Cabaret

Interview with
Kirsten Benton and
Stan Chandler

by Jonathan Frank

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, it's time to find that romantic CD to put on your stereo to act as the perfect mood enhancer. I know what will be on mine that night: Kirsten Benton and Stan Chandler's a quiet thing. This husband and wife team, who have performed as onstage married partners in Into The Woods, have recorded a wonderful low-key, romantic album that embraces pop and Broadway with equal fervor. I caught the two on a break during rehearsals of Jacques Brel's Alive And Well And Living In Paris to chat about their careers and their album.

Jonathan: Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Stan and Kirsten. This is going to be interesting as it's the first time that I've interviewed two people at the same time.

Let's get the 'cutesy' question out of the way: How did you two meet?

Stan: We were doing a reading of a new musical at The Falcon Theater here in the Valley and we played husband and wife in it ...

Kirsten: When we were first cast opposite each other, we didn't know each other. And Stan came up to me and introduced himself by saying "Hi!! I'm Stan Chandler and I'm your husband." And it ended up being true!

JF:  When did you two get married?

KB:  We got married October 22 of last year.

SC:  We got married and were working on this CD at the same time, which was insane!

JF:  If you can survive that, you're in for the long haul! And it really paid off; I love your CD, a quiet thing.

SC:   Thank you!

a quiet thing
Song Clip Click for
I Will/Maybe I'm Amazed"
In RealAudio

JF: Now please take this the right way ... I was a little unsure about listening to it at first because it rang all these warning bells; 'Married-Couple-Produces-CD-Of-Love-Songs.' But it is wonderful! The songs are great and the two of you blend so beautifully together. I love the Carpenter-esque harmonies you have on the album.

SC:  We were a little startled when we first heard a recording of the two of us singing together. We just looked at each other and went, "Oh my God! That sounds like one voice!" We have a lot of fun slipping and sliding and alternating on who gets to sing the upper part of a song. And where we sing unison, we didn't want to mess around too much since it sounds like one voice.

JF:  I heard you before, Kirsten, on Babbie Green's Soldiers Of The Heart album.

KB:  I love Babbie! She's the daughter of Johnny Green, you know. He wrote "Body and Soul" and won an Oscar for his orchestrations and musical direction for the film version of Oliver! I think he was a multiple Oscar winner, actually, as he worked on many movies.

JF:  I can't remember off the top of my head if you did the same song on both albums ...

KB:  No, I didn't get to sing "And It's OK" on her album, but it's one of my favorite songs that she has written. It was wonderful to take a song that was previously recorded with just piano and vocal and give it a different life with more orchestration.

SC:  We recorded it with arco bass, piano, and oboe.

KB:  And the best thing is hearing from her how much she loved our version.

JF:  I know you did many of the arrangements on the CD. Was that one of them?

KB:  Yes. We worked hand in hand with Scott Harlan in doing all the arrangements. It was really neat, as we had definite ideas on what we wanted the CD to sound like. We didn't want anything to sound 'generic.' Our sensibilities music-wise are for a much more old-fashioned feel, so we didn't want any of that contemporary pop, power ballad Celine Dion-type sound on it. It's much more rooted in the older school, like James Taylor, with a smaller sound and less drums.

JF:  I liked the fact that it wasn't chock full of big, electronic, synthetic sounds.

KB:  Exactly! We wanted simplicity. When we went into the studio to record the first track, which combines "I Will" with "Maybe I'm Amazed," the arrangement had this big, drum backbeat thing going on, and we just went "No!" We wanted to go more towards the folk end of the spectrum versus the pop end.

JF:  Another thing I really responded to and liked on the CD is the fact that you're not just doing all these old cabaret and theater standards. You have quite a lot of classic pop songs. Normally I'm not a big fan of pop music, but your selections were all ones I liked ... probably because they all have meaningful lyrics and an emotional connection.

KB:  Thank you. It's really hard to define 'pop.' James Taylor is considered 'pop,' as is Billy Joel, but they are completely different from, say, Counting Crows.

SC:   I think we lean more towards that subdivision in the Grammy's called 'Traditional Pop,' which is what Michael Feinstein is considered to be.

JF:  I got into a debate the other day over what constitutes the so-called "Great American Songbook." Technically people like to end it around 1968 when the Beatles came and took over pop music. And nothing from then on is considered to be part of the Songbook, which leaves out all these great writers like Joan Baez, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell and Harry Chapin; all these writers who wrote great story-telling songs with wonderful melodies and lyrics.

KB:  It's funny you should mention Harry Chapin, since I did a stage show last year based on his music called Lies And Legends and it was one of the best things I had ever done. I really didn't know Chapin's music before that. The music that really implanted itself into me growing up was James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and the Beatles. Harry Chapin was never a part of that. So to discover a new writer in that era and do his music in a show was really great.

JF:  Was it a book show or a revue?

