Spies Are Forever is the latest show from the Tin Can Brothers, an LA-based comedy group perhaps better known to fandom for their work in A Very Potter Musical. Today Hypable is exclusively releasing the first part of the show!
Team StarKid veterans Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal and Corey Lubowich started writing original material together under the Tin Can Bros moniker, beginning with sketch comedy, and they’ve now produced a full-length original musical of their very own. Spies Are Forever, which ran for 16 performances in March and April, is available for your online viewing pleasure from today. We spoke to the Tin Can Brothers in advance of the online release, and we’re excited to be launching part one exclusively on Hypable!
The show, which was directed by Lubowich, featuring Richter, Rosenthal, Lauren Lopez, Joe Walker, Tessa Netting, Al Fallick and starring Glee’s Curt Mega and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ Mary Kate Wiles, is summarized thusly by its creators:
“Agent Curt Mega finds himself thrust into the shadows of Cold War politics as he works to foil a plot to rebuild the Nazi empire. Along the way, Agent Mega must tango with a Russian femme fatale, waltz around a black market arms dealer, and samba through a horde of outrageous characters. With a licence to kill and the voice of an angel, Mega must stay alive, complete the mission, and prove to his enemies that the deadliest weapon of all is a little song and dance.”
Yes, it’s a spy comedy, but you’ll find no elements of Austin Powers here. When writing Spies Are Forever, the trio chose to specifically avoid watching movies that also parodied the genre, only the real stuff. “We didn’t want to watch other people making fun of it. We wanted to watch the raw source material and then interpret it ourselves,” Rosenthal explained. Some of their favorites included James Bond, of course, along with Mission Impossible, the Bourne movies, Jack Reacher, The Incredibles, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The Tin Can Brothers expanded on their inspiration behind bringing their spy story to life.
Spies on Stage and Screen
Is this show a parody of the spy genre or a musical about spies in earnest? And is it more the James Bond fictional element of spy story or were you at home reading history books about the Cold War?
Brian: Umm. Did not read history books.
Corey: We read several Wikipedia pages!
Brian: It’s a great question because it’s something we talked about all the time, especially coming out of StarKid. That is a huge part of our philosophy – to treat the things you parody with love, because the audience really can feel that, and we wrote this because we love spy movies. The plot is a hodge-podge of our favorite parts of spy movies. The word parody is kind of interesting. We do parody it, but in many ways we wanted to create a totally original story that just plays on some of the tropes you recognize from every spy movie.
Corey: I would call it more… If you go by the dictionary definition of parody it’s a parody, but I think in a contemporary Internet sense it’s more of a mashup.
Joey: It’s interesting because the phrase parody now – especially the way StarKid has embraced it – is now so closely associated with doing a parody of a particular story. I would associate this more with parodies of the late ’80s and ’90s. Like a movie like Airplane!, where it’s kind of like a parody of disaster movies and a certain kind of plane movie. But it’s got a lot of different jokes with different genres in it, whereas this is kind of a parody of a genre and not as much a direct story of anything.
Corey: Curt Mega is a James Bond type, but he’s not a direct James Bond. There are a lot of tropes like that. Where Tessa plays a Q type, but it’s not really Q.
Joey: But she’s also like this Miss Moneypenny type.
Corey: It’s like a mashup of different elements.
Brian: And taking some of the more emotional element, like usually the main spy protagonist has a hubris problem. Let’s explore that.
Corey: To an extreme.
Brian: Yeah. But we also really wanted there to be an emotional life to the play outside of like — Airplane! is a great movie, but it’s so silly. We’re trying to have the silliness but you know, really care about the characters. And there are some scenes in the show that are like — every time I see them they’re really emotionally riveting, which I’m really proud of.
Corey: The cinematic equivalent is sort of the Melissa McCarthy movie Spy, and how they treat the genre. Where it’s comedy, but the actual plot is familiar, but also sort of straightforward…
Joey: The story is a very serious plot for the spy genre, but the plot is riddled with jokes. When you think about each scene – this is a casino, this is a serious scene from a spy movie, but what’s a joke in this scene? Like you kind of think about the emotional arc of the scene…
Corey: Like in that casino scene — Always the thought comes up, well how does he have all this money to gamble? And what happens if he’s just bad at gambling?
