Burt Bacharach is one of the most prolific, most respected, award-winning songwriters of the 20th century, with 6 Grammys and 3 Academy Awards alone. His arrangements include catchy pop songs across many musical genres – from soul through pop to film scores. He has motivated his collaborators to write inspired lyrics and lay down some of the most memorable vocals in the history of popular music, and we’re not sure he’s done yet.
Anastacia McClesky is an emerging theatrical talent, with credits which already include some major productions to date: Violet – Broadway 2014; The Book of Mormon – Broadway 2011; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical – Broadway 2011 and Toronto Pre-Broadway North American Production, 2010; Hair – Broadway Revival, 2009; Tarzan – Original Broadway Production 2006.
TBB was lucky to catch her during rehearsals for the London premiere production of What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined – an energetic stage show designed to give us a re-interpreted taste of The Man’s music, which had a successful run off Broadway in 2013…
Welcome to the UK! I’m so glad I got to speak to you because I’m a big fan of Burt Bacharach. Have you followed the off-Broadway production over here? Or were you cast as part of the UK show?
I was cast just to come over to London, I wasn’t a part of it in New York. I hadn’t seen it, but I had heard a lot about it. It got rave reviews in New York.
Were you a Bacharach fan before getting cast?
Oh yeah, I loved all his music. I’ve heard so many different covers of his songs, so I fell in love with those covers. But coming on board with this project I went back and downloaded instrumental versions of most of the songs that are in the show and other songs [and] just listened to the instruments and orchestration.
My absolute favourite is You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) by The Stylistics, and he’s had those very special collaborative relationships over the years; his co-writers, his singers – Hal David and Bob Hilliard; Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Tom Jones, The Carpenters…. Have you met him?
I haven’t, but he’s supposed to come to opening night here in London, so I hope to meet him then; that would be a great experience in itself.
He’s had a 60 year career, nearly 90 singles, of which over 70 have charted in the top ten in the States and over 50 in the UK. But is it 30 songs you manage to squeeze into 90 minutes for this production? That sounds like a lot of singing…
Yes I think it’s close to 30 and we’re moving around a lot, there’s a lot of energy. There’s so much joy behind his music. Burt’s music is timeless, so no matter what age you are, you can relate to his lyrics and his lyrics are so specific and so important in the melodies within the instrumental and just fuel each song. So, when you’re doing a 90 minute version of such great music like this, you kind of just relax into it.
I’m just trying to imagine the format of the show. How, as an audience, are we supposed to relate to what we’re going to see on stage?
It’s an experience – an event. Some might relate it to a concert. But it’s this group of young people on stage singing these songs that are timeless. We have our own tribe, our own band, and we’re bringing you on our journey as we do these songs, re-arranged differently.
You have a really strong portfolio of musical theatre. Did you find that your singing style adapted nicely? This is a young man’s re-imagining of these pop classics, so do you visit a lot of styles across each of the songs, or… How did you as an artist relate to the re-packaging?
There are so many different styles that we have in the show as far as Burt’s music is concerned, and vocally I relate to it amazingly. It’s not musical theatre – it’s pop music, it’s rap, it’s a little bit of blues, jazz, and so vocally, that’s kind of where I sit in life. I’ve just kinda done musicals.
… Between jobs, do you gig?
Yes, I do gigs of my own music. I don’t have my own specific band back home in New York – I just work with a lot of different musicians. But, funnily enough, I haven’t really had much time to do that. I’m always on the go, doing a show here, there, or working on other smaller projects.
Were you singing from childhood, or attend a performing arts school…? What’s your background?
Both. I grew up singing in church in Nashville, Tennessee, and I went to performing arts school from 6th grade through college, and just found my passion for theatre through that. I used to want to be a lounge singer, and started studying jazz music with a jazz specialist back home in Nashville throughout my high school days. But then I really decided I wanted to go into theatre, whether it be musicals or straight plays.
Your last big production was Violet, can you tell me a little bit about that?
Violet is about a woman who’s travelling from Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Oklahoma, because she has a cut across her face that her father accidentally gave her as a child. So she’s travelling down there to this televangelist so he can heal her. It takes place in 1964, and it’s about the people she meets on this bus. There’s kind of a love triangle she’s in with these two soldiers – one is black and one is white. So you deal with interracial relationships and just meeting people from different cultures… and experiencing all of this different music. You have gospel music, country, blues, blue grass, a little bit of pop and folk…
It sets you up really nicely for this one, doesn’t it? With all these different styles… Are there seven of you in this production, like in New York?
Yes, two women and five boys and they don’t bother me too much, I have two older brothers so it’s not bad. We did three weeks’ [rehearsals] in New York. Three of us are from America, Kyle (co-writer, co-star) is Canadian, but lives in Los Angeles. Then we have three people that were cast out of London.
How did Kyle prepare you for what he was about to put you through?
He sent me the marketing package so I could look at YouTube clips, and we talked on the phone and emailed a lot, just about his vision and how he wanted the show to come across. Then we talked through the script and the music and discussed how he wanted each song to be sung.
Were you allowed much interpretation once you started rehearsing the material. Did you find that you had to still put your own stamp on it?
Well yes, and I think that’s with any show. But with this one specifically – yes, but then we also wanted to stick to the true simplicity of the songs, because the melodies themselves are just perfect. We’re not adding so many extras, but we definitely have the opportunity to put our own little oomph on each song. This is an amazing production, and I believe it’s going to go far. It’s something unique that I’ve never done. It’s not just a musical, it’s not just a show. Most of the people on stage are playing instruments and dancing, and having fun – bringing you on this journey that people are gonna want to be a part of. It’s kind of a sacred thing
How are you enjoying London? Have you been before?
No, this is my first time. I really love it!
The show features cast-member Kyle Riabko’s original musical arrangements of such Burst Bacharach classics as:
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, What The World Needs Now Is Love, I Say A Little Prayer, Walk On By, That’s What Friends Are For, A House Is Not A Home, (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, What’s New Pussycat?, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, The Look Of Love, Wishin’ And Hopin’, Alfie, Close To You, Do You Know The Way To San Jose?, Arthur’s Theme, One Less Bell To Answer, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Magic Moments, Make It Easy On Yourself, Message To Michael and The Windows Of The World.
With direction by Olivier Award-winner Steven Hoggett, What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory previews from 3 July and opens on 15 July until 5 September 2015.
To book tickets here.
interview for the british blacklist by @DescantDeb