Why This Monday Rocks: Tonight’s Top Events

So it’s the first day of the work week and there are four more days to go. I get it. But why ruminate when you can start to make Mondays the best night of the week? This weekly column is devoted to finding the best events across NYC hosted by individuals and places that are doing amazing, crazy, wild, sexy things on Monday nights. And I am here to honor them. From Tony Award-winning shows to chocolate desserts, here are tonight’s top events.

Watch dogs show off their stuff:
Shampooed, manicured dogs and their owners get competitive tonight and tomorrow at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where 3,000 dogs of 187 breeds stroll across the carpeting as they’re judged across seven divisions, such as toy, terrier, hound, and sporting. Expect lots of owners in pencil skirts and bowties, and nonstop canine cuteness. Airing live from Madison Square Garden tonight, 8pm, CNBC & Tuesday, 8pm, USA. All info here.

See the reunion concert of a Tony Award-winning Broadway show:
In the Heights – the exuberant 2008 musical about three days in the life of Washington Heights residents – returns to New York for a one-night-only concert performance featuring nearly all of the original cast. Written and starring renaissance man Lin-Manuel Miranda (our interview here), this is one of Broadway’s most ebullient shows. A must for not only theatre-lovers, but simply anyone who loves this city. Tonight, 8pm, United Palace Theatre, 4140 Broadway. Tickets & info here.

Eat tons of rarely available chocolate:
Chocolate Week 2013 continues on until Wednesday the 13th, just before V-Day. Participating restaurants and chocolatiers –  such as French spots A.O.C. in the West Village and Bar Tabac in Cobble Hill – are offering special, rarely available desserts like chocolate lava cake and chocolate creme petit pot. Couple this with Valentine’s and there is absolutely no hope for a diet. And that’s just fine. From now until Wednesday the 13th. All details here

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The Voice Behind The Voices: Top Vocal Coach Liz Caplan

You’ve heard her joyously thanked in Tony and Emmy Award acceptance speeches, and you’ve sung along with the fruits of her work on record-breaking pop/rock albums, blockbuster movie musicals, and Broadway shows about Mormons and Dublin street musicians. As the voice behind the music industry’s top voices, vocal coach-teacher-supervisor Liz Caplan is a story all her own. Since arriving to New York in 1978 with just $300-worth of babysitting money, she’s amassed a clientele that includes The Goo Goo Dolls, James Blunt, Lily Allen, Neil Patrick Harris, the Broadway casts of Book of Mormon and Once, and more. And when you couple her students with her two apps, her consultation to all major record labels, and her team of associates that teach her licensed technique, a Liz Caplan empire is born.

But you’d never know it when you meet her. Clad in a bright tunic in her sun-lit Chelsea studio where you’re greeted by her very vocal and gentlemanly dog Schanuzee, Liz is the image of contentment. Better yet, joy. The secret: her mind-body approach to coaching. By mixing homeopathy, physical alignment, and nutrition, Liz has created a style that seeks to, as she explains, "melt" people – drawing forth their true spirit, and giving it the freedom to be heard in their voice. 

And she does exactly that. For an afternoon, I had the chance to have a lesson and conversation with Liz, where she shared some of the most thrilling moments of her career, a shocking singing no-no, the truth behind tone-deafness, and one miraculous story.

You have a kind of sixth sense, and you’re also a bit of a guru. When did you realize you have this talent to understand voices?
Since I was a child, I’ve always had this freaky gift of being able to hear what frequencies are missing in somebody’s voice. I’m able to locate it and hear when someone is locking their head, their shoulders, tensing their feet. The moment that tension is released, the sound pops open. I truly believe the voice is completely perfect; it’s what we do to it before we breath and sing that makes it imperfect. 

What’s it like for you to watch a live performance? Are you constantly in coaching mode?
I can’t help it, but the answer is yes. For instance, I work with Amanda Seyfried, and worked with her on the movie version of Les Miserables. When I sat down next to her to watch the premiere, which was so exciting, I told myself, "Okay self, relax, let the movie just wash over you." But I couldn’t help but dive into every person’s voice. It’s just what I do. When it comes to what you were put on this Earth to do, for me it’s analyze voices.