Brian: Also, part of the concept was like, what if you put a spy movie on stage? That’s absurd. How would you do… Like there’s a chase in act two. How would you realize a motorcycle chase or a boat chase on stage?
Joey: And the answer is minimalistically and very abstractly.
‘Spies Are Forever’ Act 1, Parts 1 and 2 — Watch now, exclusively on Hypable
Today, you’re releasing part one here with us on Hypable — this is a bit different from what StarKid has done in the past in releasing all twenty parts of a musical online on the same day. Obviously the whole show is available now for those who buy the digital download, but what’s the angle behind releasing the Youtube videos week to week?
Corey: It’s just something we’re trying out. I think just in general when it comes to like Netflix or online services dropping episodes all at once, I’m of two minds. Because sometimes if i have a weekend it’s like great to totally be able to sit down and binge my way through an entire series, but other times it feels like if I’ve missed that window, if I didn’t binge watch that the first week its out, no one else is talking about it, I don’t have anyone left to talk about it with, verses a show that happens weekly and serially that like, oh, its still happening, i can still catch up and be a part of the conversation and talk to my friends about it, and there’s like that sort of anticipation with that format.
Brian: And it seems very appropriate to the spy genre also, very “what trouble will Curt Mega get into this week?”
Joey: There’s a lot of twists and turns in the show that kind of lend themselves to being pulled in parts.
Yeah, obviously episodic television is still common but this in particular seems very noir, like magazine serial, radio drama, which was of the era as well.
Corey: And we didn’t plan in that way but each segment, the way the scenes sort of shake out, they’re very even. They’re all around 10 minutes, give or take, so it worked out very nicely
Joey: And there’s a song, I think, each week, so it kind of makes it like, what’s the song of the week? Like when you’re watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — “what are they singing about this week?” — some weeks it might be Nazis, some weeks it might be love.
Much like the StarKid model of online musical theater, Spies Are Forever is a taped version of a live performance, filmed on four cameras and edited for a more cinematic viewing experience, and like StarKid’s Disney parody Twisted, their upcoming caveman musical Firebringer, and many other smaller projects, Spies Are Forever was made possible by crowdfunding. This model allows the patrons who want to see a work succeed directly take the place of a traditional theater producer, and gives funding to the project before they’re able to recoup money from ticket sales.
The Spies Are Forever Kickstarter – the sixth that Lubowich has helped to run – raised over $58,000, allowing the Tin Can Brothers to make additional deposits on their on their theater and pay their cast and crew. The trio admit that the crowdfunding was hardest part and the most nerve wracking part of the process — “We won’t be able to do this show if we don’t raise the money. But like money aside, is this what people want from us?” Lubowich recounted — but happily they smashed their initial goal and also sold out nearly every performance.
‘We were foolish enough to think we could do it, so we were able to do it.’
The show’s turnaround, from inception to opening night, was relatively quick — they decided to do it in last August and presented to audiences in March. “We actually put money down on the theater before we even raised money,” Rosenthal admitted. “We also work well knowing, if we have to deliver something by a certain date? We will get it done. We’re good at that.”
Corey: But Brian, do you remember that initially our ideal timeline was like, a month from what actually happened?
Corey: That… would have been dumb.
Brian: Yeah. We also only ended up having three weeks of rehearsal and a tech week. And then we ran the show.
Corey: Which was too short. We’ll just say, it was not enough.
Brian: But there was a lot of enthusiasm from the cast and from Clark and Pierce. And we knew we were going to kill ourselves to see it made. But it was a very happy and joyful experience because we love the project and the story.
Clark Baxtresser and Pierce Siebers, the New York-based duo collectively known as TalkFine, are the show’s composers and musical directors. Baxtresser has been involved with StarKid as a musician since their days at University of Michigan, and first composed for the troupe with select songs for 2012’s A Very Potter Senior Year.
When did you begin to involve TalkFine in the production? What was your working relationship with Clark and Pierce like?
Brian: We’ve all done all the parts through StarKid, of producing a show, one way or another over the years. In many ways we were all in the same boat, because they wrote the score for Ani, which in many ways was a concept album, but this was their first full-fledged musical, and both of them have backgrounds in doing musicals and writing more classical songs.
