By matza alone: From Seder to Broadway

Michelle Citrin, who reached instant stardom on YouTube, describing uses for the bread of affliction, is Broadway-bound

Citrin-matza-youtube (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
LOS ANGELES – When Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Michelle Citrin sits down to her Pessah Seder this year and thinks about matza, she says the whole concept of gratitude will take on a new perspective. That’s because she has matza – or more specifically, her YouTube video hit “20 Things to Do With Matzah” – to thank for her latest job. Citrin has been hired to be part of a team that will write music and lyrics for Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical which is bound for Broadway in February 2011.
In one of those incredible-but-true stories, Sleepless producer David Shor saw Citrin’s video on YouTube, tracked her down on Facebook and sent her an email saying he liked her work and would she be interested in the project?
“Who woulda thunk?” Citrin said in a recent telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from her Brooklyn home. “I’m feeling incredibly grateful and it’s a little bit surreal to think of myself as someone who is composing music and writing lyrics for a Broadway musical. But,” she adds, “it also seems like a very natural progression of a journey that I’m on. I’ve never limited myself to doing one thing or one category because I always tend to admire these people who are triple threats – people like Carol Burnett or Tim Curry.”
18 MONTHS ago I interviewed Citrin for this newspaper and back then predicted she was definitely on the cusp of something big. She was still riding high from both her matza video and her “Rosh Hashanah Girl” video, and was slowly but surely making a name for herself. But even she couldn’t predict that she’d be Broadway-bound in such a short period of time.
On the one hand, Citrin says it’s hard to wrap her head around the notion that she was discovered via YouTube. However, she notes, “It’s been happening for several years now. Millions of people are watching random clips on YouTube and are becoming cultural icons, like that cat that plays the piano or ‘Chocolate Rain.’ I guess the only difference is that it has finally happened to me.” Still, it wasn’t as though Shor hired Citrin on the spot. Citrin says after she got over the initial shock of Shor’s random email and finally figured out the query wasn’t some kind of joke, Shor asked her to audition for the job by writing a couple of songs for the show.
“I realized this was a really huge project and I wanted to work with somebody on it,” Citrin recalls. So she contacted her good friend and fellow musician, Josh Nelson, who is also well known in the Jewish music world, and asked if he would collaborate with her. “We are great friends and we found out we work really well together,” says Citrin. “We finish each other’s musical sentences.” The two of them prepared a couple of songs, sent them to Shor and, says Citrin, “The next thing I know we’re being flown to Santa Barbara to meet the team.”
That team consists of some Hollywood and Broadway heavyweights including Shor, Michael Garin, a composer and lyricist who worked on the musical Song of Singapore; Jeff Arch, who wrote the original screenplay for the movie and is writing the dialogue for the production; and Joel Zwick, who will direct the show. Now Citrin and Nelson are part of that team and the diminutive, dreadlocked singer says she is honored to be working with such entertainment industry greats.
“I mean Joel Zwick is responsible for developing my sense of ethic growing up,” she enthuses. “He directed the shows I adored like Full House and Perfect Strangers, and here I am sitting in meetings with him!”
THESE DAYS, though, Citrin has little time to be star struck and says she’s just thrilled to be working with such an amazing team, pulling all-nighters as they work to create music and lyrics for the show. “This is a whole new experience for me,” she says. “I’m really used to having my own life experiences and channeling them into my music, but this is about getting to know a set of characters so well that their thoughts and emotions become the songs. It’s wonderful and I love the joy of collaborating with other people.”
At the same time she’s working hard on the release of her debut album, Left Brained, Right Hearted and trying to juggle her Broadway job while still pursuing her indie folk/rock career.
So has this former pre-med student who shelved her ambitions ofbecoming a doctor to follow her musical dreams finally convinced herfamily that she made the right decision? “I don’t know,” she says,laughing. “I still get sent articles that talk about the upcomingprofessions in the medical world and my family say, ‘Oh, you’d be sogood at this!”
For now, though, Broadway is beckoning. In ourprevious interview I asked her if she’d like to win a Grammy someday.Now, I posit, could there be a Tony Award in her future?
“Well,”she says, “It would be great to be the first person to get up on stageand thank my family, my friends… and unleavened bread.”