How did you prepare her for the role of Cosette?
Amanda didn’t just get an offer; she had to audition a bunch of times. She came into classes pretty much everyday for six months. There was a moment where I said, "I’m going to make this happen for her. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get her this role." And I still have the voicemail on my phone when she called and said, "Hi. I’m calling to let you know I just got off the phone with the director. And I’m Cosette." 

You have so many thrills like this.
I think it’s the kind of thrills I’m supposed to have in my life. When I was a singer, I couldn’t handle them, but when I apply them to my students, I can; it’s so joyous because it’s in my heart but outside of me. It’s like the energy my client, composer/lyricist and performer Lin Manuel Miranda, gives off everyday. It’s pure joy, because you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do. So my applause is when my client gets the part.

What about the time Book of Mormon actress Nikki M. James won the Tony? 
I was in the third row because I was working with Neil Patrick Harris on the Tony Awards, as I always do, and when Nikki said, "to Liz Caplan, my voice teacher who saved my life and my voice," my husband turned to me and said: "She just said your name." And I went into this place where a vacuum happened and I had to watch it myself to remember it. 

You work mostly with clients sent by Broadway producers and management companies. But you also do emergency consulting work with record labels. 
Yes, recording companies will call me when an artist has to do a really huge gig and they were on tour and suddenly lost their voice. I’ll be with them for an entire day and give intermediate voice lessons – 15 minutes here, 20 minutes here, 30 minutes here – from 9am to when they do their gig at night.

And that doesn’t overwork their voice?
Nothing I do will ever fatigue the voice. I feel like when I’m teaching, I have a miner’s cap on with a flashlight. I’m always inside the voice and throat and trying to get a feel for what’s going on. Everything I do is to limber up the intrinsic muscles that cause that fatigue and are overcompensated. 

What’s it like promoting a healthy, holistic vocal approach in an industry known for debauchery?
I’ll never judge what artists want to do with their mind and body, but I do feel that if you want to be at the top of your field and aim for that award, then you want to take care of yourself; do yoga, meditate for just 10 minutes a day, eat properly. It can be a hard, depressive industry, and if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’ll always feel a step behind the artists who work out, eat right, win awards. If you treat yourself positively, all of that will actualize itself positively into your career. 

Besides drinking and depressing yourself to death, what’s the #1 worst thing for your voice?
Advil. Do not take Advil. Ibuprofen is a blood thinner, so it thins the blood going to the vocal cords. If you’re singing something really hard and you’re taking ibuprofen, the risk of hemorrhaging your vocal cord is tremendous. Take extra strength Tylenol. 

Be honest: do you think anyone can sing?
Yes. If you can hear the pitches of police or fire engine sirens, then you can sing.

Then what about tone-deafness? Does that exist?
Actually, no. People who say they are tone deaf were just not exposed to music growing up. I call them "tone-ignorant." They were usually very into athletics as a kid, and rarely saw shows or listened to music, so they weren’t exposed to any music. With a good deal of lessons, it’s easy to reverse, and always a revelation for them when they finally hear themselves sing in-tune. 

Four paws appear underneath the door, as Schnauzee scratches to come in. Liz opens the door, and he takes a seat beside her.

Your dog can really sing. How old is he?
Eleven. He got diagnosed with cancer in June, during Tony week when I was working with Neil. They gave him 30 days to live and said he has the worst kind of cancer an animal can get. So I called all of my homeopathic healers and medical intuits, and today is day 188. He’s on supplements and enzymes and I cook him organic food. 

And it’s gone?
He’s in remission. He went into remission on the day they said he would not live. While the medical professionals told me nothing would help him, my homeopath said, "This is going to be hard, but if you do this regimen, you might be able to get him okay." And he was. I will tell you, I have had students who have won Tony Awards, Grammys, all of that, and this is my biggest accomplishment yet.

Josh Gad

Lin-Manuel Miranda on ‘Bring It On: The Musical’

If every Tony Award-winning Broadway show was a country, Bring It On: The Musical would be the UN. Why? Because the creators behind this musical, a show loosely based on the movie of the same name, are the same people that have produced some of the decade’s most beloved Broadway musicals: Avenue Q, In the Heights, High Fidelity, and Next to Normal. So when you take out the puppets, add a bunch of cheerleaders, and stick them in two very contrasting high schools with very contrasting music to sing, dance, and cheerlead to, you get more than just drama; you get a show that teems with all the energy, comedy, and heart of its creators, but with a sound and style all its own. Here, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the co-composer and co-lyricist of Bring It On: The Musical and the writer of In the Heights, shares what he’s loved most about working on this show, why it’s record-breaking, and his experiences in high school. 

