Corey Brunish turns up the heat
The summer of 2015 was a particularly hot one, and Corey Brunish remembers it vividly.
The Tony award-winning actor, director, producer and writer was taking time away from the cacophony of New York City to work on a new project at his home in Lake Oswego when the air conditioning went out.
It was unfortunate timing, since two of his theater colleagues had just arrived with their families to workshop a new musical they'd written together.
"We were all suffering, and I remember we got in the car and the car's air conditioner broke down too," Brunish says.
Those two guests were Dina and Rosabell Gregory, twin sisters and composers from London whom Brunish had hired to write the score for his new musical, "My Marcello."
The show is a dark comedy centered around a man whose dying wife's last wish is to be buried in the town cemetery next to the couple's deceased daughter. The only problem is that there's only one burial plot left, and in order to preserve his wife's spot in the graveyard, the man must run around preventing the town's people from dying.
"He goes around making sure people cross the street safely, making sure they don't drink and drive. He visits the hospital and this one patient is going to be unplugged and he insists they not unplug him," Brunish explains. "I loved the fact that he was so devoted to his wife, and I love the twist at the end because there's just no way this is going to have a happy ending, and then they figure out a way to do it. I thought that was very clever. It's got comedy, conflict, romance and suspense, and it should be a musical."
Brunish hosted a reading of "My Marcello" at the Lakewood Center for the Arts in the summer of 2015, inviting several local actors he'd known from his early years living and working in Portland to jumpstart his theater career.
Two years later, Brunish's dream of getting another show on the Broadway stage is one step closer to being realized. He'll travel to London this March to participate in the 2018 Brunel Electronic and Analog Music Festival (BEAM 2018), a two-day industry showcase featuring new British musical theater.
Brunish's musical was one of eight selected to present a 25-minute snippet, an impressive feat considering there were 300 applicants, all with dreams of seeing their show make it to the big stage.
Brunish says his newest project began after remembering a promise he made to himself after viewing the 1997 film "Roseanna's Grave."
"I said to myself, 'If I'm ever a Broadway-type person, I should make a musical out of this.' Then I realized that I was a Broadway-type person, so I remembered this movie and I asked the author for the rights, and he granted them."
This isn't Brunish's first rodeo by any account. The Los Angeles native has practiced playwriting and screenwriting since his early days as a theater student at Occidental College. He went on to submit several scripts to writing competitions, and he worked on a few episodic scripts for television series here and there.
As a singer, he's released 11 CDs of show tunes and covers.
He helped produce and assistant direct the 2009 musical "Bonnie & Clyde," and he made his directorial debut with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Since then, he's worked on a number of projects in New York City, Portland and across the country.
"They used to say, 'Everyone in Hollywood has a script.' Well it turns out these days that everyone in New York has a Broadway script they're trying to peddle," Brunish says. "There are 41 Broadway venues and probably twice as many musicals right now trying to find a venue. It's very difficult to reach Broadway. That's why most shows go out of town first to try to gain some momentum and get some buzz going, because it takes $15 million-$20 million to put on a Broadway musical. You've got to have a lot of people that believe in you. Either that or win the lottery."
That's the idea behind BEAM 2018, Brunish explains — to hopefully catch the attention of a producer who is willing to take his idea and run with it, all the way to Broadway.
"We've been at it for about two and a half years now. Hopefully, this London thing will be a taking-off point for us, because we would love to start it in London," he says. "It's actually cheaper to produce a musical in London, and if you get some buzz going, it's almost a given you will be transferred to Broadway."
Brunish says that getting good reviews for a London musical is actually much easier than on Broadway for the simple fact that the only review that matters in New York is The New York Times. However, in London, there are eight newspapers that all have equal clout, making it much more favorable to receive high marks on a new play.
Regardless, Brunish says the best part of this whole process is just seeing the project be translated from script to the stage.
"The most rewarding thing is seeing it come to life and having people say, 'Oh, this is good.' It's not that easy to find people who are willing to say that, because then they actually have to put their money where their mouth is," he says. "The other exciting thing is going to be seeing how new artists interpret the work and seeing how the audience responds. We've never actually done it before an audience, so this will be the first time the work will be seen by an audience."