Longtime composing/writing team Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich create songs that turn mundane day-to-day occurrences into laugh-out-loud musical events. For example, did you hear the one about the coffee Cassanova? How about the suitor who wooed his sweetheart with Weight Watchers? Have to learned to beware of thespian charmers from charm city?
The songbooks of Marcy and Zina have long been adored by musical theatre fans, and their quick, smart, quirky pieces are favorites for stage auditions. The duo has been honored with the Fred Ebb Award for Musical Theatre Songwriting, a nomination for Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Lyrics and Music, and has toured nationally and internationally performing the songs they’ve so masterfully crafted. In fact, their song “Alto’s Lament” should be required listening for anyone who’s ever longed to sing the lead.
We were so excited to get the opportunity to ask Marcy and Zina about their collaborative writing process, their pre-show rituals and their expert tips to acing a musical theatre audition (using downloadable Marcy & Zina sheet music, naturally). Read along to get a glimpse into the magic that happens when Marcy and Zina create together.
Musicnotes: You’ve been writing music together for more than 21 years now. Could you talk a little about your process and how it has evolved over time? What are your secrets to a successful writing partnership?
Zina: When we first met in ’93, we became friends immediately. Once we started writing together, we found we shared a sensibility when it came to writing songs. Over the years, we have grown and changed, but our ability to think and write with one voice has gotten somewhat easier because we have developed a shorthand together.
Marcy: Many times we can anticipate what the other person wants to do. Writing songs for us is kind of like a tennis game. I lyrically “serve” and we go back and forth until we have something we both like.
How did you decide that songwriting/composing was your professional calling? How do you think writing for stage differs from other forms of songwriting?
Zina: I started writing music around 5th grade. Marcy always wrote poetry when she was a kid. We both also loved performing a lot, but at a certain point our lives individually turned more toward the writing. Writing offered more control and I guess we liked that! One could write a book on songwriting for the stage (and many have). Mostly it’s about storytelling and progressing either plot or development of character. In the best theatre songs, it does all of those things.
It’s very clear that you approach songwriting with a keen sense of humor. Where do you pull inspiration from? Any interesting stories you could share about specific material?
Zina: We like to write about things that happen every day; some monumental life events, some internal conflicts, some crushes on baristas. Nothing is funnier than real life. Marcy always credits our “quirk” to using “crooked specifics.” These are the things that everybody recognizes in their own lives that make a song unique and yet completely familiar.
Marcy: Many of our songs are based on real life experiences, and I think that comes through. We try not to be afraid of all the flip sides, layers and roadblocks that come with the pursuit of connection, and hopefully while circumstances are always different for everyone, certain themes ring true. For example, “That’s All” chronicles a guy’s checklist for the perfect woman, which eventually devolves into a checklist of his insecurities. I can’t begin to tell you how many men (and some of their mothers) have approached me after shows and said “that’s me.” And in truth, that’s not just men – that’s all of us. We are all in this together, and we all make mistakes. And sometimes our mistakes are funny, and we try to point that up.
Your songs have been performed by some of the theatre’s most respected and adored artists (Kristin Chenoweth’s well-known performance of “Taylor, The Latte Boy” and Audra McDonald’s “Baltimore” come to mind). Do you have certain voices or performers in mind when you’re writing?
Zina: Only if we’ve been asked to write specifically for a performer. Mostly, we think of the character singing it. Of course, if there’s someone who is cast in a role and we’re doing rewrites, it’s great to use their “bag of tricks” as inspiration.
Is there anyone you haven’t had the chance to work with who you’d love to write for?
Zina: There are so many! Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Benanti…
Marcy: Sutton Foster, Hugh Jackman —
Zina: Neil Patrick Harris…Andrea Martin. And many more!
We personally know quite a few people who credit Marcy & Zina songs with helping them land big roles. Do you have any super-secret audition song selection tips or general words of advice?
Zina: First of all, that makes us very, very happy. There is nothing better than a song that fits a performer like a glove, and we’re thrilled that so many people have done so well with our songs. The best advice I can give is pick a song that you LOVE. A song that speaks to you, that you connect to. The best auditions we’ve ever seen are generally not the most unusual songs – they’ve actually been songs we all know and love, sung in an original and compelling (and often humorous) way.
Marcy: So many of our songs are about the desire to connect, and thus hopefully match the environment of an audition in a very organic way. A lot of our songs are slightly monologue-ish in form, which allows for actors to tell a complete story.
You always look like you’re genuinely having so much fun while performing. How do you prepare for a show? Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
Zina: That’s because we are. Marcy and I love to sing, and we love to sing together. It is the culmination of our creative collaboration that we get to perform our songs as well. It’s also a great way to know if a song really “works.” Prior to a show, we like to laugh, schmooze, drink tea, eat Ricola lozenges and go over our lyrics!
Marcy: I alas, am the one who is terrified of forgetting my lyrics. I make Zina sing all the hard patter songs. But we are beginning to trade material with each other and flip things up a bit!
Finally, you’ve been very busy lately with Ever After, as well as a couple more shows in the works. Can we expect an Ever After sheet music release? What’s next for Marcy & Zina?
Zina: We have a few new projects coming down the pike. We’re writing a show for Universal Studios Theatrical Division based on one of their fantastic films. We’ve also got a show called, “Hollywood Romance,” which is an original musical with book by Gaby Allan and Jen Crittenden, and is directed by Kristin Hanggi. We recently had a reading of it, and we’re very excited about it. Ever After has some exciting next steps in the works, and we’ll have news to report on that soon. And yes, we’re hoping to have some music out from it ASAP.
Marcy: There are baby, baby, baby steps in the works about a sitcom based upon our friendship and working life. But that’s too soon (and too scary) to talk about! And a few other multi-media projects too, including a Dear Edwina book series, which is something we’ve always wanted to do. No matter what, we look forward to keeping our collaboration going for a long time to come, and we thank you for the opportunity to share our work with you!
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A very special thank you to Marcy and Zina for taking time out of their incredibly exciting and busy schedules to share with us. Now, we want to hear from you! Is there a Marcy & Zina song you’ve used for an audition? Or, do you have another go-to song to share with your fellow theatre performers? Leave us a note in the comments below.