Michael Butler talks to John Bucchino about life, musical theatre, and It’s Only Life.
There is alot that can be said about John Bucchino but essentially he is a man with incredible talent, who has turned that in to incredible success. I had the privelege to chat with him to find out all about his musical success, his life as a composer, and his current production of It’s Only Life produced by Stella Entertainment and DTM Talent.
TP: You don’t have a music background in the sense that you can’t read or write music. How did you decide, despite this, that you wanted to be a composer?
JB: I started playing piano by ear at age one, and never stopped. Songwriting was a natural extension of that, a way to further express myself and my perception of the world through music and lyrics. My connection to music never had anything to do with black dots on a page and it’s only recently, when the songs need to be written out for others to perform, that I’ve been forced to get them onto paper. Luckily, technology is such that I can play exactly what I want into my computer and have it printed out as precise sheet music.
TP: The challenges of building a successful career for any young composer are enormous. After you made the decision to become a composer, how did you go about establishing yourself?
JB: I wrote and wrote and wrote, with the goal of becoming a singer/songwriter/pianist and making recordings, like Billy Joel, Elton John, or Joni Mitchell. But, as I continued to develop my own unique compositional voice, what I wrote veered further and further from what the commercial record industry was selling. In a way, the lack of attention was a gift, in that it allowed me to continue in my own direction, unimpeded by the taste of people paying me to write. And I built up a large catalog of songs, some of which are included in It’s Only Life.
TP: Apparently Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim were major influences in your decision to move to New York and to become a musical theatre composer. How did all of this come about?
JB: In 1987, I was living in Los Angeles and I got a call from Stephen Schwartz (who wrote music and lyrics for Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked, among many other shows.) He’d heard a song of mine at a New York benefit, and the singer had given him a tape of more songs of mine. He was coming to L.A. and wanted to get together. I didn’t know musical theatre at all, but knew he was a famous writer, so I agreed to meet with him. We got together at a piano, shared songs all afternoon, and he’s been my best friend ever since. He said he heard an inherently theatrical element in what I write, so he thought I’d be a natural to write for theatre. A couple of years later, I got a similar call from Steve Sondheim with whom I met the next time I was in New York. He also encouraged me to think about writing for theatre and, because nothing was happening for me in L.A., I moved to New York in 1992.
TP: You have had tremendous success both on the Broadway scene and in collaboration with other successful artists. How do you deal with the renown that comes with such success?
JB: Oh gosh, I don’t feel “renowned.” It always surprises and delights me when people are familiar with my work, especially in far-flung corners of the world.
I sit in my studio apartment scribbling little songs and they manage to fly out and touch people – that’s still miraculous to me.
TP: As an artist you have no doubt inspired and been inspired by others. Who do you consider to be your greatest mentors/inspirations? In turn, who are you a mentor to? Are we likely to see a John Bucchino protege’s name under Broadway lights any time soon?
JB: My greatest inspirations have been the writers of popular songs from the 40s through the 70s: Richard Rodgers, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, The Beatles, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach, and now my peers in the cabaret and musical theatre worlds: Sondheim, Schwartz, Adam Guettel, etc.
There are some young writers, and friends, I greatly admire such as the team of Pasek and Paul and Adam Gwon. I believe they’re destined for big success.
TP: You’re coming to Australia for a number of different projects/workshops. What opportunities do our readers have to see your work or to participate in workshops?
JB: My upcoming events include performances of It’s Only Life at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne through March 21st (bookings at 03 8290 7000 or chapeloffchapel.com.au), an additional solo concert at that venue at 8:00 P.M. on Monday March 14th where I’ll be singing and playing my songs, a master class at the VCA on March 15th, and a master class and concert on March 23rd at the University of Tasmania who are generously co-sponsoring this trip.
TP: Your show It’s Only Life is being presented in Melbourne by Stella Entertainment and DTM. What direct involvement are you having with the show?
JB: I’m playing piano in the show, accompanying the extraordinary 7-member cast they’ve assembled. We had our opening night Thursday night, and it was one of the most electric and memorable experiences of my life. I so hope that people will come and share in what this brilliantly talented group of people is creating. It’s such a labor of love on the part of everyone involved, and that passion translates into a rewarding and deeply emotional experience for our audiences.
TP: The show is a concert version of an amalgamation of previous works of yours. Can you tell us a little more about it?
JB: It’s Only Life is a musical revue comprised of songs I’ve written over my entire career. There is no story, but rather an emotional and spiritual arc. Daisy Prince, the co-conceiver and original director, and I chose songs and an order that would take the listener on an 80 minute journey with a group of people who are singing about their anxieties and dreams and moving from operating from a place of fear to operating from a place of love. It’s as simple – and as complex – as that.
TP: This is not your first time in Australia. If you manage to find some down time what will you be doing?
JB: Well so far there has been virtually no down time whatsoever! My first full day off is on March 24th in Hobart and I plan on exploring the countryside and maybe going to an animal reserve. While I’m here in Melbourne, though, there will be time during the day to have meals with members of our production and, hopefully, to see a bit more of what is, honestly, my favorite Australian city (don’t tell Sydney…)
TP: Finally for all your fans out there who are keen to know what you are up to, can you tell us what you’re working on and what projects you have in development?
JB: I’ve had the good fortune to be commissioned to write a new musical by a Danish producing organization. The book writer is a brilliant young Dane, and we’ve completed Act 1 of which we did a successful reading there last summer. When I get home from this trip I’ll have 4 months to write Act 2 and get it onto paper for another reading we’ll be doing this August. It’s a beautiful show called Esaura, and we all have high hopes for it.
Stella Entertainment and DTM Talent present:
It’s Only Life
Currently playing at Chapel off Chapel
For more details check out our ‘What’s On Section’