Truly insightful new musical theatre writers are uncommon these days.
Those whose work you long to hear over and over are rarer still.
And ones who attract, inspire, and speak for young audiences are all but extinct.
Perhaps Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk aren’t the only ones of their kind,
but in their voice and drive to express the inexpressible in today’s young adults,
there’s no one else like them.
I first became aware of them when I saw their first (and thrilling) collaboration,
The Woman Upstairs, at the first New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004.
That show, about a blind violinist romancing a frigid physics professor,
was replete with innovative musical and dramatic ideas that spoke of New York City
and the current generation in ways bursting with invention musical theatre had all but abandoned.
Luckily, the intervening years have not dulled Brian and Kait’s talent or insight—their
writing is now even more mature, intelligent, and evocative than it was the first time I heard it.
This, their debut recording, captures in sterling clarity their unique outlook on life and love,
and the many unexpected ways they communicate it to—and through—grown-ups who are struggling
with the turmoil and elation of suddenly no longer being children.
Just try to not be enchanted by Michael Arden singing “Run Away With Me” from
The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown,
of the plight of a young man who hasn't yet learned that not every dream comes true.
Or by Matt Doyle bravely battling loss (and not necessarily winning) in “Last Week’s Alcohol”
as he’s consumed by drunken forlornness.
“Say the Word” (also from Samantha Brown),
“Five and a Half Minutes” (The Woman Upstairs),
and “Not a Love Story” (Tales from the Bad Years)
serenely catalog different angles of the surging romantic devotion most of us are afraid to divulge.
And how can you not marvel at "My Heart Is Split" and "How to Return Home,"
from the blog-inspired The Freshman Experiment,
which convey the vital but seldom-heard message that you're never really ready to grow up
until it actually happens?
In their music and lyrics, Brian and Kait explore every nuance of these contrasts,
while never sacrificing the heart and the hope that makes them worth singing about in the first place.
As they’ve done ever since The Woman Upstairs,
they offer aid and comfort to everyone navigating life’s most confusing years by
articulating the thoughts and feelings we all usually have to keep hidden,
no matter how much it may pain us.
The irony of the title is obvious: Our First Mistake describing a work of
meticulous attention to dramatic and emotional detail?
Yes, because no one ever succeeds without making a few missteps along the way.
You may stumble, but you’ll always come out stronger in the end.
One predicts that will be just as true of Brian and Kait—though if these songs represent the “mistake,”
one can’t imagine how spectacular their eventual successes will be.
- Matthew Murray is the chief theatre critic for TalkinBroadway.com
and is a columnist for BroadwayStars.
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