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John Barr

John Barr

John Barr sings Stephen Schwartz songs

John Barr - USA Source - Amazon.com:

John Barr in the UK: John Barr - Amazon.com UK

About John Barr

John Barr made his stage debut at the age of 10 in the West End production of Oliver. Since then he has played leading roles in A Chorus line, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Mikado, to name a few. For Trevor Nunn, John was Phillipe in Stephen Schwartz's The Baker's Wife (workshop). In 1992 he sang on a new studio recording of Godspell.

Since then John has recorded four Solo CD's and is an accomplished solo cabaret performer who continues to perform in cabaret all over the world. 1998 John's second solo CD In Whatever Time We Have was released on the Dress Circle Label. It borrows its title from a song from Children of Eden.

Asked about his interest in Stephen's work, John said, "Stephen and I have been friends since we met on the Trevor Nunn's London workshop production of The Bakers Wife back in 1988. I feel very honoured to have recorded the original demo for "In Whatever Time We Have" with Broadway star and one of my oldest friends Frances Ruffelle. I was asked by Stephen to sing "On the Willows" in the studio recording of Godspell. Stephen allowed me to be the first to record "Marking Time," a song cut from Pippin. He wrote album notes on two of my CD's. He allowed me to be the first to record his and Dean Pitchford's song "Cry Without a Reason" - a great song by the way. He has been a great supporter of my work and I am honoured to call him a friend"



By Shawn McCarthy

It's not unusual for top-drawer musical theatre performers to record a song or two written by Stephen Schwartz. It is unusual though to find a performer who has included Schwartz songs on all of their solo recordings. John Barr is such a performer.

John is an extraordinarily talented singer, actor and recording artist, based in the U.K. and has performed in countless productions including OLIVER, ANNIE, SWEENEY TODD and LES MISERABLE to name a few. He was also in the 1988 workshop production of Stephen Schwartz' THE BAKER'S WIFE and can be heard singing "On the Willows" in the 1992 TER studio CD of GODSPELL which was conducted and produced by Stephen.

Additionally, John is a successful recording artist having produced four solo CD's, "A Small Affair," "In Whatever Time We Have," "A Different Corner," (all of which can be found on the Dress Circle Label) and his latest CD entitled "Anything Can Happen" recently released on the LML label.

John (or Jonny as he is often called) possesses a wonderfully warm, inviting high baritone that is, at times, appropriately subtle and other times can 'blow the roof off the joint' with its range and power. It's rare to find a talent that knows how to balance those qualities. Listen to any one of his marvellously produced CD's and you'll know what I mean.

Three of the four CD's are comprised of a fair number of theatre songs, both Broadway and West End, as well as some pop songs mixed in. His CD "A Different Corner" contains all pop songs and no theatre numbers, thus the title. This latter CD contains a lovely yet not-too-well-known song co-written by Stephen with Dean Pitchford called "Cry Without A Reason."

His first CD, "A Small Affair" includes the Children of Eden song "World Without You" which is a treat to hear for a couple of reasons: 1) It's the West End version of the song, which is significantly different than the version heard on the RCA Papermill CD and 2) The arrangement, by John's pianist and arranger Fiz Shapur is different than the West End original as it employs a gospel sound to effective use.

"In Whatever Time We Have", his second CD not only includes the song of the same name from CHILDREN OF EDEN but also includes a delightfully charming version of "Marking Time" - cut from PIPPIN prior to opening in New York and from the same musical "Corner of the Sky" which John also often uses to close his live cabaret act. As heard on the CD, the orchestration for the latter song is given a sweeping high-tech treatment.

On "Anything Can Happen" John recorded a pop song from Stephen's first CD - Reluctant Pilgrim - entitled "So Far" which here is given a folksy style of arrangement.

I recently had the opportunity for 'international' on-line chat with John where we discussed his career and his association with both Stephen Schwartz and his songs:

Shawn McCarthy: At what point in your career did you discover the music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz?

John Barr: When I was at Senior School, we did a concert version of GODSPELL. I fell in love with 'Day by Day' & 'On the Willows' which is funny because later on I ended up recording it on the studio version where Stephen was arranger and conductor. I used to sing 'Day by Day' in my front room with my mom's broom as my microphone and - here's a little something not a lot of folks know -my parents invited Stephen over for Sunday lunch. Now, we had been friends for a few years, and they were talking etc. and I went into my front room and just did a quiet version of 'Day by Day' to myself; I just couldn't believe Stephen Schwartz was in my house, right in the next room. I was just so amazed that we had become friends. That's when I made a promise to myself that when I made my first solo CD, I would record at least one Stephen Schwartz track and I did and have continued to do so because I just love his songs.

SM: When did you first meet and what were your initial impressions of Stephen?

