Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Palm Springs / Coachella Valley

Ten Questions With Philip Chaffin And Tommy Krasker
The dynamic duo behind the PS Classics recording label take their project from sounds to stage Interview by Robert Sokol

Also see Robert's Ten Questions with Jason Graae

Philip Chaffin and Tommy Krasker
with Gregory
Philip Chaffin and Tommy Krasker have been a couple for over three decades. When they met, Chaffin was pursuing a performing career while Krasker produced recordings for Nonesuch and other labels. In 1999 they formed PS Classics Records, which quickly became a leading player in the cast recording genre as well as an invaluable resource to theatre artists looking to record solo albums. The pair spent twenty years in New York before Krasker's health concerns prompted a move to Florida. The onset of the pandemic and Florida's lax response to it brought them to the safe haven of the Coachella Valley for what they thought was a temporary respite. Now they call it home. They continue to run the label from here and their most recent project is developing a PS Classics release–Chaffin's 2019 recording titled Will He Like Me?–as a stage presentation for the Summer Cabaret Series at Coachella Valley Repertory.

1: What is the state of the art for PS Classics at the quarter-century mark?

Tommy Krasker: Oh Lord, it really has been a quarter of a century, hasn't it? We're doing a lot less than we used to. Part of that is just the passage of time. I'm 65 now. I've got some health issues, and I can't be doing what we did in 2008 when we released eighteen albums in one year. So, we're very choosy about the projects we take on now. It's funny, though. I said we've slowed down, yet this year we've got five releases. That's the most since 2015.

2: What does the "PS" stand for?

TK: I haven't thought about this for so long. It's the initials of the two dogs we had at the time, Please and Sumner. Yes, we had a dog named Please. (Laughs.)

3: Philip, what made you take the leap into solo recording in 1999? Did it help that you had an in with an album producer?

Philip Chaffin: Well, I definitely wouldn't have made that first album without Tommy producing. He knows me so well and not only knows how I sing, but how I think. I always imagined being the singer with the band, like one of those singers who sang in front of the Jimmy Dorsey or Glenn Miller Orchestra.

TK: So that's what we did [with Where Do I Go from You? in 1999].

4: What inspired the album Will He Like Me? in 2018?

PC: Stephen Sondheim. I was doing my Dorothy Fields album in 2013, and the opening track was "Remind Me," where the refrain starts, "Remind me not to find you so attractive, remind me that the world is full of men." Of course, in 2013, guys didn't say that on disc. Guys would say the world is full of "women." You changed the gender. Except you couldn't just say "women" here because it had to rhyme later on. We were totally stumped. By that point, Tommy had produced a dozen albums for Stephen Sondheim, so he wrote to him and asked for any suggestions. Steve wrote back with some amazing lyrics, any of which would have worked, but he also wrote, "You know guys, it's 2013, I think you should just sing the lyric as is." I always say, when Stephen Sondheim talks, you listen! So, I sang the song that way on the album. Then I started thinking about all the other songs I loved that I'd never sung, because men didn't typically sing them.

TK: People don't necessarily remember this, but twenty years ago, no guy was getting up on a recording or a concert and singing a love song about another guy. It just wasn't happening.

PC: For me, if I was going to sing a love song typically sung by a woman, I would change the pronouns. Suddenly, we thought about not doing that. The idea was to take some classic songs of the Great American songbook–songs that were originally meant to be sung by women–and just sing them as is. No changing pronouns. Not changing men's names to women's names. Just sing "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" and "Lovely Lonely Man." Then, when marriage equality hit in 2015, everything changed again. Before then, no guy could sing "When I Marry Mr. Snow."

TK: At least not seriously.

PC: Right. It would have seemed like a joke.

5: When did you decide to develop it as a full-length performance?

PC: Pretty much right after we finished the album. I always thought it was going to be a stage show and I think Palm Springs is a perfect venue for it.

6: The song qualification criteria is described as "songs that were once the exclusive domain of women" in the press release. Expand on that.

TK: Oh God, that sounds so harsh, doesn't it? Don't we have another way of phrasing it?

PC: I think we sometimes say songs once considered off limits to men. There were whole ideas that just weren't typical for a man to express on a recording or on stage. I'm doing "I Got Lost in His Arms" in this concert, as I did on the recording. Sure, you can change the pronouns, but it's kind of strange saying "her arms held me fast and it broke the fall." However, it makes perfect sense if you sing it as a man singing about another man. I call it a gay man's love story.

7: Has the definition of eligible songs evolved as you have developed the concept of the recording for the stage?

PC: The definition hasn't changed much. It's just gotten much, much harder. (Laughs) There were only, I think, sixteen songs on the fifty-minute album. Also, although there was a semblance of a plot on the album–you definitely understand that it started with a first date and ended with a big relationship–a lot of it was up to the listener's imagination. With more time to tell the story, we really wanted to focus on the storytelling, to see these stages in his life, the guys he goes out with, why the relationships don't last. You see him try to juggle two relationships at once and it blows up in his face. You see him try to settle down with one guy, but the guy cheats on him. Finally, you see him find the perfect man and get married and spend the rest of his life with him, and it's all done in song. There's no dialogue at all.

8: Talk about the selection process.

PC: I wanted to pick songs that obviously spoke to me. I must've gone over 200 or 300 songs trying to find the right ones. I love to cook, so there are several songs about cooking in the show. One of them is the old Fanny Brice song "Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love." It's not the kind of thing that a man used to sing, but in this day and age, why not?

9: Were any songs left out that you really wanted to include?

TK: Occasionally, we would know what the situation was, and we would think, "We need a song like such-and-such" but we knew we couldn't use that song because men had been singing it for years. So, finding a song designed to be sung by women to fit a particular plot point was really tough. I'm really proud of the solutions we came up and the show is an amazing showcase for Philip. He goes through the wringer up there on that stage, not just singing for 80 straight minutes, but going through all these relationships and making them so crystal clear.

PC: It's funny. We started this album in 2019, and we didn't figure out one plot point until about six weeks ago. We had the guy in love with two guys at the same time, and we needed a song where he recognized that, where he threw up his hands and said, "I need to move on from this." Of course, it had to be a song that had been introduced or designed for a woman. We struggled with that moment for so long. And suddenly Tommy woke up on a Saturday morning with a big lightbulb moment, and a song that was perfect.

10: Now that you are giving the concept a more formal structure, can you imagine other artists performing it? Anyone you'd love to cast in a fantasy production?

PC: PC: That's so funny. We had friends come over so we could do the show for them. I just wanted to have a little bit of an audience before I go out on the stage at CV Rep because it's so different for me. We wanted to make sure the story worked and that they understood all the things we were trying to do. The first thing they said when I was finished was, other guys would love to do this show. So yes, absolutely, I can imagine that this might be an actual licensable vehicle at some point, but I think I probably wanna perform it myself a couple of hundred times first. (Laughs.)

Philip Chaffin: Will He Like Me? happens at 7:00 p.m. on June 26, 2024, as part of the annual Summer Cabaret Series at Coachella Valley Repertory, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City CA. Tickets are $50. For tickets and information, please visit or call 760-296-2966, Extension 0.