Archive for January, 2012

It’s interesting to think that as recently as ten years ago, the word “viral” had the same connotation as a death sentence. Today, of course, in the age of the YouTube phenomenon and Webseries springing up like carpets of mushrooms, the adjective has become cherished by those who choose to spend their time producing video displays; in modern parlance, it denotes attention by tens of thousands on the Internet. One such clip, which was filmed in March of 2011 and enigmatically titled “An Example of the Prolonged Effects of Exposure to Musical Theater,” somehow has managed in the last two weeks to reach officially viral status, going from a few hundred hits to nearly one hundred thousand in the space of a few days. It features a downright adorable young gentleman in a hoodie, lip-synching his way through snippets of no less than ninety songs from sixty-seven Broadway musicals in the space of five-and-a-half minutes. More than this, though, is the brilliance with which this clip was edited and pieced together, and his obvious gift for comedy and facial expression. Thousands were suddenly talking about it on social networking sites and theater-chat message boards, and while the clip has its detractors, fans of musical theater far and wide have embraced it. The big question that emerged, however, was “Who IS this guy??”

Well, it transpires that his name is Kevin Harris. He’s a twenty-four-year-old graphic-design student currently living in Seattle after growing up in Richland, WA. And he graciously granted The Andrew Martin Report a most intelligent and insightful interview.

ANDREW MARTIN: What draws you to theater music/musical theater?

KEVIN HARRIS: I grew up watching classic movie musicals like The Sound of Music, West Side Story and Bye Bye Birdie, but I never really understood that they were originally stage shows. I guess I was always a little bit of a performer. I enjoyed being goofy and making people laugh, but most of my interest was in drawing. When I was in elementary school I participated in some small plays, but didn’t do anything else until my sophomore year of high school. My sister kept trying to get me to audition for shows, but I never thought I would be very good at it. I finally gave in and auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie, and ended up being cast. Ever since that first show, I was hooked and practically lived in the school auditorium until I graduated. I also participated in my school’s musical theatre class. My teacher, Lynn Morin, introduced me to the music of Sondheim, Schwartz, Kander and Ebb and all the other greats. It was because of that class that I really started to delve into the wonderful world that is musical theatre. Sadly, I have not been on stage in about three years. As for right now, I’m just studying away in school.

AM: Was making faces and being comical something you’ve always done? Were you the class clown? Did you ever have any aspirations to go into comedy (standup, sketch, improv, etc) as opposed to theater? Do you have any particular inspirations or heroes in comedy?

KH: I think I’ve always had a knack for contorting my face. I remember when I was very young, my mom would ask me to do my silly faces and she would crack up at her crazy little boy. People may say differently, but I don’t really think I was the class clown in school when I was growing up. I did joke around a lot when I was with my friends, though. Now that I am older and in college, I am definitely more vocal and will crack jokes in class, and banter with my professors. I guess you could say being in theatre made me a bit more comfortable with “performing” around people I don’t know. When it comes to performing, I have always been drawn to live theatre. I have been told that I should try standup, but I’m not really interested in it. I’m not so much about telling jokes as much as I am about creating characters. Sketch comedy and improv do interest me, but I haven’t had much opportunity to do either. I have been wanting to write a one-man show for a while, so I could have the chance to play multiple characters. I have about four plays I have been brainstorming over the years that would involve the actors playing multiple parts, and could include some improv as well, but who knows if I will ever finish them? I love a lot of the old comic greats like Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, and Danny Kaye. But I would have to say that my absolute favorites are Paul Lynde and Jack Lemmon. Paul’s snarky, campy style, and Jack’s reactions and mannerisms, have really stuck with me. I also admire Tracey Ullman and Carol Burnett. They are so amazing at transforming themselves into different characters. I love that!

AM: Where did you get the idea to start doing these videos? What was your first? How many have you done so far? Which one(s) is/are your favorite?

