Justin Ellington, who did the music for "Other Desert Cities," is a composer/producer based in Brooklyn by way of Atlanta. If you log on to his website, www.justinellington.com , you can hear a sample of his music, and also learn about his background in both the theater, in which he has worked across the country on a variety of projects, and in popular music with the production company Bangladesh, with such artists as Lil Wayne, Ciara, and Ludacris. The other day, I asked Ellington a few questions about his recent activities.
1) How did your collaboration with Joe Mantello on "Other Desert Cities" come about?
I had the opportunity to work with Joe on a production of "The Pride" [a play by Alexi Kaye Campbell that played off-Broadway in 2010] and we seemed to connect and exchange ideas quite comfortably. One day I emailed him to offer congrats on something I read and in his reply he mentioned that he was working on a really great script and he wanted me to be involved.
2) What inspired you as your wrote the music for the "Other Desert Cities"?
My biggest inspiration came from simply from being in the room, listening to the actors deliver the text, and watching Joe put this beautiful production on its feet.
3) Do you prefer to write music for plays or more full-out musical-theater projects where you are the composer?
I actually like writing for both straight plays and musicals. They both offer different sets of challenges.
4) What is your most recent project?
"Are You There, McPhee?," by John Guare, at The McCarter Theater in Princeton.
5) Can you tell me a little about "Stagger Lee," the musical you are working on with Will Power? What is the story about and what inspired you as you wrote its music?
"Stagger Lee," a musical being written along with Will Power, is still in workshop mode with the Dallas Theater Center. Production dates have not been locked in but I imagine that we will have that information soon. Our next workshop is scheduled for August of 2012. In simple the piece is about the migration of a family around the United States in search of a better chance at success in life. We start in the late 1800s and move throughout time. The show also explores the ideas of myths and mythical figures that different cultures have had throughout time.
6) What else are you doing these days?
I am working on a project with the Royal Shakespeare Company that will involve looking at the effect that Shakespeare has had globally and the interpretations of his texts throughout the world. The project is connected with the 2012 Olympic games and should be very exciting.
I am also in the very early stages of a piece commissioned by Center Theater Group. It's a new play centered around the life of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, but of course we are in early stages so the piece could take a turn as development continues.
Other than that I am always active in the music industry as both writer and producer.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com