the Connecticut audiences that come to see the show. At least Connecticut audiences will learn what all the hub-bub is surrounding this team, who Talkin’ Broadway has called “perhaps the most important young writers in musical theatre today; they have a gift for connection and emotional insight not matched by many of their colleagues.”
Performances are Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 3 p.m, and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. For tickets, call 860.873.8668 or visit goodspeed.org.