KH: When I first got my laptop, I decided to play around with Photo Booth one night. My friend had shown me some videos she had made, and I decided I wanted to try doing something too, just for fun. I was going through my iTunes, and decided to try lip-synching to some of my favorite songs. I posted it on Facebook and my friends seemed to enjoy it, so I decided to make some more. The first one I did is called “iTunes Craziness and Such” (and that is pretty much what it is!) and I have done ten lip-synching videos since then. I would have to say my favorite is the first Broadway one. Musicals give me a chance to act and tell a story a lot more than normal everyday songs do.

AM: Have you taken particular inspiration from others who do these kinds of videos? I’m thinking specifically of Gary Brolsma, aka NumaNumaGuy, or what Seth Rudetsky does in his “Deconstructions.”

KH: I really enjoy Mirandasings, Kid History, Liam Kyle Sullivan, SororityDORKS and yes, of course, Seth Rudetsky.

AM: What’s the process behind doing one of your lip-synch medleys towards a YouTube broadcast? Do you first decide what music to use and then what facial expressions/physical actions go with it, or does it all sort of come together at the same time? Do you have a specific order in mind for which songs will play? Is the editing process ever frustrating?

KH: When it comes to just a regular video, I go through my iTunes and pick a few songs that I think would be fun to “sing”. Sometimes I know what part of the song I want to record, and other times I just do the entire song and then pick one part of it during editing. I don’t really have much of an idea of how I will act during a song beforehand, and I just jump right in! As for a themed video, I usually have an idea of which songs and parts I want to do before I start. Once I pick some of the songs, I look for ways to lead into other ones with the same word or topic so as to tie everything together. When everything is recorded, I start the hardest part, which is synching the video with the original song so the sound is of good quality. This usually takes a long time and can be a little frustrating to get it matched up just right. Then I start fitting all the clips together like a puzzle. I arrange it, watch it, rearrange it, watch it again and so on until it feels just right. I know that if I start laughing, then it’s good.

AM: Are you particularly surprised that the Broadway video has gone so viral in such a short amount of time?

KH: VERY surprised! I woke up one morning and had over sixty e-mails saying people were commenting on the video, and subscribing to my channel. I made it so long ago, and just for fun, that I never thought it would get noticed. It still surprises me how much people seem to enjoy it.

AM: Obviously you’ve become a topic of conversation on some of the theater-oriented chat boards that exist online. What do you think of some of the feedback you’ve gotten, whether positive or negative?

KH: People have been very kind and supportive. They really seem to relate to my love of musical theater, which makes me very happy. Some really amazing things have happened because of this, namely getting e-mails from Marc Shaiman and Jim Caruso. Finding out that people you respect and admire all of a sudden know who you are, is crazy! Some people have been rude with their comments, but I just think it’s funny that they feel the need to say those sorts of things. I’ve also had some marriage proposals, which is pretty darn silly. I would have to say my favorite feedback are ones where people say they were having a horrible day and then watched my videos, and they were able to smile and forget their troubles for a little while. If my videos are able to help people laugh and be happy, then I am doing my job.

AM: Aside from your lip-synch medleys, there’s also the very funny short film where you play the artist. Do you hope to be doing anything else like that as well in the near future?

KH: That was so much fun! My friend Ashley Wasson was making a film for class, and had the idea to do an interview with an artist. We pretty much just improvised the entire thing on the spot. I love creating eccentric, weird characters and just letting them loose! So, yes, I would LOVE to do more videos like that. Very soon, I hope!

AM: Do you plan to do a sequel or second volume to the Broadway video? Or any of the other videos, like your Glee medley? Whether you do or not, do you have anything else in the immediate works?

KH: I made a second Broadway one not too long ago. I have been considering doing a third and people seem to be all for that, so that will most likely happen at some point. I am currently working on another Disney video and am having a lot of fun thinking up things for that. I’m also considering maybe doing some vlogs, and I have an idea for a Broadway-themed video series.

AM: Those who watch the video get a sense that you’re probably endlessly joking, and somewhat hyper and high-energy (in a good way). Is that accurate? What can you tell us about yourself that might surprise us?

