Award-winning songwriter bringing show to Hilo


By JOHN BURNETT

Tribune-Herald staff writer

“Give me a piano and turn the lights on, and I’ll give you a show.”

New York City composer, performer and raconteur Steven Lutvak will be doing just that Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Palace Theater in downtown Hilo. Lutvak, who describes himself as “an old-school songwriter” will perform his original work and talk story about his three decades on and off Broadway.

The New York Times raved that Lutvak is possessed of a “bright, clear voice and a piano style that flows seamlessly from the pumping edge of rock into a semiclassical lyricism” and noted that he “expertly wove his songs into an entertaining semiautobiographical narrative….” Lutvik explained that his shows are “a little free-form.”

“I’m quite good at going with the flow. I won’t know at one o’clock what two o’clock’s performance is going to look like,” he quipped. “… It sort of depends on what’s going to happen in the room. Certainly I’ll start by singing a bunch of songs.”

General admission is $20 advance, while students, teachers and seniors admission is $10. Call the Palace box office at 934-7010. Tickets are $25 at the door.

Lutvak wrote the title song for “Mad Hot Ballroom,” one of the Top-10 all-time film documentaries. Songs from his new musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” written with his principal collaborator Robert L. Freedman, won the Kleban Award for Lyric Writing for the Theater and the Fred Ebb Award for Songwriting for the Theater.

“Artistically, ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ is by far the best thing I’ve ever written and I could not be prouder of it,” he said. “It’s deeply, deeply funny.”

The show will open soon at The Old Globe in San Diego and is set for fall performances at Hartford Stage in Connecticut with Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays starring. Lutvak is hopeful it will play in the Big Apple.

“We have a couple of people dancing around to bring it to New York,” he said.

Lutvak got his foot in the door of New York’s professional theater as a rehearsal pianist while fresh out of college. He said that there are more hopefuls than ever hoping to make a name for themselves on Broadway, many of whom are inspired by the hit television shows Glee and Smash.

“I actually call it ‘the Glee effect,’” he said. “I think there’s a lot more interest because of both of those shows, actually. And I do a lot of coaching for kids who want to go into musical theater programs. A few years ago, there were five degree programs in musical theater as a performer. There are now around 80.”

Lutvak said that Glee and Smash are entertaining but have little to do with reality. He noted that Glee boasted “a polished performance about every 10 minutes” by high school students, while on Smash, the faux musical “Bombshell,” — based on the life of Marilyn Monroe — had a workshop where the play was performed without a finished script for would-be financial backers.

That doesn’t happen,” he said. “It used to be that Stephen Sondheim would write musicals and go into rehearsal, and he’d finish them when they were out of town (testing the show before audiences prior to a Broadway opening). But he’s Stephen Sondheim and he had Hal Prince producing for him. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Asked what advice he’d offer a young performer willing to break a leg, literally, to make it on Broadway, Lutvak replied: “Finish college, get a day job, always put money away, try to have a life — and if you can do anything else, do it.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.