David Yazbek has some surprising words of advice for all aspiring Broadway composers: Don't listen to any musical theater for a whole year.
"If you can find Chinese folk music, listen to it," says Yazbek, who penned the scores of Broadway's "The Full Monty" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. "If you can find Gregorian chants, listen to those. Listen to everything -- jazz, rock, power pop and death metal -- but don't listen to any musical theater for a year. It just has a tendency to be stale and suffocating."
The writer, composer and self-described "musical troublemaker" may have taken home Tony and Drama Desk awards for his Broadway scores, but Yazbek still doesn't consider himself a "theater person." And while much of his discography veers far from the jazz-hands crowd that lines Times Square every night, he's gearing up to share a New York stage Feb. 4 with Broadway powerhouse Patti LuPone.
The larger-than-life stage persona of LuPone (who nabbed Tony Awards for plum roles in "Evita" and "Gypsy") seems almost at odds with the downtown cult following Yazbek and his band, His Fine Washables, have cultivated with albums like Evil Monkey Man. Still, Yazbek insists the pairing is a natural fit.
"Patti's very adventurous and has a passionate, joyous approach to her work," says Yazbek, who first teamed up with LuPone on the 2010 musical "Women On the Verge of Nervous Breakdown." "She's intensely curious, but she's not driven by her ego; she's driven by the work itself ... and that translates into these big, iconic performances that don't reek of nonsense."
Yazbek isn't deterred by the fact that both he and LuPone were scorched by the New York theater critics for "Women," which closed after just 69 performances despite an all-star cast that included Sherie Rene Scott and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
"Not going out of town is a big mistake for any Broadway show," he recalls. "I don't think that the staging or the production serviced the book and the music very well. ... We just didn't have enough time. But we kept working on it, and I think people who saw the show even just two weeks after we opened saw something a lot different than those who came on opening night."
Audiences shouldn't expect LuPone to dip into her vast Broadway catalog with songs like "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" or "I Dreamed A Dream." Instead, Yazbek says their shared set will include "Invisible," LuPone's haunting solo from "Women" that's since become a staple of her own recent cabaret performances, in addition to other tunes that fans wouldn't immediately associate with the Broadway diva.
But those seemingly off-beat choices are certainly in line with Yazbek's 92Y Tribeca residency, which takes place on the first Monday of every month.
"As a songwriter and musician, I get interested in different genres and I just play what I want to play," he quips. "It might be a form of ADD."
Patti LuPone joins David Yazbek at New York's 92Y Tribeca on Feb. 4, 2012. For more information, click here.
Check out some of Patti LuPone's best moments, with commentary by "Patti Issues" writer and star Ben Rimalower, below: