Music Magic Q&A: Star Johnson
Star Johnson is a lyricist and composer hailing from Washington, DC. She has written the book, music and lyrics for How to Quit Your Day Job, Flattops and F Words, good girl/bad part of town and Rooftops: A Song Cycle, mixing traditional musical theatre stylings with soul, r&b and hip-hop. Over the years, her work has been featured at the Kennedy Center, Feinstein’s/54 Below, New York Musical Festival, The Producer’s Club, and Capital Fringe Festival (best musical), and she’s been interviewed for The Washington Post, Playbill and Broadway World. Star recently earned a workshop residency at the Anacostia Arts Center in Southeast, Washington, DC where she will be developing a musical theatre lab with residents of the Anacostia community in summer 2018.
I’m thrilled to introduce her to The Write Teacher(s) Readers, and honored to feature her music in Women of the Wings: A Celebration of Female Musical Theatre Writers Volume II.
MM: First things first, when did you realize you wanted to be a songwriter?
SJ: When I was 6 and heard “Girls They Love Me” by Heavy D, on the radio. It begins with “Coolin’ in the crib and I’m cold maxin’…Call up a cutie, I’m in the mood for relaxin’…” I heard that and was like What is this??!! It was the first rap song I’d ever really listened to and I immediately recorded it on my tape player and learned all the lyrics. I didn’t know songwriter was an actionable goal at the time but that was the piece that led to my elementary school self writing little songs and raps in my notebook every day.
MM: What drew you to writing for musical theatre?
SJ: I would listen to really beautiful OBC recordings of shows that as a young 20 something year old person, I couldn’t truly relate to and I’d say I wish there was someone writing musicals for kids like me. And then I learned the story behind “Rent” and realized that instead of wishing someone would write something for me, I should learn the ropes and do it myself. Trust me it’s easier said than done, but it is doable!
MM: Of all the stories you’ve been a part of creating, is there one in particular that’s closest to your heart?
SJ: There is a character TJ in one of my shows “How to Quit Your Day Job” that lives in me. He’s a fidgety, lovelorn, neurotic black George Constanza who is constantly and consistently going through it and I love writing for him.
MM: When one walks into your home, what books are permanently on your bookshelf?
SJ: Sondheim’s “Look I Made a Hat” series, a Bukowski poetry anthology “Sifting through the madness for the word the line the way,” and a copy of “In the Blood”, Suzan-Lori Parks.
MM: If you were stranded on a desert island, what television shows and/or movies would you want available to you, (assuming of course you have a television and Internet connection?)
SJ: I would go with an old 90s TGIF line up of Boy Meets World, Step by Step, Family Matters, and Full House. If I’m gonna die alone on this island I may as well have John Stamos and Jaleel White to keep me company.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you’d want to offer aspiring lyricists, composers, and book writers?
SJ: Don’t be afraid to get your work on its feet. There’s a women I met at my Fringe show a few years back who said she’d been working on a musical for ten years and wants to have a reading of it eventually. That’s bananas to me! Putting your work out there is the only way you’re going to see what it is. It’ll be messy at first and that’s okay. At least you’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t.
MM: What sound do you love? What sound do you hate?
SJ: Love – laughter, applause, a bass line, really any music. Hate – “doors closing” when I’m running for the train.
MM: What literary or musical theatre character is most like your personality? Least like your personality?
SJ: Most – Bobby from Company, Least – Maria from West Side Story/Juliet — any woman who meets a man for like 1 week and completely throws away her life is ridiculous. When Bernardo/Tybalt is killed in their respective stories and the girls are still running around looking for thier man, I just wanna grab each of them by the shoulders and yell “Girl, rethink your life!”
MM: Time for shameless self promotion! Tell our readers what you want to brag about, what you’re excited about in your career at the moment.
SJ: I’m excited to be a part of Women of the Wings at 54 below on March 2! I’m also featuring at Sir Harvey Fitz’s Poetic Vibes next month in DC, and this spring I will be presiding over the Anacostia Musical Theatre Lab, where I have a workshop residency under Anacostia Arts Center. Through the worshop, I will oversee the development of a musical devised by the residents of SE DC. Lots of cool things in the works. Follow me on insta @starjohnsonartist for updates!
MM: In today’s economic state, arts education programs are being cut. What reasons would you give to a school board or politician for preserving arts education programming in schools?
SJ: When you really think about it, this world is a brutal and extremely scary place. I believe art is what helps make all of this a little less scary and all the pain we have to go through more palatable. It’s life changing and life saving. Literally. I don’t think some of us would still be here if it weren’t for the arts.
MM: Who is/was your greatest teacher? (Can absolutely be more than one)
SJ: Drew Kahn, the head of the theatre dept at Buffalo State; Jessica Teague from GWU; Mrs. Johnson, my middle school drama club instructor; Bob Scott, Seth and the Greenleafs at Silver Spring Stage; and the person who, if it weren’t for their guidance and patience, I wouldn’t be involved in theatre right now — Joe Price.
Live, Love, Learn,