She’s vintage girl-next-door with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. He’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor and “stubby fingers.” Together, they are the songwriting team of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. And while their musicals have been developed at La Jolla Playhouse and Manhattan Theatre Club (among others), that break-through commercial project has eluded the team so far — or they’re not telling us about it yet.
Even so, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have become cult musical theater favorites and I understand why. Their contemporary melodic riffs and underdog lyrics tug at the heartstrings but avoid cliché. Broadway’s top performers are clamoring to wrap their vocals around the duo’s work, hence the all-star revue at this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival. Big belters like Jeremy Jordan (Smash, Newsies, Bonnie and Clyde), Kate Shindle (A Christmas Story, Wonderland) and Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar) showed up to sing through their songbook, led by Lowdermilk on piano and narrative by Kerrigan.
For an avid listener of musical theater, you’ll pick up on the inspiration of other contemporary composers like Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Lippa, fine-tuned phrases from the likes of Ed Kleban and Richard Maltby, Jr. as well as modern masters like William Finn. There is something warm and fuzzy about K&L’s work—wholly unique, yet informed by the grand lineage of musical theater.
While I haven’t seen K&L’s full scripts, this showcase of their work captured one prolific, vulnerable, intimate and soaring song after the next. The two have written for young audiences (Henry and Mudge is still touring with Theatreworks USA) as well as explored themes of young adulthood (The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown). One such highlight was Josh Young’s interpretation of “Run Away With Me.”
Michael Arden sings “Run Away With Me.”
K&L also used the NYMF platform to showcase songs from new works, including Republic, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV set in 1970s Northern Ireland. Another work in progress is Unbound, based on the harrowing story of one of the Beijing Dance Academy’s most famous dancers, who traveled thousand of miles across China to pursue her dream. It is in these sequences where I wonder what is to become of K&L’s body of work. The team needs is a visionary director who can shepherd these story songs into a fully realized vision that resonates beyond the insular bond of the supportive theater community.
An audience-participation performance of “Holding On” from Tales From the Bad Years, led by Dee Roscioli (Wicked), concluded the evening, as the following lyrics echoed throughout the theater…
The earth keeps turning,
The light keeps shifting,
And I keep holding on.
I’m holding on to see where Kerrigan and Lowdermilk go next. I think the next great writing team for musical theater has arrived. Somebody find them a producer and let’s put on a show.