Next up we catch up with Solomon Hoffman and Nick Parker, CC’14, the creators of Lydia & Tom: A New Musical, which is having its premiere at the New York Fringe Festival this Friday at the 14th Street Y (344 E 14th Street) with a ton of Columbia students and alums [see list at end]. Tickets can be bought here and it will be performed on August 9, 10, 14, 18, and 24. So many chances to check it out! If you or a friend has been doing something cool this summer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bwog: When did you guys write this?
Solomon: We started in the spring of our sophomore year and we applied for a special project through CUPAL. We wanted to do a more serious, slice of life musical – less musical comedy. We wrote into the fall, started rehearsals in September, and the show opened in November.
Nick: I would stay up until 4 am writing a song, and Solomon would wake up at 8 and set it to music and bring it to rehearsal that same evening.
Solomon: We submitted the show to the Fringe Festival in February and found out we were accepted at the end of April. After our spring shows ended we started revising. We did a workshop in June to try out some new songs…a lot of which were cut. Immediately. At first we were just gonna do the original show, but we realized it was an opportunity to take it in a new direction. After the workshop we made our final decisions and from there we’ve just been writing…
Nick: …and writing, and writing.
Solomon: We listened to a version of a song from the November version and were saying to each other that there were inconsistencies with it. It’s kind of cool to see how much stronger the work is now.
Bwog: How did you initially pair up?
Solomon: In freshman year we lived on John Jay 5.
Solomon: I was involved in musical freshman year and Nick and I had a few late night conversations about writing.
Nick: I was friends with Solomon’s neighbor, who wrote musicals in high school. He was like “dude we should write a musical!” and I was like “yeah we totally should!” as a joke. Solomon overheard us talking about musicals and interpreted it in a serious way – while his neighbor was not serious and I kind of was. Solomon said I should try writing lyrics.
Solomon: We wrote XMAS!6 together and it was a lot of fun.
Bwog: How did you come up with the plot line?
Nick: We wanted a basic story that resonated with a lot of people our age. The two ideas we were working with were: what happens when you and your best friend go to college in two different places and grow into your own lives, and what happens when you fall for a friend or a friend falls for you and how complicated that can make things, even if you’re super close. I think something like that’s happened to all of us, on one side or the other. It’s really useful to draw from personal experiences.
Bwog: How is this process different than the Varsity Show?
Solomon: At Columbia, there’s a regular formula to doing a show. At Fringe, you could pester your friends to come see it, you can advertise to strangers, there’s a lot you can do. There’s a limit to how much set you can have.
Nick: Fundraising has been a challenge too, but luckily our producers have been handling that.
Solomon: Also on campus the show was free, but now we’re charging for tickets. So it’s like, “we better make this worth it.”
Nick: It’s been a challenge, but it’s been exciting. The idea that our show is going up in a theater that isn’t…in Lerner…that’s very, very cool.
Bwog: Are you working with people at the Fringe Festival for help?
Solomon: So the way the Fringe Festival works is they give you a space to do the show, some publicity—
Nick: And that’s it.
Solomon: It was up to us to find the team. We’re really lucky to have so many amazing friends at Columbia who are designers, directors, producers, and actors. At the workshop we had Columbia alums and students, a lot of whom have done the Varsity Show.
Bwog: Have you been talking to alums?
Solomon: Particularly Katie Hathaway, BC’10, and Ben Velez, CC’10, who wrote V114. They’ve written a few shows since then outside of school. In June I went to one of their workshops, and then they came to ours, and it was nice to have that connection.
Bwog: How many Columbians are involved?
Solomon: The only people not from Columbia are two cast members – one from NYU and one from Illinois.
Bwog: Is it the same crew from the original Lydia & Tom?
Solomon: The group has changed a lot. Our choreographer, Adrianna Aguilar, BC’13, and costume designer, Ilana Breitman, BC/JTS’13, were involved in both. But pretty much everyone else is people we’ve worked with before, but not on this show. Like Jiin Choi, CC’14, did V119 and is designing this show.
Nick: We have Lila Neiswanger, CC’12, and Mike Hsu, CC’12…
Solomon: And Victoria Pollack, BC’12, who have all had a year of professional experience, and it’s nice of them to bring that. It’s different actors than in the fall show, so we’re writing for them and reworking the songs.
Nick: That’s something I really enjoy doing. Having an actor’s face in my mind and knowing what they can do makes the show feel really integrated.
Solomon: I’m not a singer, so when I write a song, it sounds really bad when I try to sing it at the piano, so it’s awesome to go into rehearsal and teach the song. In a way that’s the first time I’m actually hearing it.
Bwog: How does it feel to be part of the tradition of post-V-Show success?
Nick: We have post-V-Show success?
Solomon: It’s really exciting! When I tell people who don’t go to Columbia that I go here, they always assume there’s no strong musical programming, and I get to say “no! We have this really cool tradition and guess who did it? Rodgers & Hammerstein, Tom Kitt…” actually I just saw this Off-Broadway show the other night and this guy who wrote the Varsity Show like 8 years ago was conducting.
Nick: It’s encouraging to see other people who did Varsity Show go on to write and have it work. Sometimes it feels like we’re on track for that. Other times it doesn’t. When you first get into Fringe it’s like “ohmygod!” and then when you get here, it’s a sea of 200 shows, and you’re wondering if anyone’s gonna notice yours.
Solomon: Especially because a lot of the other shows have people who have done Off-Broadway work.
Nick: And all of the titles are like “Sex!” “Zombies: The Musical!” “Zombies Kill Vampires!” So hopefully the understated thing will work for us.
Solomon: For us, from the Varsity Show, we knew this was something we wanted to keep doing. The positivity that came from that experience has definitely stuck with us.
Nick: Plus we get to do what we really love, and that’s amazing.
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Alums and students involved in the production:
Alex Hare, CC’13 … Director
Ally Engelberg, BC’15 … Executive Producer
Allie Carieri, CC’15 … Producer
Alex Donnelly, CC’14 … Producer
Laura Quintela, CC’14 … Producer
Solomon Hoffman, CC’14 … Composer
Nick Parker, CC’14 … Book/Lyrics
Adrianna Aguilar, BC’13 … Choreographer
Victoria Pollack, BC’12 … Movement Director
Amelia Lembeck, BC’14 … Stage Manager
Pearl Mutnick, BC’16 … Assistant Stage Manager
Jiin Choi, CC’14 … Art Director
Mike Hsu, CC’12 … Tech Director
Lila Neiswanger, CC’12 … Lighting Designer
Ilana Breitman, BC/JTS’13 … Costume Designer
Michael Gildin, CC’15 … Rehearsal Pianist
Adrianna Aguilar, BC’13 … Female Danver
Raquel Chavez, CC’14 … Lydia
Rebekah Lowin, CC’14 … Female Ensemble
Sam Mickel, CC’14 … Tom