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Terence Blanchard
A Score for A Streetcar Named Desire

Terence Blanchard
The new Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire stars Blair Underwood, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Nicole Ari Parker, Wood Harris—and music by musician and composer Terence Blanchard. In addition to numerous film scores, Blanchard wrote music for the Broadway play The Motherfucker With the Hat.

Mr. Blanchard has graciously fielded a few questions from the Talkin' Broadway staff.

How did you come to be involved in the project?

Stephen Bryd, the producer, was the first person to reach out to me about getting on this project. Soon after that I met with Emily Mann and we hit it off right away. Everyone involved with this project have been a real pleasure to work with. It has been great.

Streetcar features strong characters and intense emotions, drenched in mood-harsh reality and the fragile hold on it, memories, and worries. What aspect of it or which character did you first gravitate to when you began to think about and compose the music?

I think the first thing I gravitated to was the setting itself. I feel that the city of New Orleans is such an important part of this play, it in itself is a character. There is such a rich well of New Orleans musical history to draw upon that it would be foolish to ignore it. That said, I didn't approach writing the music from a historical stand point.

Is the music all new or are some traditional / pre-existing melodies incorporated, adapted, or quoted?

It is an original score for the play but of course it has that feel of New Orleans. So there will be melodies and harmonies that will remind the audience of New Orleans. I wanted to be able to draw the audience into the setting and the characters with the music. So it gives more depth and impact to the overall performance.

Were there experiences with The Motherfucker with the Hat which were helpful in the Streetcar experience?

Motherfucker with the Hat certainly gave me some insight of what to expect when it comes to composing for this medium. Streetcar and MWTH were very different projects though, so I wanted to approach Streetcar with fresh eyes and not make any assumptions of what to expect.

The play is so atmospheric and Alex North's score for the film was quite effective. Was that score used as any kind of reference point?

Alex's score was something I had listened to before but I can't say it was much of a reference point. I wanted to create something new and approach the music to the play in a different way.

How did New Orleans, your own hometown, inspire or serve as a guide for style and sound?

Music is so woven into the fabric of the culture of this city that you can't ignore it. It surrounds you everywhere you are. Thats why it makes so much sense to have music in Streetcar, you can't have New Orleans be the setting for your play without having music in it.

Was the music created and "tried on for size," with ideas tried, rejected, replaced, expanded over a long period, with decisions made after you saw rehearsals or had meetings to see how the play was being interpreted? Or was your work mostly done in isolation apart from others involved in the show?

It certainly is always a process when you are scoring for the theater or film because you can't just focus on the music alone. A musical idea that you have may work great just by itself but when you put it with the film or the actors on stage it doesn't work at all. You have to take into consideration what is happening in the scenes, what had previously happened, and what is going to happen. This type of composing can't take place in a box. You have to make decisions about when the music is their to support the events that have or are taking place on stage or when events on stage can be in a more supportive role to the music. So yes, through of the process there are many ideas that might not work out and need to be rewritten or changed in some small manner or the other.

A Streetcar Named Desire is in previews at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St. with opening night scheduled for April 22. For performance and ticket information, visit Telecharge. For more on this production, and a preview of Blanchard's score, check out this video.

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