Tell me who you are.
Hi, I’m Danny K Bernstein and I am a composer, lyricist, book writer, everything maker, director, pianist of/for musical theatre.
Oh damn, that’s a lot. Where’re you from?
I’m from Westchester, New York. So I’ve lived around the city my whole life.
How did you start getting into composing and when?
I started getting into composing I think in high school, but I started really taking it seriously when I was at Cornell University and neurobiology and psychology was really hard, so I decided to go down the far less stable career path and started writing musicals.
I’m sorry, you started in neuroscience and psychology?
Yeah. I was really--I remember when I was deciding where I wanted to go to school it was between Northwestern for Theatre, and Cornell for like, science-y things--
Because that’s a choice normal people make...
(laughs) and I was probably like “okay I’m probably not going to do theatre with my life, because I’m probably not that good, so I’ll just go to Cornell pick a career to make money.” And I went to Cornell and wound up doing theatre.
What was the first show you composed? Was it at Cornell or was it in High School?
The first full-length show that I did was called Far From Canterbury, it was my thesis at Cornell. I had no idea what I was doing. But it turned out well, it wound up being a mainstage through the department and then it wound up winning something in LA, and then it went to the fringe and it won the fringe so we wound up off-broadway for a week. We went through fringe encores, At Soho Playhouse. We got really great reviews, throughout pretty much the entire run.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new show called The Bishops, and it’s about a family of two dads, a daughter, and a son, and the son is a competitive American chess champion, and a news story about their family goes viral because of it, and the family becomes sort of this national epicenter for political discussion on family and their entire family is broadcast across America.
It’s in the early stages, but it’s moving quickly. I think we’re going to do a couple readings this winter. I’m sort of a crazy person and I set hard deadlines for myself, because I know that that’s the only way that my brain kicks into writing mode. Otherwise I have a very chronic procrastination problem and nothing gets done. So the only way to ever ensure that work will happen is make sure that there are very real and embarrassing consequences for them not happening. So that is how I work and the result is that I’m halfway through act 1 and the idea is I’ll have a full length by this summer.
And when did you start writing it?
About a month ago.
That’s absurd. That’s an absurd sentence. That’s an absurd concept.
This is just how my panic monster comes out and causes me to write things.
So you play the piano?
Yeah that’s how I attempt to pay rent, and for the most part I do. I play right now for 90210 (Beverly Hills: 90210 - The Musical, currently running at Theatre 80 St. Marks), also one of my specialties is playing improv piano. My biggest gig is the Chicago City Limits, and one of their gigs is they improvise a musical based on a story that an audience member tells them. So I make up stuff for that on the piano. I’m doing BMI--I just got into the Advanced Workshop. And I really like playing for whoever will hire me. So readers, please hire me.
In June I called you and I said I wanted you to write a song for a Vampire Action Web Series. What happened next?
Well I was like “okay, I have no idea what this is” and all I had to go on was a series of facebook messages that you had sent me, and I was really confused, but I remember reading the first two episodes and you explaining where the first song would go. And I sort of ran with the first idea I had, where I was like, “okay this is a vampire, and they’re upset” and then I was like “man, this sucks”. I ran to Dunkin Donuts, got a large Iced Coffee, and scribbled lyrics in a couple of hours, and then quickly sort of futzed around the piano with some jazzy chords, made a quick recording, and went straight to rehearsal. Ta-Da!
Are you normally a person who orchestrates for yourself? How weird was it for us to say, “we’re going to take your song away and do something with it”?
I’m actually a terrible Orchestrator. I have absolutely no background in it whatsoever. No, I love hearing my stuff orchestrated because it’s always a fun surprise. I think the way I write is very melodically centralized so I never feel like the music is compromising it because I can always hear my tune in there, so rather than feel like “I want it to sound this way”, I always get excited like “oh that’s a cool musical choice with what I did!”
Have you watched any of The Hunted, yet?
I watched the prologue, and I loved it! I got really sad though because the episode cuts out right before Rebekah’s song, and she’s a really good friend of mine, so I was like “No!” But Halloween I’ll get the full experience.
What sort of do you hope happens with The Hunted: Encore, and your song, post release?
I really hope that these three very homosexual gay boys who recently graduated from top BFA Musical Theatre programs sing my song as their audition for Wicked.
I think that’s a perfect place to stop this.