Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond’s world premiere recording of their musical The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, was release on Friday, September 13, 2019. After completing three seasons of music for the hit Disney Junior series “Vampirina,” which airs in 115 countries to more than 100 million viewers, the Fred Ebb Award and Jonathan Larson Grant winners return to their theatrical roots with this album.
Howard Barnes, a perfectly average man until the day that he wakes up to discover that his life has become a musical. Desperate to escape from the show, Howard embarks on a fantastical quest through the realm of musical theater. Equal parts satire, romantic comedy, and a love letter to the American musical, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is a musical for people who love musical theater, and their spouses who hate it. First staged at Seattle’s Village Theater, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes was one of the theatre’s most popular new musicals since the world premiere of Million Dollar Quartet.
Check out our exclusive interview with Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond below:
The Knockturnal: What inspired the show?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: We had just completed a few musicals that were really “tough sells”. They were dark comedies about relatively serious subject matter, not your typical musical theatre fare, which made them challenging to pitch to producers and theaters. We decided that rather than continuing to sit around and mope about how difficult it was to drum up productions, we’d just start brainstorming ideas for a show that we would be incredibly excited to write that would also have a really solid two-sentence “elevator pitch”. We ended up coming up with the idea of a guy who wakes up one day to discover that his life has become a musical and then embarks on a quest to get out.
The Knockturnal: What is your collaborative process like?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: We don’t necessarily have a set process. We tend to work differently depending on the demands of the project in question. That being said, we tend to spend a lot of time in the room together, particularly early in the process. Especially when we’re working on an original piece, we like to really brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other as we hash out the story. When we’re working on an individual song, we often do a similar thing. We like to be in the same room for as much of the process as possible. We talk a lot about what we think the song is: what work it will do dramatically, what the tone and feel of it is, how it will get the character from point A to B, etc. Then we try to land on a “hook” that feels right for the song. And then, typically, whichever of us has the stronger impulse, that person might start. As we said, it really varies, but generally speaking, if the song is more of an emotionally driven ballad, Michael might write the music first, and if it’s a comedic song that’s more dependent on patter or jokes, Chris might start with lyrics. Then we bounce things back and forth until we’ve got the song in a place where we’re both happy with it.
The Knockturnal: What is your favorite song? And Why?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: We both really love the song “Noteworthy”. It’s the song in the show that most encapsulates what the show’s about at its core. The heart of our story is about opening yourself up to emotion, to life’s highs and lows. As Maggie explains to Howard in the show, if you’re lucky enough to find something worth singing about, you might as well belt it out at the top of your lungs.
The Knockturnal: Any challenges to putting together the music in “Howard Barnes”?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: This is a self-produced album, so not only were we in charge of pushing each step of the process forward from start to finish, but we were also the final arbiters of every creative decision. In retrospect, it was quite a lot, and it seemingly took ages. Despite the difficulties, we’re incredibly proud of what we came up with, both artistically and collaboratively. This album has exceeded our greatest hopes, and we feel like it truly represents who we are as writers.
The Knockturnal: How did you first meet?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: We both went to Carnegie Mellon University. I (Michael) was an undergraduate music composition major and Chris was in the graduate playwriting program. I took a class about how to write libretto in the drama school, and Chris was in it. His work was by far the funniest, most emotional, and most appealing. After class one day, I asked if he wanted to start writing songs together. We started writing naughty, NSFW cabaret songs, then started our first musical, DANI GIRL. That was about 13 years and 11 musicals ago. We still enjoy writing those naughty kind of songs, though. 🙂
The Knockturnal: How was working on “Vampirina”?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: Working on Vampirina was an absolute dream come true for us. Writing songs for an animated Disney series had been a lifelong bucket list item for us both. There’s nothing quite like watching your songs come to life on the screen, and writing for kids is a total blast. Not only that, but the team of artists that we got to work with was extraordinary. The writers, the animators, the production team… Everyone was not only creatively brilliant, but also a joy to work with. And when you look at some of the voice actors that we got to work with — Patti Lupone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Alfred Molina, Christian Borle, Skylar Astin, not to mention the series regulars like James van der Beek, Lauren Molina, and Wanda Sykes — What an amazing opportunity. Perhaps the best part for us as writers, though, was that it was an incredible learning experience. We have written over 150 songs for the show in a relatively short time. It can be really challenging to have to turn things around so quickly, especially when you’re getting a lot of notes and having to do a number of rewrites. But it’s actually great training in terms of the craft of songwriting, and we feel like we’re much better writers now than we were when we started.
The Knockturnal: What’s next?
Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond: We just got a job writing 40 songs for a new show we can’t talk about on a streaming platform that you’ve definitely heard of. We also have a musical, ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS, which debuted at Shakespeare’s Globe that will embark on a small American tour next year. On top of that, we have another three or four musicals in different stages of development and a bunch of ideas for other new musicals and films.
We’re always trying to keep a bunch of fires burning in the creative department.