Lansing City Pulse
Groovelily returns to the Creole with new stories, CD
November 12, 2003
By Elaine Yaw
For a band that isn’t signed to a label, Groovelily has a lot going on. And “a lot” is a major understatement. Touring, playing, acting, recording and being on TV. All packed into 12 months.
Here’s the breakdown. The trio of Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin is always on the road. This Saturday (Nov. 15) the road leads to Lansing when they return to the Creole Gallery, where they had a sold-out show last year.
What’s happened in that year? After leaving Lansing last November, the band headed to Philadelphia for the production of “Striking 12: The Groovelily Holiday Show.” This year, the musical theater production continues in San Diego, keeping the group in one place for six weeks (with rehearsals beginning Nov. 18 and the show running Dec. 7-31). “It’s so exciting for us because most of the time we’re on the road, packing and unpacking,” Vigoda said via phone while waiting to catch a flight from New York to Las Vegas. “Our stuff is set up and it stays there.” This year the show combines the music of Groovelily with the story “The Little Match Girl.”
Milburn plays a grumpy guy who doesn’t want to go out. Vigoda plays a woman who goes door-to-door selling special lightbulbs to combat seasonal affective disorder. “He slams the door in my face,” Vigoda said. “It reminds him of ‘The Little Match Girl.’ So he digs out the story and begins to read.” Thus, Milburn becomes the narrator and Vigoda the little match girl.
“Although it’s an incredibly tragic story,” she said, “the show is uplifting and funny. It’s kind of a new thing. It’s our brand of smart pop rock music brought to the theater.”
Another big deal for the group is its new CD, “Are We There Yet,” which came out two months ago. It’s songs will likely make up most of the Creole show, though if you beg, maybe they’ll give you a slice of “Striking 12.”
A third biggie is that Vigoda appeared in Time, Sports Illustrated and People – and is now featured in national TV ads – for the Department of Defense.
Before you start labeling her, stop. She’s not a warmonger. She’s hardly political. But she was in the Army through ROTC at Princeton. And the Department of Defense was looking for a few good people who went on to creative careers after the military. That would be Vigoda for sure. She joined the Army for the scholarship money, making a very expensive school affordable for her family.
What does she really think about it all? “Wars and conflicts are not going to go away,” she said. “And I am 100 percent in favor of having the best possible minds and bodies in our military. Part of the idea of this campaign is that it’s not only for people who have no other option. Some people did have other options.”
The “be all you can be” jingle really carried with her. “That kind of adversity – even if it’s just simulated in training – can really help you,” she said about her Army experience. “I was out of shape until I joined. Not only did it make me feel great physically but helped me feel like a more powerful person — the way I carry myself. I feel like a better performer.” It also taught her humility and discipline. It was easy to adapt to at 18. Now, at 36, she knows it would be tough.
There are no “war is beautiful” lyrics with Groovelily. Though once the ads appeared, she did get a few angry e-mails from fans who aren’t fans anymore. “In my mind, they couldn’t distinguish between my life experience and sharing that — and being proud of something that is trying to bring the best and brightest into our military – and something political,” she said.
One disclaimer about Groovlily: Sure there’s an electric violin (the Viper), a keyboard and drums. The trio looks totally hip in their promo photos, and they are. But this is not Bitch and Animal. This is not Lyndell Montgomery and Ember Swift. Basically, this music is not political; it’s more lyrical. It’s very rehearsed.
That’s likely from their background in theater. Milburn has a master’s in musical theater writing. Vigoda and Lewin were in the Triangle Club at Princeton, a theater group.
“Acting and singing … in some ways that has been a blessing and a curse,” Vigoda said, which takes us back to that no label thing. “People in the industry would say ‘I don’t know how to market this – it’s so Broadway.’ It’s sort of a stigma. I guess we can’t help it. We are very lyric oriented. We are very into rehearsed music.”
Well, what’s wrong with that? Nothing. And until Groovelily finds the right fit, they’ll keep putting out their own CDs and promoting their own shows. And hopefully, coming to the Creole Gallery.