JB: We met on the Trevor Nunn workshop production of THE BAKERS WIFE in 1988, which was such fun! It had a great cast and team and was one of the most enjoyable times I have ever had working on show. I had been such a fan of the score again since I was at school when someone played me "Meadowlark," "Proud Lady" and "Chanson," which is still one of my favorite of Stephen's songs.

We became friends and during the rehearsal period of BAKER'S WIFE, a production PIPPIN was running at a fringe venue so we arranged to go. But when we got there the show was cancelled that night so we ended up going for dinner and that's how I think we became friends by pure mistake, but I'm very glad of that mistake. On a working level he was so much fun; I know both he and Joe Stein enjoyed the process, as did the cast. Both had written and continued to write new material during the rehearsal process. It was all very exciting and Trevor (Nunn) just lets you get on with it and find your way with your character.

One of the highlights for me was when Siobhan McCarthy sang "Meadowlark." I will always remember that and Alan Armstrong as the Baker as he was so moving, so charming and funny. It was one of the moments in my life (doing the workshop) and I'll never forget being part of that whole process. I'm still amazed it's not done more often in repertory theatres over here (in the U.K.) or smaller venues. It's a great show!

SM: One of the numerous things that have impressed me about your recordings is your willingness to be creative and experiment with the arrangements of individual songs. For example, in case of the song 'So Far', from your recently released ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN CD, the arrangement is considerably different than Stephen's original. How did you and your arranger come up with the idea to take a folk/guitar approach with that song?

JB: I truly believe that when a lyric speaks to you, as so many of Stephens song do to me, and the melody is as true to the lyric as in so many of his songs - it is pretty much open to interpretation as to how the arrangement goes. But the main reason for choosing the song in the first place - although with Stephen's songs, the melody can really make you just want to sing it - my reason for going down the folky feel of "So Far" was that I saw the song as a kind of late night folk/story song. When I first took it to Missak (Takoushain - his guitarist and on occasion arranger) who played it on the CD, he totally agreed with me; the chord structure and the feel - everything just seemed to work. For me as a singer and recording artist, there is no point in copying an arrangement that someone has already done because it has already been done. As far as Stephen was concerned, he liked the guitar idea when we spoke about it, so that was good enough for me. As far as 'World Without You' on my first CD, my arranger Fiz Shapur is an amazing pianist - full stop - and he and I both love gospel music. Now, I'm a white theatre singer so I can't really sing gospel but he could play it so he gave it a gospel feel - that's how that arrangement came about. The arrangements of "Corner of the Sky" and "In Whatever time We Have" on my second CD came about again because Fiz had all this technology to play with and the CD was mostly a piano CD. And at that point, Barbara Streisand had released her Broadway CD and it was full of huge arrangements etc. so that influenced our ideas for these 2 songs big time. I think the arrangements on any CD are what make the song your own. It may not be to everyone's taste but that's how it feels for me.

SM: As you mentioned earlier, each of your four solo CD's you've included at least one Stephen Schwartz piece. What attracts you to his music? What makes his songs special do you think?

JB: I personally believe he writes from his heart and soul that's why so many of his songs - even his theatre songs - touch people. Take "Corner of The Sky," I can't think of a single human being who couldn't relate to that lyric. The theatre songs work as well out of context because they come from somewhere deep inside him. He can be all the characters expressing all sides to his personality. He is a very loyal, loving friend. On a personal level, I think they are little tales that work without too much fuss - you just have to be honest to his intention. And when you know someone like I know Stephen, you can always ask him what his intention was for a particular song.

SM: On your CD A DIFFERENT CORNER you included a relatively unknown gem called "Cry without A Reason". How did you discover this song and what compelled you to record it?

JB: I rang Stephen when I decided to do this project, which for me was a huge departure; no theatre songs - more a contemporary /pop album featuring music from Bacharach to The Beatles - and he sent me the music to "Cry Without a Reason." Now, I can't read music, but again the lyric by Dean (Pitchford) made me go ouchhhhhh - it really touched me deep down. I really could relate to it. It was very personal, like it could have written for me. It was recorded in one 'take' and remains one of my favorites of his that I have recorded so far. I believe the amazing Jane Olivor used to sing it when Stephen played for her in her cabaret shows and concerts.

SM: Are there any particular Schwartz songs that you've not yet recorded but feel you will at some point in the future?

JB: Wow! Well, where do I start, there are so many: "West End Avenue," "Out There," "Colors of the Wind," "Beautiful City," "Lost in The Wilderness," "Spark of Creation," "Proud Lady," "Day by Day," "Dreamscape," "Crowded Island," "Since I Gave my Heart Away"... I could go on and on and on. Maybe I should just do my own complete Stephen Schwartz CD of his work - now there's an idea!