Corey: Once again it was a similar thing where we all have the skills and have done them, but never in this sort of combination. They were on board pretty early on. We were like, “obviously it has to be them.”
Brian: And they’re fantastic to work with. We sort of plotted out the script and we knew in our minds where we wanted a lot of the songs.
Corey: We started off broad with like, “there’s a scene that happens here and there’s a scene on a loading dock and there’s a scene here and like there’s probably a bad guy song on the loading dock and there’s probably a scene here like that… Then you have like the boss character…” And as we went along we got more and more specific before ending up with a final script. So we add to it and add to it and send it to Clark and Pierce and see what they said. They work incredibly fast. It was amazing and intimidating.
Brian: All the songs were written way before we started rehearsal, except for the last song in the show which was written a week and a half before we opened.
Corey: But yeah. It’s still crazy, there are 19 tracks on the album. In my head I’m like, “there’s not that much music in the show,” but there is.
Brian: And it was cool because we’d be like, there should be a song like this here, and they’d go well we pictured it like this, and it would just be a great collaborative talk – sometimes argument – that would end up in something better than either of us had thought of before.
From Los Angeles, With Love…
You’re all still in Team StarKid, which has a built-in fanbase ready to support a lot of the projects you get involved with. This is an original comedy musical — the closest thing to StarKid’s product that any of you have put out. Can you explain to the fans why something like this wouldn’t specifically be branded as ‘a StarKid show’?
Corey: Sure. On a very practical level, StarKid is a company that is not owned or run by us. So as members and people who have done lots of shows with them, we’ve collaborated on lots of things, but at the end of the day it’s a company that’s not ours. So we can’t say “we want to do this” and label it StarKid. Like we could maybe pitch it to them. But those resources… It’s not ours to like, just go ahead and use.
Brian: On a creative level there’s definitely some crossover in terms of sense of humor and that sort of thing, just because we are all friends and we have worked together on a bunch of different projects. If you looked at a Venn diagram of StarKid and Tin Can Brothers fans, we’ve pulled just like tiny crossover…
Corey: Like Starkid is a big circle and then we’re like a tiny circle that’s mostly in that circle but little outside of it.
Brian: Yeah and honestly it’s a great thing to have fans who are committed to us. It’s the only way we could raise money in a lot of cases, to work on these projects.
Corey: But when we started this project two and a half years ago…
Brian: Tin Can Brothers, he means, not Spies Are Forever.
Corey: Yeah. When we started, there wasn’t an end goal. It wasn’t like, oh we want to build up so we can do our own show. It was literally like — it was when I first moved to LA — hey, let’s work together. Let’s get a lot of practice under our belts. Let’s do some stuff and learn a lot. And at that point, StarKid’s product was a lot more polished and larger scale. So it made sense for us to just be doing our thing — start our side project to experiment and figure out what kind of stuff we wanted to do. What our voice was. What our sensibility was as a trio. Because ultimately still, all three of us come from different perspectives and have different opinions and style and taste and where all of that melds together.
Brian: Yeah so it’s definitely different than a StarKid show because it’s our sensibility. But I think StarKid fans will probably like it.
Joey: Making that transition from sketch material to something more longform was really challenging but it helped us kind of realize how valuable those experiences were in writing sketch, and writing a scene that has a joke centering around it, how it helped in creating characters and making moments in the show feel separate and new and building off other things. But I had such a good time writing and working on this show, it was a blast. And honestly I think some of the ways we’ve been describing it — the release of this and just the climate we live in internet-wise in terms of putting this show online and whatnot, I think it’s very fun and interesting, and it also opens up the possibility to continue doing stuff like this, continue forming other projects that are similar to this, in the way StarKid has done or even beyond that. Because it’s fun, but independent theater is a really hard thing to just create an entire business around, its very expensive so I’m excited to see how people react to the show and what kind of response it has, to hopefully put us in a position to continue to tell a story like this, either onstage or online or finding a mix of both.
Corey: TL;DR hope everyone likes it and watches it and shares it so we can do more.
Fans are able to purchase the studio album on iTunes now, as well, and if you cannot wait for the rest of the show to come out on YouTube, pick up a DVD or download the digital copy, available through Ann Arbor Tees.
Stay tuned for more from our chat with the boys, including their thoughts on the theater industry and Hamilton.