Broadway Meet Breedlove: Elphaba's Greenifier, Lady Gaga's Confidant and Composer of New Transgender Musical Stu for Silverton

News   Broadway Meet Breedlove: Elphaba's Greenifier, Lady Gaga's Confidant and Composer of New Transgender Musical Stu for Silverton
The downtown set hails him as the creator of the late-night pop extravaganza Magic Mondays, while Little Monsters know him as an ambassador for Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation. Theatregoers see his work nightly: He's the man who has greenified nearly every Elphaba in the Broadway production of Wicked, but Breedlove is about to introduce himself to a whole new audience, as the composer of the new musical Stu for Silverton.

Breedlove Photo by Veronica Ibarra

It's a busy season for the hard-to-define artist, whose alt-pop EP "The Magic Monday" with DJ/producer Chew Fu dropped Oct. 3, just three weeks before his musical Stu for Silverton – about America's first transgender mayor – is presented at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Festival of New Musicals Oct. 23-24.

Did we also mention that he and his pop guru Lady Starlight are currently the opening act for the European leg of Lady Gaga's artRAVE tour?

"It's amazing. Everything is an adventure," a remarkably calm Breedlove told backstage via Skype just an hour before he was to hit the stage of the 17,000-seat O2 World in Berlin.

This isn't his first time on the road with Gaga, whom he describes as the "ultimate performer." In 2013 Breedlove served as the ambassador for her Born Brave Bus, a self-empowering pre-show concert carnival that provided kids who didn't quite fit the mold a safe haven with other Little Monsters.

It's not surprising that Breedlove and Gaga are cozy; both artists proudly identify as outsiders. Gaga is also known for her wildly theatrical performances, and some of her early stage experience came in high school musical productions of Broadway shows like Guys and Dolls. Though he rocks a progressive-pop veneer, Breedlove, too, is a theatre kid at heart.

"I could not be more of an outsider or have been more of a strange kid," Breedlove laughed. "I was a creepy little musical theatre kid, who was fat and had an agent and was having to miss school to do shows."

Born Craig Jessup, he found his way to the stage thanks to his parents, West Coast-based cabaret veterans Craig Jessup (for whom he's originally named) and Ruth Hastings. "I was in the womb while my mom was performing. I think that very much affected me."

"They were best-known for performing the music of Jacques Brel," he explained. "When Brel died, they were invited by his widow to perform for a month at the Belgium National Opera house as the English-speaking ambassadors of his music."

Breedlove Photo by Ky Digregorio

Performances with his parents would come, followed by acting roles at the Marin Theatre Company. Soon thereafter Jessup was New York City-bound to study musical theatre at Marymount Manhattan College. It was there he would form what he calls a "magical union" with fellow classmate Annaleigh Ashford, a now long-time friend and collaborator, who nabbed a Tony nomination for her work in Kinky Boots and is back on Broadway in You Can't Take It With You.

While Broadway brought him to New York, it was a meeting across the crowded floor of Henri Bendel, where a 19-year-old Jessup was working as a make-up artist (another of his artistic endeavors), that would re-shape the course of his artistic career.

Enter Lady Starlight, the high-glam downtown DJ and performance artist who was also paying rent by working behind another of Bendel's luxury counters.

"I saw her across the sales floor, and she looks like Liza Minnelli in 'Cabaret,' and I just floated towards her. I said, 'You are everything that I want to be. You're totally yourself and you're totally free and you don't care what anybody thinks and I need that in my life.'"

Not only did Lady Starlight introduce him to the music that would change his life (it also happens to be hand picked for his star-sign, he says), she christened him Breedlove. And just like her other pal Lady Gaga, with whom she would soon introduce Breedlove, a new theatrical pop persona was born. "We basically both were sort of released from the norm by Starlight," Breedlove said of himself and Gaga. "She unlocked the magic inside us that allowed us to truly be ourselves and be open as performers and just come into our own, as it were."

While he was coming into his own as a downtown pop writer, he was also hustling from his Bed-Stuy apartment six days a week as the makeup supervisor for the Broadway production of Wicked, a gig that's helped him keep one foot firmly in the theatrical world for the past eight years. He'll return to his backstage role at the Gershwin Theatre after the final stop in the artRAVE tour in Paris.

"I was raised doing musical theatre, but I was trying to do alternative pop music, and so I was at first against the idea because it made me afraid that I then wouldn't be taken seriously in a pop context," he explained.

