Sweeney is just a word to describe Todd, right? In the mind of the 12-year-old Christopher (Chris) Anselmo, that is what the theatre production of Sweeney Todd was all about when he saw his first play at the French Woods Festival of Performing Arts. But after about three hours later, his world was enlightened. Not only did little Chris find out that “sweeney” is actually not an adjective rather the first name of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, but within the midst of all the drama in the musical thriller he discovered his love of theatre.
It was also at French Woods that Chris met his partner-in-crime, Harrison Kaufman. The two were an instant pair and wrote their first song about how Harrison’s pants were falling down. From that point on, creating comedic songs together became the norm. This past summer, with the help of Harrison’s craftily written play, Fable: A New Musical, Chris’s lyrics were able to make their debut on a stage in New York City. The musical stylings of Chris paired with the words of Harrison formed a play about secrets during graduation time that are revealed during a final night of celebration. Although Kaufman and Anselmo’s creation was chosen to premiere in NYC at the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s 2014 Next Link Project. The show was in early stages of development, so some critics believed it needed a little more work primarily with the subject matter being that of high school, but they believed the writing to be top-notch. Yet, despite what any critic may say, the true success of the play was evident when it received two extensions and was entirely sold out for its entire run.
(Christopher Anselmo: left. Harrison Kaufman: right.)
(Advertisement header for Fable: A New Musical.)
Chris Anselmo is a composer and lyricist who is in his third year at Northwestern University for his undergraduate degree in the B.A. Theatre program and is also a part of the Music Theatre Certificate program and Advanced Playwriting sequence. Music and theatre are like air and water to Chris. His involvement in everything music and theatre ranges from writing for the annual Waa-Mu Show to leading the nationally acclaimed all-male a cappella group, Freshman Fifteen. In this group may find Chris’s alter ego, Neil Armstrong. If you tend to over-think things, you may now believe that Chris wants to launch the first musical on the moon. However, plausible as that may be, his nickname merely comes from a slip up in words when he was out one night. A minor mistake that caught on for the rest of his harmonizing days. Chris describes the night in an interview with him:
Where did your nickname Neil Armstrong come from in your a cappella group, Freshman 15? Chris: ‘One night we were all walking back to campus to retrieve our new members, because we have a tradition of “kidnapping” new guys from their dorms. As we were walking, I stole one guy’s bright yellow bike. I rode ahead and screamed, “LOOK! I’M NEIL ARMSTRONG,” very clearly meaning to say “Lance.” The rest is history.’
(Watch Chris perform with Freshman Fifteen.)
From stealing his brother’s guitar to bang out random notes, to his first song, “So Far So Good,” that he wrote for his middle school graduation, and finally, to his most recent music in Fable: A New Musical; Chris’s favourite song that he has ever written is, “I Want More To Life.” When speaking to Chris he describes the song and his process of writing:
What is your most favourite piece that you have written? Chris: ‘The work that I am most proud of is a song called, “I Want More Life,” which I wrote after a particularly stressful few months. I always hear songwriters talking about that “one song” that they went through hell, and a lot of crying, to write. That’s what that song is for me. I wouldn’t say it’s my “best” work by any means, but definitely the one that I’m most proud of.’
What is your process when you go about composing a song? Chris: ‘I think it varies from song to song. I definitely need to be extremely caffeinated. I’m an extroverted thinker, so I tend to find a listener to throw ideas at until I know exactly what the song wants to be. Once I had a solid though-process for the song, I begin improvising music that fits that particular feeling. Then I usually just let it rip. I am a big fan of writing whatever comes to mind, and then editing afterwards. In terms of what I write, I like to view it as the words are what the character is literally saying, and the music is how they say it. For example, the sentence “I’m so lucky to be me” can be musicalized in an infinite number of ways, ranging from sarcastic to sincere.’
Chris not only works backstage and behind the scenes with theatre, but he has also developed himself as an actor. From performing in high school with leading roles in Les Miserables and RENT to his abundance of shows at French Woods and Northwestern University. When asked about his future with acting, Chris answered that he will definitely continue. However, instead of working on getting out of university and into the drama of NYC, Chris currently wants to focus on his education, working on larger projects at school as well as continuing his involvement with activities in the drama and music departments. He wants to be the best he can be by furthering his education, to make him all the more talented and marketable once he decides to try to make it in the big bad world of Broadway.
Do you still plan on acting, or are you focusing solely on composing? Chris: ‘I definitely hope to continue acting. While it may not be my top priority, I still love it. I was in a production of Dogfight this past fall, I am currently in a reading of a new musical called Scrooge In Love, and I will be in Northwestern’s Main Stage production of The Wild Party this coming winter!’
What are you currently working on? Chris: ‘After Fable this past summer, I decided to really buckle down on my school work and make the most of the time I have left at Northwestern. However, that never stops me from working on projects here and there. My main project is a show called Playthings that I’m writing for the Advanced Playwriting Sequence here at NU under the guidance of Laura Schellhardt. I’m also throwing around a few ideas with up-and-coming composer, and fellow Wildcat, Casey Reed, as well as working on the creative team for this year’s Waa-Mu Show.’
What would your ideal five-year plan be? Chris: Ideally, I would focus on school, but keep working on a few projects. That way, I have a few shows to shop around once I graduate. College is the perfect time to explore and experiment with my work. Then, come June 2016, I will hopefully move to New York and begin working on as many shows as I can (in any position), as well as barista during the day. Then, if all goes well, I can begin working with my friends to put on productions of our plays.
Finally, to close the interview:
What’s a fun fact about you? Chris: ‘I’m an avid puppeteer. Random, right?’
Christopher is proud member of both ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild of America.
Click below to see one of the songs performed from Fable: A New Musical:
Education: English Writing and Secondary Education at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Lives in: London, UK.
Hometown: New Jersey, U.S.A.
Interests: Traveling, writing, art, photography, long walks on the beach, and eating chocolate cramiques.