Sleeping Beauty Wakes: The view from tech rehearsals.

We’re in the darkened theatre–the big proscenium stage of the Weiss Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse. We stay in this dark room for 10-12 hours a day now, with brief 10-minute breaks every hour or so when they turn on the house lights on and we go outside to get a moment of beautiful Southern California sunshine. Read More »

Nice mention of Wheelhouse and our upcoming writers’ retreat on

Check it out:

We’re in pretty august company, and it’s nice to read that Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses’ terrific piece “Nobody Loves You” is getting more work time at the Rhinebeck retreat AND is getting a production at the Old Globe. Val and I will be there with bells on–this show kicks butt.

Gene at Carnegie Hall with Audra McDonald and NY Philharmonic on PBS TONIGHT, 5/31

Carnegie Hall

Gene writes: On May 5th, I performed with Audra McDonald and the NY Philharmonic at the 120th Anniversary gala at Carnegie Hall.  Audra performed 4 pieces from a Duke Ellington suite, 3 of which I play on.  I work regularly with Audra, and it’s always a thrill, but in this case it was sorta a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Check out the broadcast tonight, May 31! photo exclusive “Backstage at SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES”

Check it out!

PHOTO EXCLUSIVE: Backstage at Sleeping Beauty Wakes With Aspen Vincent and Bryce Ryness

Aspen Vincent and Bryce Ryness take on an exclusive backstage tour of the new musical Sleeping Beauty Wakes, currently playing New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre prior to a summer La Jolla Playhouse run. The electric, quirky modern fairytale features a score by GrooveLily’s Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda. Read the story.

Bryce and Aspen


Val radio interview about SBW tonight 6:05 PM EST/3:05 PM PST

Hi all! I’ve spoken to Victoria Ann & Rosalind Davis many times on their fun radio show “The Lowdown,” and I am looking forward to chatting again today. We’ll be talking about SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES, among other topics – and doing a ticket giveaway.

Here’s where and how to listen and win some free tix!
Listen live online:
Listen on the actual radio: 89.7 FM (Sergeantsville, NJ area)

6:05 PM EST/3:05 PM PST
We’ll be chatting for about half an hour.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes: video trailer!

Sleeping Beauty Wakes at McCarter, 0 Days to Opening: Letter to an aspiring musical theater composer.

I’ve often wanted to get a time machine and at the very least, send a message to my former self. If I could, it would go something like this:

Dear 16-year-old Brendan,

Congratulations. You’ve written your first song for a musical. You’ve recognized that pop songs in and of themselves are too limiting for you, and you feel you’ve exhausted the subject matter of teenage unrequited love. (You haven’t yet–you just think you have–but that’s another story.)

You are about to embark on an extremely difficult journey. Most people who write musicals do not make a living at it. Very few new musicals are produced, and with each passing year the cost of mounting one becomes more prohibitive. You’re going to study writing musical theater, and you’re going to learn a lot–but you’re also going to go into debt to do so. You’ll be freaked out by how long it takes to get a musical on stage–how many years and how much faith and trust from how many people–it will feel like an impossible task.

You will tuck your tail between your legs and try several times to do something else to make your way through the world.

Each time, you will find that you’re really not suited to anything else, and you don’t have a choice in the matter.

You will learn countless very painful lessons along the way.

Finally, when you’re 39 years old (and nearing 40), you will have figured a few crucial things out:

  • Having people respect you is more important than having people like you.
  • Respect is the most important ingredient in a good collaboration.
  • You need other people to collaborate with. If you try to do everything yourself, your work will suffer.
  • You must not ever work with people you don’t respect, or who have no respect for you.
  • Nothing worth doing comes easy.
  • The very, very, very best feeling in the world is the feeling of a group of people all working together towards the same end: making something great. And the way that you’re going to find this is writing songs for characters in dramatic situations, and helping to bring them to life on stage.

And this is the feeling that your almost-40-year-old self is feeling today, as an 8-person musical with a 5-piece band is opening at a respected regional theater. You are feeling the best feeling in the world.

Remember to enjoy that feeling when it comes.


your future self

Say You Do is screening on May 15th…

Jimmy Ray Bennett in "Say You Do"

Interestingly, the 10-minute movie musical that Val and I wrote music and lyrics to, and that Val and Gene and I played on the soundtrack of (along with Chris Tarrow and Sean Flahaven), and that Jimmy Ray Bennett starred in–well, it’s getting screened on Sunday, May 15th in NYC. Admission is free, and if you’re in town (which we unfortunately won’t be) you oughta go.

Jimmy won’t be able to make it either, because he’s busy starring in this little musical that’s happening in Princeton. If you can go, see below for details.

Ace Hotel & RIPFEST


Musical Selections from RIPFEST

Come see some of our best, funniest, and most provocative musical short films – some going back to the early RIPFEST years!