What was your first memory of seeing Bring It On the movie? What did you think?
I was in college, it was 2000, and I remember thinking, "Wow, this is a really funny movie." I had the same stereotypes about cheerleaders that most people who don’t grow up in that world have. What excited me most about working on this show was that our bookwriter Jeff Whitty didn’t want to adapt the original movie. He really wanted to take the world of competitive cheerleading and find what was stage-worthy in it. Jeff had an idea that was a totally different plot that, based on All About Eve with cheerleaders, which has been fantastic.

What is about cheerleaders that you find musically inspiring?
Well, they do what musicals do already; they dance to music. But they also do these incredible feats, like acrobatics, making cheerleading this weird nexus of athleticism and showmanship. It’s this weird world with its own rules, and it’s been fun immersing myself in that world for the past three years, and meeting some of our cast members who live in that world, who are just fucking indestructible.

While watching the show, I was thinking to myself: "What are these character breakdowns like?" To be in this show, you must have an incredible voice, acting skills, and you must be incredibly good looking and a pro cheerleader. Where do you find these people and how do they exist?
We do our best to delineate it so that each skill set is in its own track , but it’s crazy; we saw over 3,000 people and we cast 14 cheerleaders. And we have a very young cast. We have something like 32 Broadway debuts – which is a record. It’s exciting. For me, my last show on Broadway was my first show, In the Heights, so to get to experience that sort of energy with the next show has been a real joy because they’re all experiencing the Broadway community for the first time. It’s not a cliché; if you’re working at this level, you make friends with all the people in the shows around you, and it’s been a joy watching that happen.

For Bring It On, you’ve shared the writing room with Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, High Fidelity), Amanda Green (High Fidelity), and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q). What’s the energy in there like?
Oh, well right now it’s funny because we’re really on the tail end of working on and changing the show, so everyone’s getting weepy and nostalgic. We’ve been writing this show pretty nonstop since 2009, which is super fast for a musical. In the Heights took seven years. What helped that go fast was that Jeff and director Andy Blankenbuehler had a really clear take on the story they wanted to tell. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of that. And divvying up duties was really fun. We thought that I’d write my songs and they’d write their songs, and we’d just meet in the middle, but that went away really quickly. 

Lin-Manuel MirandaHow separate and how interwoven was the collaboration? 
We started borrowing themes from each other pretty instantly, so Tom would take a theme from a song I did and interpolate it into one of his songs and vice versa. There are songs where Tom wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics, and songs where I took a pass at the lyrics and Amanda revised the lyrics, so we’ve worked in every combination; everyone’s fingerprints are on every song in the show. But it also helped us to write it faster. It helped us get closer to what our show sounds like, like, "Oh, that’s very much in this world."

"That’s the Bring It On sound."
Exactly.

Describe this show in just three words, what this show is really about.
Love of collaboration – though I’d hate to use one of my three on "of." What I love about this show is what I love about theatre; not one person can make a musical, you can’t do it by yourself. And not one person can make a cheerleading team. One of the things our main character learns is that she’s actually not in it to win first place at Nationals and win all these trophies. They don’t mean anything. What she finds is that she loves the joy of making something bigger than yourself, and that can only happen with other people. That’s very much how I feel about writing this show. The fact that this was a composing team means that I couldn’t have written this by myself, and they couldn’t have either. That was so much longer than three words.

I’ll take it, I’ll take it. The show pokes fun at a lot of high school cliques. What were you like as a high schooler?
I was definitely a floater. My wife and I joke about this because we socialize at different frequencies; if you put the two of us at a party, I’ll have five-minute conversations with everyone there, and she’ll have an hour-long conversation with one person. I always ran around a lot. I was always a theatre geek. I don’t remember school in terms of semesters; I remember it in terms of play in the fall, musical in the winter, original plays in the spring.

So you were writing shows even in high school?
Yes, we had plays that were written and directed by students. I would always write all year to try to get a play produced in the spring. I wrote two musicals and one play in my 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

What was the first musical about that you wrote?
It was about a fetal pig that a kid dissected in bio coming back for revenge, and all of the kid’s other subconscious fears start to come out. My mom’s a psychologist. It was all very Freudian.