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Groove Lily and Valerie Vigoda Interview

Jordan Wright
December 7th, 2009

striking 12  	  Valerie Vigoda, Gene Lewis, and Brendan Milburn in Striking 12 at Arena Stage December 2 - December 13, 2009 (photo by Joan Marcus)

striking 12 Valerie Vigoda, Gene Lewis, and Brendan Milburn in Striking 12 at Arena Stage December 2 - December 13, 2009 (photo by Joan Marcus)

Groove Lily etched a new groove at Arena Stage last night with their performance of Striking 12. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of ‘The Little Match Girl’ this rock musical, co-written by band members, Valerie Vigoda, on electric violin, keyboardist Brendan Milburn and playwright, Rachel Sheinkin, is an enchanting, heart-wrenching, comedic avenue into the soul.

Set in modern-day New York, with flashbacks to Copenhagen, all roles are played by the three musicians…add blow-out drummer and record producer, Gene Lewin, who channels a Jewish grandma better than Estelle Getty. It’s a knockout show by a rock band with multi-dimensional talents.

I was introduced to Groove Lily seven or eight years ago by a good friend who has now made it a sideline to book acts for Focus Music (an all-volunteer org that presents folk and acoustic music around the DC area). I fell for their tight power-packed sound and well-enunciated lyrics but even more so by the force-of-nature haunting violin strains of Vigoda, who grew up in McLean, VA. If you’ve never heard her play you are missing a piece of your heart.

Around that same time the Army used her image in a recruiting print ad that was featured in every mainstream mag across the nation. There was red-hot Valerie in her camo fatigues and combat boots, wailing on her violin and urging future rock stars to join Uncle Sam. She got some flak for that…not the ammo type.

She was a part timer, ROTC in college, with an 8-year commitment in the reserves as a weekend warrior and then four years with the IRR. She says it gave her the skills and stick-to-tiveness she needed for show biz, though she never once played in an Army band.

I spoke to Vigoda this week as she and husband, Milburn, were en route to New York’s Lincoln Center to receive ASCAP’s Richard Rogers New Horizons Award. (Tiny disclosure here: I am a 40-year member of ASCAP. My sister a 25-year member of New York’s prestigious Outer Critics Circle.)

Jordan Wright – What was the first instrument you played?

striking 12  	Valerie Vigoda in Striking 12 at Arena Stage December 2- December 13, 2009 (Photo by Joan Marcus).

striking 12 Valerie Vigoda in Striking 12 at Arena Stage December 2- December 13, 2009 (Photo by Joan Marcus).

Valerie Vigoda – I used to sit on the piano bench with my father [Bob Vigoda, noted jazz musician] and learned to play with him. I wanted to play trumpet but I never could have sung and played had I chosen that.

JW – Do you play any other instruments?

VV – I played mandolin in the Cyndi Lauper band and I’ve just learned the banjo.

JW – I understand you are writing for Disney now. What’s that like?

VV – We have written the theme song for Pixar’s TinkerBell and the Lost Treasure, a prequel to Peter Pan, being released direct to Blu-Ray and DVD. It sold 2 million copies in its first week. It’s our first song for a movie. I can’t believe how big it is! They now have Pixie Hollow attractions at Disneyland and in Disney Paris. All these little girls go crazy to meet TinkerBell and her fairy friends. They love TinkerBell! There will be six of these movies. So now we are writing songs for the second, third and fourth one.

Also we have written the music for Toy Story: The Musical – an adaption for the stage of the movie that came out in 1995 with Randy Newman songs. This new version will be live on stage at the Hyperion Theater at Adventure Park next year where it will be presented four times a day. It’s currently on the Disney cruise ships.

At the theme parks it will have a giant orchestra with puppets made by Michael Curry [who did the phantasmagorical puppets for Cirque de Soleil, The Lion King and the Olympic Opening Ceremonies]. It’s a spectacular multi-million dollar Broadway-type production with a big cast, about 25 people, and we are so excited because we have loved Toy Story since we saw it when Brendan and I first started dating.

JW – Do you record at the Disney studios?

VV – We go there around once a week and work song by song.

JW – Will you perform at Lincoln Center the night you receive your award?

VV – We’ll play “Only a King” from our show Sleeping Beauty Wakes.

JW – Will you be doing any solo work?

VV – Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is my one-woman show. I’m playing the banjo in it. For a long time we’ve been planning to do a show just for me. I love a live audience and get twitchy without it. Whereas Brendan is not as interested in performing. So we’re writing this show together with Joe Di Pietro who wrote the current Broadway hit MEMPHIS and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

JW – Did I hear that you’re doing Striking 12 at Imagination Stage in Bethesda next week?

VV – Well, we won’t be in it. Actually Striking 12 is currently in production on over a dozen stages worldwide. We were able to license the show – adapt it for others to do with larger casts. It will be in Korea this coming year.

JW – What’s on the immediate horizon for you?

VV – Sleeping Beauty Wakes is another show we’re really excited about. It’s in development at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. We are very hopeful that we are going to take the show to Broadway. We wrote it but won’t perform it. It’s a fairy tale with a twist about Sleeping Beauty oversleeping for a thousand years and waking up in a modern-day sleep clinic. It’s another collaboration with Rachel Sheinkin who won a Tony award for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Bob Vigoda, who had initially been apprehensive about his daughter’s career choice, still lives in McLean, VA, no longer afraid of her following in his footsteps.

Conducted, edited and condensed by Jordan Wright. For comments or queries contact [email protected] or visit .

Striking 12 will be at Arena Stage in Crystal City until December 13th.

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