by Molly Marinik
Offering further proof that the worlds of rock and roll and musical theatre can overlap seamlessly, rocker Ned Massey brings his semi-autobiographical new musical, Bloodties, to the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Massey is a notable singer/songwriter with an impressive career; he has toured with top acts such as Shawn Colvin, Susan Vega, Wilco, The Neville Brothers, and The Violent Femmes, to name a few. Early in his career, he was an up-and-coming star tapped by a big name talent scout and touted as the next Dylan or Springsteen. But after a tragedy uprooted his dreams, his enviable career path took a different turn. This is a major plot point in Bloodties.
Billed as "A Rock Musical Journey to God Knows Where," Bloodties is a non-linear "memory" piece. Massey wrote the book, music and lyrics, with some songs plucked from his earlier work and some written specifically for the show. It also stars Massey, as himself, along with four other performers. To call this show a labor of love would be an understatement.
Just how much work goes in to creating a musical like this? Bloodties has been a 9-year work in progress. Massey had taken a hiatus from acting to pursue music, and in 2001, he rejoined the theatre world. He also began turning his life story into a one-man show. That version of Bloodties was presented at the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival, to great acclaim. After that, Massey and director Scott C. Embler restructured the piece, pulling it from the solo show genre to create a much larger, five-person production.
Massey is the first to draw the comparison between Bloodties and 2008’s Passing Strange, also a semi-autobiographical musical about a musician. Passing Strange played off-Broadway at the Public Theatre before transferring to Broadway for a five month run. Starring Stew and his band, The Negro Problem, the show was a sort of theatrical event cum rock concert. “I loved [Passing Strange] but I wasn’t crazy about how linear it was,” Massey said. “I didn’t want to do that with [my] show. I wanted it to work the way memory works.”
And thus began the retooling. Massey and Embler holed up for a week, devoting every moment to the script's development, finally creating the ultimate structure for the show. With the support of producer Wendy Macdonald, it arrives at NYMF ready for its official debut. Massey is confident: “We’re close and it feels that way. We couldn’t have worked harder and with Wendy we’ve been able to do everything we’ve needed to do.” Massey is also quick to give a nod to his “exceptional cast.” He is clearly in awe of their individual abilities and collaborative spirit.
“When I wrote this it was because originally I had a lot of songs that dealt with a lot of really personal things,” Massey explained. I didn’t want [Bloodties] to be a story that was about whining. Hopefully it’s about much bigger things that resonate with people on a much bigger level."
And with that, Massey’s story is unleashed on the discerning musical theatre fans and industry folks who fill the NYMF houses, looking for the next [title of show] or Next to Normal. The journey Bloodties will take next is anyone's guess. But listening to the soulful emotion behind Massey’s folk-inspired songs, it’s apparent that this artist works from the gut. It’s the kind of music people respond to, and that connection is perfect for a musical theatre setting.
(Bloodties plays at TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, as part of the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Performances are September 28th at 8pm, September 29th at 1pm, October 2nd at 5pm and 9pm, October 3rd at 1pm, and October 6th at 8pm. Tickets are $20 and are available at nymf.org. For more show info visit bloodtiesthemusical.com.)