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The Woman who Knows the Sounds of ‘Indecent’ Better than Anyone

Talking with Composer, Music Supervisor, and Performer Lisa Gutkin

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(L-R) Lisa Gutkin and Elizabeth A. Davis in “Indecent.”

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

In the midst of their June 5 – July 7, 2019 Ahmanson run, the company of Indecent celebrated their 300TH performance of this production, which has moved from New York to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company and finally to Center Theatre Group over the past few years. A number of cast members, as well as playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman, have been there for the whole journey. But the person who at this point just might know the sounds of the play more intimately than anyone is composer, music supervisor, and onstage musician Lisa Gutkin.

In 2012, Gutkin—a Grammy Award-winning violinist, singer, actor, and composer best known as a member of the acclaimed Klezmatics—was performing in The Last Ship (which comes to the Ahmanson in January 2020) when she got a call from Vogel and Taichman. The creative team asked if she might want to be involved, and offered to send her the script.

“I read it in one sitting on an airplane and got off the plane and called Paula and said, ‘Yes, I want to write the music for this,’” said Gutkin. “It really grabbed me immediately, especially because I was very very close with my grandmother and her sister, and this would have been their childhood, their growing up.”

Inspired by the songs Vogel had already chosen, Gutkin had ideas for the play’s original compositions immediately. “I knew it spanned a really long period so I knew it wasn’t going to be completely traditional. The play doesn’t totally fit the [late 19TH and early 20TH century] time period either; it has a broader, modern sensibility in it. I immediately heard sounds that were going to match that sensibility: a nod to older, Jewish-style music in the bed of a contemporary sound. I knew right away that that’s what I was trying to achieve.”

Now, having played that music hundreds of times, Gutkin remains satisfied with the achievement, which she shares with Aaron Halva, her co-composer. “My love for the music and the play keeps deepening,” she said. “I have a different relationship to it every night. It’s an evolving relationship. I find new things in the play, I find new things in the music—and the musicians on this production are amazing.” (She’s joined onstage by her Klezmatics bandmate, Matt Darriau, and Patrick Farrell, a veteran of the klezmer scene.)

Ahmanson audiences agree. “The audiences have been incredible. You can tell that they’re really into the show because it takes them a minute to get up at the end because they’re almost shell-shocked. And then they stand up and they hoot and they holler. And they’re laughing at all the right spots,” said Gutkin. “They’re very sharp.”

Liked what you heard at the Ahmanson? Or ruing the missed opportunity? The Klezmatics are playing a concert at the Skirball Cultural Center on August 1, 2019.

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