KH: According to my friends, that is a very accurate description. Like I’ve mentioned before, I love to make people laugh and try to help them forget their troubles for a little while. I’ve found that being hyper and high-energy seems to do the trick. Even though people don’t believe me when I tell them this, I am actually very shy. I know it seems hard to believe, but it’s true. I get really nervous when it comes to meeting new people, or being in a room with a bunch of folks I don’t know. I also hate watching my videos with other people, because I get so embarrassed. But I’ve found that if I am really crazy and goofy when meeting people, it makes it a lot easier to break the ice and start up a conversation. I think I have become friends with a lot of people I know because I made them laugh right off the bat.

AM: Do you want to find a way to turn this into something lucrative? If so, what’s your vision for that?

KH: I never really considered my videos anything more than fun, little ways to release my desire to perform on stage. If anybody thinks it could become lucrative, let me know! But if I could choose anything to come out of all this, it would be to have more characters that I could eventually perform on stage.

AM: Do you have any advice to offer to others who want to make similar videos for broadcast?

KH: I would say just have fun, and stick with things that bring you joy. I have learned from experience that if you enjoy something, you will be led to other folks who also enjoy it. I would also say don’t try to copy other people just because they may have found success in what they have done. Be inspired by them, but be sure to put yourself into what you create. You will enjoy it so much more if you do.

It’s a sure bet, therefore, that a hungry worldwide audience will continue to enjoy the work of Kevin Harris for ages to come. If you’re still unfamiliar, watch his work and be ready to laugh!!

Every once in a while, a younger person emerges upon the cultural mainstream from the world of classical music and is clearly ready to take their rightful place as a crossover superstar. In the last thirty years, notable examples of same have included violinists Midori, Joshua Bell and Vanessa-Mae, as well as vocalists Josh Groban, Charlotte Church and Cecilia Bartoli. To this illustrious roster must be added the name of Lola Astanova, a twentysomething pianist about to make her Carnegie Hall debut on Thursday, January 19th at 8 PM, as part of a benefit for the American Cancer Society. Chaired by Donald Trump and hosted by Julie Andrews, what marks this event as additionally unique is that Astanova is not only presenting her program of selections as a tribute to the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, but she will be playing on the momentous Horowitz Steinway, being trotted out for the concert by longtime Horowitz trustee Franz Mohr.

A native of the Uzbekistani capital of Tashkent in the former Soviet Union, Astanova began studying and performing in recitals by the age of six, and from the very beginning her course was clear. “I knew right away,” she said in a recent radio interview, “that being a musician and having a place on stage was what I wanted out of life.” Her earliest mentors include the renowned instructor Len Naumov at the Moscow State Conservatory, whose own pedagogical lineage traces directly back to Franz Lizst. Clearly established as a musical prodigy by the age of nine, it was at this time that she and Naumov visited the United States and she experienced Carnegie Hall for the first time as a spectator; she knew inherently that she would one day play on its hallowed stage.

However, she had quite a way to go before she got there. After concertizing extensively throughout Europe, Astanova made her official American debut in 2007 at the Kennedy Center, as part of the Neiman-Marcus Christmas Catalog concert alongside the Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev besides Regis Philbin (and in the process received a Steinway piano as a gift for her incredible performance). She relocated to New York very shortly thereafter, and has since proudly become what she calls with a chuckle, “just another regular American girl. I love New York, I love to shop, I love going out…I just happen to have a job that’s a little bit different than other girls my age.”

Capitalizing on the “broadcast yourself” idea made so popular in modern culture by such Internet factions as YouTube, it was the mere blink of an eye before Astanova was camcording her performances of classical compositions and displaying them across the information superhighway. Always impeccably dressed in high fashion and looking scrumptiously beautiful only added to her allure, and before long her videos were garnering hits in the hundreds of thousands. And it isn’t merely older aficianados of concerti and sonati who have happily joined her fan base; indeed, legions of younger people across the globe are jumping on her bandwagon and admitting, begrudgingly or otherwise, that classical music can be cool. But, not to be outdone, she has also begun transcribing contemporary pieces and giving them a classical spin (one in particular, Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” has garnered well over one million YouTube views, and this is just one of several).

It is a sure bet that a star will be born in the personage of Lola Astanova before this week has concluded. The Carnegie Hall concert is almost completely sold out at this point, but keep a very careful eye on her name. To merely say she’s “goin’ places” would be the understatement of the decade.