People who’ve seen GrooveLily perform usually struggle for ways to describe the trio. The New York-based band presents unique musical stage shows that are a cross between Broadway and power pop. “Chamber jazz rock operetta,” is how one critic saw it.
GrooveLily performs mini-musicals and musical adaptations of plays, which has brought them attention and critical acclaim. Its members – electric violinist Valerie Vigoda, pianist Brendan Milburn, and drummer Gene Lewin – have created a stage presence like no other group touring today.
Lewin said that GrooveLily originally sought to be a pop group, which didn’t quite work out because of the theatrical bent of their music. They didn’t find success until they acknowledged their unique sound.
“Rather than avoid the fact that we’re eclectic, we’ve embraced it,” said Lewin.
At the heart of GrooveLily is Vigoda, an accomplished singer and classically trained violinist. She founded the Valerie Vigoda Band in 1994, and the name was changed to GrooveLily a few years later. Vigoda has also toured with pop acts such as Cyndi Lauper, Joe Jackson, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Milburn and Vigoda began writing songs together and ended up marrying in 1998. Lewin joined the group after filling in on a few occasions, and when the original drummer left the group, he stepped in.
The group’s first real success came with the festive production “Striking 12,” written for GrooveLily by Rachel Sheinkin, the same playwright who penned the award-winning “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
“In the quest for an ideal holiday entertainment for adults, ‘Striking 12’ strikes gold,” wrote Don Shirley of the Los Angeles Times.
GrooveLily collaborated on the production by providing original songs and score, and premiered it in 2002. The show went on to play to standing-room-only audiences in New York City and elsewhere, and it continues to be a holiday favorite wherever they take it.
The show, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” features the trio not only playing the music and singing the songs, but also playing all the roles in the production.
Something new this year for the group is that “Striking 12” has been licensed, and for the first time, is being performed by other companies throughout the world.
After “Striking 12,” the group introduced several more critically acclaimed musical adaptations, including “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” in 2006 and “Sleeping Beauty Wakes” in 2007.
GrooveLily is now finishing up a CD of the concert version of “Sleeping Beauty Wakes,” which will be released in April 2009, Lewin said.
Recently, Vigoda and Milburn wrote the score for “Toy Story: The Musical,” commissioned by Disney for its cruise ships. In addition, the pair wrote another musical, “Long Story Short,” for which they did both book and music, which premiered this year at Theatreworks Palo Alto and Pittsburgh City Theatre.
“The theater world is the place where we can be ourselves and have a career,” said Lewin.
“Our music has always been really theatrical. It turned out to be our ticket to something better.”
Personal interview with Gene Lewin, December 2008