Thankfully, an agent at William Morris got hooked on his sound after one of his demos came across his desk. Thereafter, it was a matter of finding the right project and the right collaborators. "I love musical theatre so much, I couldn't not take the opportunity. When somebody at William Morris tells you, 'I think you can write musicals, and I want to help you do that,' you absolutely take the opportunity.'"

Breedlove Photo by Ky Digregorio

That opportunity arose in the form of a new musical project being developed by Andrew Russell, the young new hotshot artistic director of Seattle's Intiman Theatre and Dogfight book writer Peter Duchan.

The musical would be based on the real-life story of Stu Rasmussen, America's first openly transgender mayor. "It just hit me," Breedlove said. "My body and mind and soul were filled with music, and I said, 'I can absolutely write this musical. Please let me write this musical.'"

After spending a week with Rasmussen and Victoria, his girlfriend of 30 years, the writers set out to capture what Breedlove describes as "the awkward beauty that is both of them and their relationship.

"You have this man who has made this transformation and been elected mayor and he has this woman by his side who has loved him and supported him throughout this entire process," he said. "It's so compelling to me that these people have this freedom in their spirits and feel totally confident to just be who they are and to show it off to the world in a very amazing public way."

Stu for Silverton, as it has been titled, garnered encouraging reviews during its Seattle premiere in the summer of 2013. Critics were surprised to find that a musical about a transgender politician would be "downright wholesome." For Breedlove, that was the whole point. "My dream for this show was that it be traditional enough that my grandmas, who are in their 80s, could come see it and connect to Stu and want him to be the president of the Universe," he laughed.

Though pop references ranging from the British prog-rock group Be-Bop Deluxe to Elton John informed "The Magic Monday EP" with song titles including "Sex O'Clock" and "F.T.W.," it's a deeply held knowledge of musical theatre from his childhood that shape the score for Stu for Silverton.

"It's completely different from my pop music," Breedlove said. "I tapped into what I learned growing up listening to. My parents performed the music of Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Jacques Brel and Kurt Weill. It's very diverse."

Stu for Silverton, he said, takes audiences into a "Our Town, Music Man, Hello, Dolly!" kind of world. "I see Stu as one of those red-headed leading ladies of the 50s and 60s, like Dolly Levi, like Gwen Verdon in Redhead, or Lucille Ball in Wildcat, and that's really how we've written him. He's sort of this fabulous female lead who just happens to have a penis."

Breedlove Photo by Ky Digregorio

Heavily revised since Seattle, but with the same heart in tow, Stu is strutting his stuff for a slew of industry members Oct. 23-24 as part of the NAMT's Festival of New Musicals in New York City, which allows new works in development to find future lives at regional theatres across the U.S.

The glamorous life does come with its costs, and Breedlove is missing the New York City presentations due to his work with the artRAVE tour. Thankfully, a slew of familiar faces are cast in the NAMT presentation. Among them are old pal Ashford and Wicked's current Madame Morrible, Mary Testa, with whom Breedlove became familiar during their time together backstage at the Gershwin.

"I've written a new song for Victoria and I'm actually working with Mary Testa at Wicked. She became my surrogate Victoria. I wrote these songs specifically for Mary Testa and then when it came time to cast the NAMT production, I just said, 'You have to cast her!' Everybody unanimously agreed that she was just absolutely perfect for it."

No definitive plans for Stu for Silverton are currently in place, though the creators state that interest has been expressed for future productions. "We're taking it one step at a time," Breedlove said. "I believe in the show. I think Peter's written a beautiful book and told Stu and Victoria's story in a very tender, sweet, delicate way."

Breedlove said that as of yet, he hasn't had the chance to introduce any of the Stu for Silverton score to Lady Gaga or Lady Starlight. "We haven't gotten into that because we're so focused on what's right in front of us. That's something that I will bring up soon. There's an artistic and a personal sort of tutoring that goes on between the three of us. When you get the three of us in a room, it's really exciting. Ideas start flying." Mother Monster has, however, given him notes on his work as a performance artist who is charged with commanding a crowd. "I got here to the stadium and certainly this venue is much larger than anything I've performed in before," he said. "Gaga came in and gave me notes. They were invaluable notes that changed the entire way that I approached my music and my performance style."

It's a major moment for a self-described "creepy little musical theatre kid," who's now juggling a pop career and a new musical.

"I was able to get in touch with that young person inside of me that was alone and felt hopeless and thought it would never be any different than that. Literally all my dreams have come true. I used to dream about being in the New Kids on the Block. I actually thought I was going to be the next New Kid on the Block, in the actual group. That didn't happen. But I have this show and I do get to sing pop songs that I wrote in stadiums all over Europe," he laughed. "It's a pretty close second."

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