He's assessing the singing and other performance capabilities of students in the musical theater program there not just for grins or to spend time with his longtime pal Kaitlin Hopkins, who heads the musical theater program at the school, but because he's been commissioned to write a work that the students will then perform.
"When I go away and begin to work, I will have a piece that students are capable of doing, that might actually challenge them, that would be a real educational experience for them."
The biggest attraction of working with a student group? All the bodies, Lippa said. "I can do something that I can hardly do in the professional world. It's not common in the musical theater anymore to have 35 people in your show."
Lippa, who started out as a voice major at the University of Michigan, and was going to sing opera, took a career turn while still in undergrad when friend Jeffrey Seller (who grew up to be a producer of Rent and In the Heights) suggested they write a musical together.
They did, and Lippa decided it was more fulfilling for him creatively to write than sing. He still sings; he performed at a number of places including Carnegie Hall. And he conducts. He also has been musical director for Kristin Chenoweth's concerts and wrote the song "My New Philosophy" for her in the revival of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. He also wrote the music in 2007 for the Broadway play The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin.
Lippa says he works hard to try to not be intimidating to students. "I've managed to work in at some point that I'm just a guy, I'm just a person like them. They're certainly intimidated initially. But they're not intimidated because of me, [it's] because of what they've made up in their heads about me."
"I worked with the juniors yesterday and they would each get up and sing a song, and I would work with their performance and talk about how they might improve what they're doing," Lippa told Art Attack earlier this week. "Then they got up and sang one of my songs which was probably particularly terrifying for them."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As recipient of the Harrison New Music Work Commission, Lippa said he'll probably be back and forth to San Marcos two or three times before the work is completed. As to when that will be, he doesn't know; they're trying to schedule that around his other projects such as Addams Family's national tour starting next September (there will be some alterations, he said), and a new Broadway production which he would only refer to as Project X.
This isn't the first time he's worked with a student group. He worked with a similar project at Northwestern University to produce his musical Asphalt Beach. Stuart Oken, who established the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern, had the rights to Addams Family, and asked Lippa to write the music for it.
"It came out of my working in a university setting. Maybe lightning will strike twice. And it'll happen by being here at Texas State," Lippa said.