On the Stage, Behind the Scenes and In the Audience
Jonathan Larson Grants - 2002
Gleefully defying classification, Debra Barsha is that rare talent that sees show business itself as a medium. Singer, songwriter, actress, composer, pianist, raconteur, Barsha is just as comfortable fueling the grooves on a George Clinton album as she is writing an Off-Broadway musical about a pop-art icon (Keith Haring-Radiant Baby). With a career that includes television soundtracks, children’s musicals, one-woman shows, and national tours with postmod British pop-stars (Thomas Dolby), Debra Barsha manages to put the undeniable stamp of her own musical personality on the full spectrum of her work.
In 2002, Debra Barsha won a Jonathan Larson Grant for the score to Radiant Baby, which was produced at the Public Theater in 2003, directed by George C. Wolfe. Radiant Baby received 3 Lucille Lortel nominations including Outstanding Musical. As a co-lyricist in addition to composer, Debra worked alongside The Life’s Ira Gasman (lyrics) and Forever Plaid’s Stuart Ross (Book & Lyrics) to create not only to write a musical inspired by the life of graffiti artist Keith Haring, but to conceptually capture the spirit of 1980s New York club scene. “Throbbing melodies” (The New York Times), “a bright, boisterous lullaby” (Theatre Scene), a “show-stopping hedonistic inferno” (CurtainUp) were words that described Debra Barsha’s pop/soul/disco/funk infused score.
Additional composer credits include Sophie, based on the life of Sophie Tucker, (Jewish Repertory Theater), NBC’s Policewoman Centerfold soundtrack, and Barsha’s one-woman musical Go To Your Womb, which was produced at The Triad, Don’t Tell Mama and The Hudson Guild Theatre (all in New York City) and at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY. It was also seen at NYC’s Town Hall in An Evening of Uncommon Women sponsored by The Legacy Foundation. Her sequel A Womb With A View was produced at CAP21, NYC and The Passage Theatre in Trenton, NJ. and was chosen for the All For One Theater Festival at the Cherry Lane Theater, NY in 2012.
As an actress, Debra originated the role of Topeka Abotelli in the Off-Broadway production of Swingtime Canteen (Charles Busch) and appeared as Celeste Romano in the original cast of Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding, both of which she was also the musical director. For the last 6 months of its historic run, she was also the musical director for the Broadway production of Oh! Calcutta!
Barsha won an ASCAPlus Award each year from 1995-2002 and her songs have been recorded by Jackie Mason and Marty Balin among others. The title cut on George Clinton’s CD, T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (The Awesome Power Of A Fully Operational Mothership) was written by Barsha, who also played keyboards and sang on Thomas Dolby’s Flat Earth Tour and can be heard on Prince’s compilation album 1-800-NEW FUNK. She has recorded with Bootsy Collins, Dave Stuart, Patti Austin, Thomas Dolby, George Clinton and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Her own CDs, Women in Windows and Barsha Raw! (Live at Ars Nova) were also recently released.
Her children’s musicals, The Moral of the Story, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and The Emperor’s New Condo have been performed annually in schools throughout the country. Recently, her music was heard in the critically acclaimed New York Theater Workshop’s Songs From an Unmade Bed, which is also released as a cast album on Ghostlight Records.
In 2006, Debra received a second Jonathan Larson grant to write the senior cabaret show for Larson’s alma mater, Adelphi University. Adelphi also produced an evening of Debra’s songs called I Was Here, which she directed.
In May 2008, Barsha and Horne were chosen for a two-week residency at The New Harmony Project for their mew musical The Center.
In 2011, Barsha conducted Karen O’s psycho opera Stop the Virgens at St. Ann’s Warehouse and The Sydney Opera House. In April of 2013, she arranged the gospel choir for Sacrilege, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ new single off their album Mosquito. Her appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs went viral, and inspired Spin Magazine to write, “pay close attention to the choir’s absolutely mind-blowing director, who arrives at the 2:29 mark. Watch this woman, and do not stop, people. She is embodying the spirit of Yeah as few others have done.”
Debra currently plays keyboards, sings and is the Associate Conductor of Broadway’s Tony award winning musical Jersey Boys.