Sunday, May 15th 2011

Liberty Hall @ Ace Hotel

20 W 29th Street

btwn Broadway & 5th Ave


No Admission Fee

Q & A to follow with Select Filmmakers

Food & Drink available for purchase.


All are welcome! Bring friends, supporters, fellow filmmakers! We may be screening your film!

Please RSVP to

influences: Phoebe Snow.

Phoebe Snow is dead. Amidst all the other news going on, and our myopic focus on our show 24/7, I failed to notice until today that Phoebe Snow died on April 27, just about a week ago.

In 2002, I was at a recording studio in Englewood, New Jersey, overseeing the digital transfer of some multitrack tapes for “just the three of us,” and Phoebe Snow was in the next studio, recording. I actually got to shake her hand, profess my love for her voice, and got to hear some music she was working on. I was on cloud nine.

In my miniscule spare time these past weeks, I’ve been staying up late, poking through iTunes, flitting about on youtube, listening to songs. I’m surprised at how much I have been influenced by certain recordings, and how the recordings have seeped into me until I can’t even remember the source of the music that comes out of me–but then I happen upon one of these records and the floodgates open and I realize–I have made these songs a part of me and now I’m reworking them into something new. You could call it borrowing or theft, but I prefer to think of it as unconscious homage, which I think is the best kind. (As long as it doesn’t get me into copyright infringement. See George Harrison and “My Sweet Lord” for a cautionary tale.)

Yesterday afternoon, before a meeting with writers and producer and director, Mara’s husband had put on XTC’s Oranges and Lemons, and the song “Across This Antheap” was playing–and the gorgeous, mournful end of the song has EXACTLY the same family tree as the chorus of “Can You Cure Me, ” our opening number for Sleeping Beauty Wakes. (not the one on the GrooveLily record—the new one that you can hear in the show.) But it didn’t occur to me, because I haven’t heard this song since 1989 or 1990 when it came out and I wore out my double-disc vinyl album.

And this morning I discovered that Phoebe Snow had died, and I was slammed in the head with a memory of the entire recording of Paul Simon’s “Gone at Last,” my favorite track from “Still Crazy After All These Years.” When I was four years old my mom and I had just moved to San Francisco and we were a single parent/single kid family for the first time. This album came out in October of 1975, a couple of months after we moved, and my mom picked up a copy soon after it came out. I would put this record on the record player and drop the needle on “Gone at Last” and dance around and around, and then CAREFULLY lift the needle and start the song over.

The night was black, the roads were icy
Snow was fallin’, drifts were high
And I was weary, from my driving
And I stopped to rest for a while
I sat down at a truck stop
I was thinking about my past
I’ve had a long streak of bad luck
But I’m praying it’s gone at last

In retrospect, I think my mom didn’t mind my dogged determination to hear this song over and over because in some sense it applied to her, to us, to anyone who has been in difficult circumstances and is hoping that things are going to get better. And dancing in circles with me around the living room of our little apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco, I think she too was wondering if we were about to see our streak of bad luck end. Dancing around the room helped, anyway.

Paul Simon’s song is wonderful, subtle, and tasty gospel pop. Richard Tee’s piano playing is subLIME, and I think was an early indicator to me that I needed to become a piano player. But Phoebe Snow’s vocal on the 2nd verse and onward, when she takes on the CHARACTER of the WAITRESS in the TRUCK STOP is AWESOME. This may have been my first indication that a pop song could be used to tell a story. Either way, I love the song, I miss Richard Tee’s piano playing, and I will always miss Phoebe Snow’s voice.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes at McCarter, 7 Days to Opening: Sigh of relief, followed by a calm intake of breath indicating dawning knowledge of what’s left to do…

That's what they'll say.
Image stolen, with love and respect, from Phil Foglio,

The night before last was a dress rehearsal where everything seemed to be so far from good that we’d never fix it and we were doomed. “People will laugh at us,” we said. “Critics will excoriate us. Audiences will say to each other ‘Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haa. What a stinker that was.'”

And then last night, an invited dress rehearsal with a small but appreciative audience, had SO MUCH that was SO GOOD that I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. Act 1 is kicking ass. The storytelling through scene and song and movement and mise-en-scene is WORKING, PEOPLE.

And Act 2 has large swaths that we haven’t tech’ed quite as much as we’d like–and some underrehearsed transitions showed us how much we have left to do. The bones of the show that was working so beautifully in our last rehearsal room run are all there–but somewhere in all that we have done to put it on stage, we have lost some ground…and now that it’s all up in front of us with technical elements, we can see more things we need to fix.

Seven days and six previews remain until we open.

Tonight is our first preview, the first time a paying audience will see this madness that we have wrought.