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Carmel Dean

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Project: Song Blog #3 'My House' -- or -- Why I Love Chip Zien

Posted: 05/29/2012 4:12 pm

Isn't it funny how hearing certain songs, or more specifically certain voices singing certain songs, can bring you back to a very specific memory? Like how hearing Peter Gabriel sing "In Your Eyes" whisks you back to your high school prom? Or James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" reminds you of the first time you learned how to use your dad's record player? In my teenage musical theatre nerd-dom I managed to collect hundreds of original Broadway cast albums (on CD by then!) and there are songs and singers I listened to dozens, if not hundreds of times, which when I hear them to this day, still take me back to my youth.

My first (and favorite) Stephen Sondheim album was the 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods. One of the most distinct, character-filled, resonant, fabulous voices on that CD belonged to Chip Zien, who played the pivotal character of the Baker. His voice is unlike anyone's I've heard -- it's crystal clear, with a beautiful and unique vibrato, and his phrasing is so natural, making it so easy for the listener to connect to and understand whatever he's singing. He was clearly a natural choice for Stephen Sondheim to convey the pathos, charm and humor of that role. (Click here to see Chip and Joanna Gleason singing "It Takes Two" on the PBS television broadcast.)

When my fellow Aussie and NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program alumni Anna K. Jacobs and I were writing "My House," I immediately thought of Chip. "My House" is a tongue-in-cheek seduction song, sung by an older man to a younger woman, who is probably not at all interested in his advances (which of course he doesn't understand). We had to be careful to make sure, in writing it and choosing the performer, that the character didn't come across as a creepy, perverted old man! Chip (whom I've now seen perform in several musicals and plays here in New York) is innately funny, has great instincts and I knew he would be able to bring his natural charm and self-deprecating humor to the song. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to him several years ago, so when I contacted him about "My House" I was thrilled when he agreed to sing it. He not only exceeded my expectations for the song, but in hearing his voice, I instantly remembered lying on my childhood bedroom floor, being taken on a magnificent musical journey through fairy tales and beyond, hoping that someday I could be a part of that world. My inner teenage musical theatre nerd is still squealing with delight.

Please enjoy the marvelous Chip Zien singing "My House," with music by yours truly, and lyrics by Anna K. Jacobs.

 

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