KB:  It was a revue, but it was done very theatrically. It's been around for a while: George Ball and Amanda McBroom did it, I think, at Pasadena Playhouse long ago. And George was the one who directed the production I was in last year.

JF:  You two are doing Jacques Brel's Alive And Well And Living In Paris with Amanda and George. How long is the run and where is it being done?

KB:  It runs for five weeks, which is a nice amount of time. It's playing at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. [For more information visit www.rubicontheatre.org]

SC:  The show opens on the 19th ...

KB:  And officially runs through February 17th. But it probably will be extended a week.

JF:  What songs do you two get to sing in Brel? What track are you on?

KB:  The young track! Basically, I sing "The Old Folks" and all the sweet, lilting songs and Stan gets the young, virile numbers.

SC:  I sing "Bulls," "Statue," "Alone," "Fanette," and "Bachelor's Dance," as well as singing "Girls and Dogs" and "The Middle Class" with George.

JF:  Who's directing it?

KB:  Moni Yakim, who directed the original Off-Broadway production.

JF:  Is he recreating his original production?

KB:  Yes. There's nothing new choreographically; it's all what was done before. Since Amanda and George have done it before, it's just a case of us learning it.

JF:  It's always funny to say "Jacques Brel's Alive And Well and Living In Paris" since, he's, well ... dead!

KB:  They should add a postscript to the title!

SC:  Jacques Brel Was Alive And Living In Paris ...

KB:  ... at one time! (laughs)

JF:  Have the two of you ever performed in a cabaret show together?

SC:  Not yet.

KB:  We're working on one now to coincide with the release of our CD.

JF:  Stan, you were in the original company of Forever Plaid in New York ... how was that show developed? Was it a set, written show or did it evolve through those involved?

SC:  It did evolve. A guy named Stuart Ross had come up with the basic idea, and he and James Raitt, who is related to Bonny and John Raitt, tried several different concepts of it at various locations and it never really worked. James and Stuart decided to give the show one more chance and threw out all the old stuff; they killed the guys off and started over from scratch.

I got a call from Stuart that said "I have this project, I don't know where it will be done, I don't have any money for it, and I really don't know what it is ... are you interested?" I said, "Sure!" So he told me that they were going to have a rehearsal down at Theatreworks USA in Lower Manhattan and I was asked to come and sing through some stuff. I did and thought the show sounded fun. Because there was no money, there was no place to rehearse, so I suggested they all come up to my apartment on 14th Street as I had a bank of windows facing uptown, which turned into mirrors at night.

So the guys would all schlep to my apartment, we would drink beer and make each other laugh and in the process came up with Forever Plaid. We had our first public performance on October 17th, 1989, which was the night of the San Francisco earthquake. When we first started out, we had about 50 minutes of material we would do a couple late shows a week at Steve McGraw's for free. We started throwing out things that weren't working and adding new material and finally after six months a guy named Gene Wolsk came in and wrote a check for $50,000, which allowed us to go into an eight-show-a-week Off-Off Broadway contract. Prior to that, we were taking turns taking the shirts home, washing and pressing them. We made all our own props. We would print up flyers and put them on windshields ... it was a total bootstrap operation!

JF:  Were you in all the appearances in the Easter Bonnets and other Broadway Cares fundraisers that I've seen preserved on tape?

SC:  Absolutely. We never turned down an AIDS benefit.

JF:  I think I saw you perform live, actually. I saw the 1987-88 Revival of Cabaret, in which you sang "Tomorrow Belongs To Me."

SC:  Yes, I did it on Broadway with Alyson Reed and Joel Grey. I went back out with it on tour with Nancy Ringham.

JF:  Kirsten, when did you do the Stephen Schwartz show, Snapshots?

KB:  I did it twice last year.

JF:  Was it part of the New Musical workshop that he participates in?

KB:  No. This was a separate thing. It wasn't work-shopped, it was more 'This thing is done; let's put it up so we can get money' sort of thing. As it stands now, they are looking for investors.

JF:  Does it have a book?

KB:  It has a thin plot written around the songs, some of which were written specifically for the show, and some that appeared in other shows of his.

JF:  Kind of like Putting It Together, then.

KB:  To my mind, sitting and listening to Stephen Schwartz's songs is a great way to spend an evening! I love his music.

JF:  Do either of you have any shows planned after Brel?

SC:  We are gearing up towards creating shows around this album.

JF:  Kirsten, you have on your bio that you are in an animated version of The Princess and the Pea. What studio is releasing it?

KB:  Sony Studio.

JF:  Who wrote the music?

KB:  Alan Williams and David Pomeranz.

JF:  And you are playing the Princess?

KB:  Yes I am. I got the big ol' lead!

JF:  Well, I wish you all the best on your run on Jacques Brel and with the release of your wonderful CD.

KB&SC: Thanks!

For more information on a quiet thing and on Kirsten and Stan, visit LML's website, www.lmlmusic.com or order at Amazon.com. And to hears samples from the upcoming Princess And The Pea movie, visit www.princess-and-the-pea.com


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