Duncan Sheik will perform at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, June 19. The singer-songwriter/composer has worn many musical hats since rising to prominence in 1996 with his Grammy-nominated single “Barely Breathing”—from penning and performing memorable songs to composing musicals, such as the Tony-winning Spring Awakening.
Spring Awakening, a rock musical adaptation of a 19th century German drama by Frank Wedekind, opened on Broadway to rave reviews in 2006. “It was a very happy accident. I was not actively trying to jump into the musical world by any stretch,” says Sheik. Writer/lyricist Steven Sater came to Sheik with the idea. “I knew [Sater] because we were both Buddhists and we got to talking, and to make a very long story very short, he gave me the play and thought we should adapt it into a musical. At that moment, I wasn’t a huge fan of musical theater. I would generally go to plays.” But Sheik and Sater continued to discuss the project. “We kept talking about it and came up with a concept that worked—what if you did a piece of musical theater that is stylistically much closer to what people listen to on their iPods?”
The project paid off. Spring Awakening won eight Tony awards including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, the Grammy award for Musical Show Album, the Olivier award for Best Musical and several Drama Desk and Outer Critics awards. The show’s Broadway run ended in 2009, but it has continued to play around the country and the world. “It’s still going,” Sheik marvels. “I just got back from Los Angeles; there’s a great production out there. I saw that there have been 136 productions of the show here [in the USA] in the last year. It’s really cool.”
Spring Awakening opened the floodgates for Sheik to work and collaborate on several other musical theater projects, including Whisper House, Alice by Heart and American Psycho, for which he wrote the music and lyrics. Based on the disturbing 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho tells the story of Patrick Bateman’s daily life as an investment banker who moonlights as a sadistic serial killer. “We just did American Psycho in London, and it was a big hit. The London production starred Matt Smith, who played the beloved Eleventh Doctor on BBC’s Doctor Who. “We’re kind of getting ready to bring it to Broadway,” Sheik says. “It will be [tentatively] opening in early ’16, and I’m currently finishing up the cast album from London, which should come out soon.”
This July, Sheik and writing partner Kyle Jarrow will debut Noir as part of the New York Stage and Film Powerhouse Theater series. Inspired by radio plays and classic film noir of old, Noir features an original story conceived by Jarrow. “I think Kyle and I both have an interest in noir stuff,” Sheik says. “We thought we would try doing a musical with those tropes and keep it film noir-style.” But like Spring Awakening, the music doesn’t necessarily fit the time period of the story. “There’s some torch song moments, some ballads, but I’ve been on this technology kick lately, so there’s a hybrid of modern and more traditional [musical styles].” Despite his huge list of musical theater projects, Sheik hasn’t forgotten about his solo work, which jumpstarted his prolific career in the 1990s. “There hasn’t been a normal Duncan Sheik album since 2006, which seems crazy to me,” he says, noting that his last record in 2011 was a cover album. Sheik is excited to release his new record, Legerdemain, later this year.
When Sheik performs at WHBPAC on June 19, fans can look forward to an eclectic evening comprised of songs from Sheik’s entire library of work. “There’s the three sets of music. A third is theater, a third is my backlog of songs and a third is new songs from Legerdemain. It’s a high class problem of having a lot of songs in my body of work and figuring out what works,” he laughs.
Duncan Sheik performs at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St, Westhampton Beach, on Friday, June 19. For tickets ($55, $60, $65) and more information go to whbpac.org.