This past Friday Bill Moyers played our original broadway song "Bet Against the American Dream" for his guests Simon Johnson and James Kwak, authors of
"13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown." It's about 11 minutes into the video. We commissioned the song for a story in our episode Inside Job.
Watching musicians record the original Broadway song for this week's radio show was like watching a seasoned SWAT team at work. It was all so fast!
All this happened in the late afternoon, in a recording studio right by all the big Broadway theaters, so the performers could go straight from the session to their shows that night: The Addams Family, Chicago, La Cage Aux Folles. One of the singers, Christian Borle, was off to dance on the ceiling as Bert in Mary Poppins.
It's hard to write about all this without gushing in a very uncritical way. It was just really fun to watch these people who are so good at their jobs. The song was written by Robert Lopez, who co-wrote Avenue Q and is writing a new musical with Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Our musical director was Stephen Oremus, the musical director of Avenue Q and Wicked. Orchestrations were by Bruce Coughlin, who created the orchestrations for 9 to 5, Grey Gardens, Urinetown, revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Guys and Dolls. Singer John Treacy Eagan was one of the people who took over as Max Bialystock, the lead in The Producers, after Nathan Lane left the show, and for this recording he definitely amped up the Nathan Laniness.
To record, first they did piano, bass, drums and synthesizer (for strings and a timpani roll at the end), plus the two vocalists, John and Christian. I was surprised that they all perform together, the vocalists singing along with the musicians, but everyone told me this is part of the Broadway sound. They only did two or three takes. Even the first take was pretty close. Then the woodwinds, again just a couple takes. Then the horns. Everyone would have played together but the studio was too small for that. John Kilgore had the thing mixed and finished five hours after we walked in the door, though Robert and Stephen had little fixes the next day. (Most interesting: they replaced the small "bell tree" with a bigger one in the final mix. To give it that full Disney magic, they said.)
You can download your own free copy of the song here.
And if your high school wants to do your own production of the song, there's sheet music for you! Let us know about it.
Finally, we have low-fi video footage of the recording session, produced for us by the Planet Money team:
Here are the full credits for the song. Thanks to everyone who made possible Broadway's first ever investigative reporting musical comedy number!
Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez
Vocalists: John Treacy Eagan and Christian Borle
Music Supervisor/Producer: Stephen Oremus
Orchestrator: Bruce Coughlin
Piano: Mark Hummel
Keyboard: Randy Cohen
Bass: Dave Phillips
Drums: Sean McDaniel
Sax/Flute: Dave Mann
Sax/Clarinet: Charles Pillow
Sax/Clarinet: Dave Riekenberg
Trumpet: Tony Kadleck
Trumpet: Bud Burridge
Trombone: Randy Andos
Studio Engineer: John Kilgore
Music Contractor: Michael Keller
Copyist: Karl Mansfield
On Saturday April 17th, Ira Glass will play in a Texas Hold 'Em tournament in Brooklyn, NY to support the literacy nonprofit 826 NYC. Ira had fun playing in the tournament last year... but this year he'll face a serious opponent: This American Life contributor/Daily Show correspondent/professional know-it-all John Hodgman.
We're proud to announce that NYU has selected our episode "The Giant Pool of Money" as one of the ten best works of American journalism of the last decade, 2000-2009. In May 2008 staff producer Alex Blumberg and NPR correspondent Adam Davidson reported "Giant Pool," arguably the earliest comprehensive story on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the first of many full hours and individual stories about the economy co-produced by This American Life and NPR News, and the catalyst for the NPR podcast and blog Planet Money.
Steve Myers, managing editor of Poynter Online, has some very nice things to say about our iPhone app - including an explanation of how it supplements the podcast and online streaming. Some quotes:
"I bought the app without hesitation because I made a quick calculation: The convenience of being able to stream any episode, without having to sync my iPhone with my computer, was worth a few bucks."
"The podcast never changed how I experienced 'This American Life' stories. The app, however, encourages me to browse the content by reading the blog, browsing the categories of stories, flipping through the "extras" (which includes early stories by Glass and longtime contributor David Sedaris) or watching clips of the TV show that aired on Showtime."
In a recent cast interview for the upcoming film Hot Tub Time Machine, actor Rob Corddry brings up a This American Life story from the episode My Brilliant Plan:
"Ronald Mallett his name is and he basically invented time travel. It's really actually possible. The problem is is that his theory of time travel is you can only travel back to when you turn the switch of the machine on and it's actually impossible to build a machine that big. His theory of time travel is sound it's just not..."
We have to admit, we really didn't think there'd be any crossover between these two projects.
The second monthly variety show featuring many This American Life regulars happens this week. Mike Birbiglia, Dave Hill and Elna Baker will perform. Our producer Jane Feltes will teach the audience how to open a beer bottle using any object at hand. Also: Paul Dinello, who has never been on our show is doing some sort of story.
Gershwin Hotel, 7 E. 27th Street in New York. $5. Details.
Last month's show sold out, so act fast. In that one, John Hodgman cut someone's hair while giving them advice and Ira Glass made animal balloons while singing a duet with Lucy Wainwright Roche.
Ira writes: Like they say, it's an honor just being nominated. NYU's Journalism Institute chose 80 stories for the honor of "Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade 2000-2009." They included our "Giant Pool of Money" show about mortgage-backed securities and how they brought down the global economy and a story we did on both radio and TV "If By Chance We Meet Again," about a man who brings his dead pet bull back to life with the help of cloning technology (which doesn't work out as he'd hoped). But I found that reading NYU's full list was surprisingly moving. So many of these stories opened my eyes to things I hadn't known about or fully understood, written and executed with amazing style and understated force. I took inspiration especially from these, during this past decade: James Fallows, Errol Morris, Michael Lewis, David Foster Wallace, Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande, Seymour Hersch, Elizabeth Kolbert, Ron Suskind, George Packer, Alex Gibney and Eva Orner.