Michael Plahuta, the Australian-born co-founder of Wonkybot Studios, is also the musical partner of Stewart St John and Music Director for Wonkybot Studios. Though his journey from being an attorney in Melbourne to a full-time company founder and musical maestro in the US is relatively new, Michael’s talent, positive attitude and unbridled determination has already netted incredible results: in the last year alone he has taken the stage in cities across the nation — from New York to Los Angeles — working on his and Stewart’s original music with world renowned performers like Micky Dolenz (The Monkees) and Annie Golden (Orange Is The New Black), and Broadway vets like Mary Stout (Beauty And The Beast) and Bart Shatto (Broadway’s War Paint). He even helped bring the Real Housewives of Melbourne’s star Gina Liano into the Tara Tremendous podcast series (which became a #1 iTunes Kids/Family series), where he also voiced several characters. As co-composer of all the music (songs and instrumental scores) for Tara Tremendous, Spooky Troop and other projects being developed at Wonkybot, Michael shares his recent experience co-producing several concert performances.
Wonkybot.com: You wore a lot of hats on the recent Tara Tremendous and Spooky Troop musical concerts in Alabama. You were a Co-Producer, Co-Composer and Musical Director. Tell us a little bit about each of those roles and what’s your favorite hat to wear?
Michael Plahuta: Wow, that’s a great question. I’m sure everyone would probably answer that question differently, but they do say the real show happens behind the curtain. As a co-producer, along with my fellow peers Stewart St John and Todd Fisher at Wonkybot Studios, I would say the role involves the actual realization of the show; it’s like running a business. You raise the finance and the awareness, hire those to be involved in the behind-the-scenes of the show as well as on the stage, from cast to stage management – with the aim to make the impossible, possible. As a co-composer of the songs and score with Stewart St John, I would say that is the fun part. Watching and hearing the songs we’ve created in various studios suddenly being performed in realtime to an audience is quite surreal. Being a part of the casting process [for the shows] is always exciting because you get a feel of who you’re going to be working closely with, and rehearsing with as a musical director. Having the performers express the essential nuances of the songs is always key for a good show and working closely with talent is one of the most exciting roles I’ve had an opportunity to work within.
Wonkybot.com: How was this concert performance different than the one you produced at 54 Below in New York City?
Michael Plahuta: We were fortunate enough to feature more dialogue amongst the characters, more so than the NYC performance of Tara Tremendous and we also had the opportunity to debut the truncated version of Spooky Troop – The Musical as a pre-show event. The NYC performance was the debut show for Tara Tremendous and was presented in a more musical concert format.
Wonkybot.com: You also produced a Studio Cast recording after that performance, right?
Michael Plahuta: Indeed we did! Immediately following the NYC performance, we headed straight into the recording studio with 20 songs and our immensely talented cast, and recorded the original studio cast album.
Wonkybot.com: What do you look for in a singer when you’re casting a role? Is it based only on vocal ability? Or does acting talent come into play?
Michael Plahuta: I think foremostly is the performer’s ability to portray the role as it was created and imagined by Stewart [St John]. In some cases, a casting choice isn’t based on vocal ability at all, although that is an essential piece depending on the character that’s played. Acting talent, I feel, always comes into play as we want the audience to truly believe the conveyance of the songs and story. Ideally we look for both a strong vocalist as well as great actor.
Wonkybot.com: Is it difficult to find performers who can sing a song the way you hear it in your head?
Michael Plahuta: Surprisingly, I feel Stewart and I have always been open to hearing new interpretations of the songs compared to the way we hear it in our heads, provided that the performance is a believable one.
Wonkybot.com: What’s the toughest part of putting on a live performance?
Michael Plahuta: All of it.
Wonkybot.com: What’s the best part?
Michael Plahuta: All of it [laughs].
Wonkybot.com: In Alabama, you basically had 72 hours to teach two dozen performers and a chorus of 50 children all the songs in two different shows. Share with us what that experience was like.
Michael Plahuta: Thankfully I wasn’t alone in doing so! [Laughs] Stewart and I worked as extensively as possible with the cast to ensure everyone knew the material well before our first official rehearsal. It was an enormous undertaking, but we were really fortunate that we got to work with some incredibly talented people who, we feel, really enjoyed the experience and were encouraged by the material.
Wonkybot.com: You and Stewart compose all the material together. What’s that process like?
Michael Plahuta: Indescribable and metaphysical. I have so much fun working with Stewart on composing the songs and score. It usually starts with Stewart sending his genius in a voice memo, humming a melody that he’s come up with, followed by lyrics. I then take the song and together we build it, writing the music for a full orchestra. We go back and forward in the studio expanding and expanding on the ideas and form our final song. It’s difficult to explain because I feel the process between Stewart and myself is somewhat other worldly and, as I mentioned, metaphysical. Usually, it involves us parading around the room in utter joy [laughs] and sometimes it’s quite emotional. It is though, always a pleasure.
Wonkybot.com: Tell us what it’s like to sit in a theater with an audience watching and listening to your work?
Michael Plahuta: Incredibly surreal and being that Tara Tremendous and Spooky Troop are newly developed musicals, we’ve had the opportunity to exhibit material which the audience have yet to hear or are familiar with, so we’re also part of the audience in our own way. It’s quite emotional for the three of us [Stewart, Michael & Todd] hearing the material transition from the isolation of a studio environment to a realtime observing audience.
Wonkybot.com: You’re originally from Melbourne, Australia. What brought you to the US?
Michael Plahuta: To do exactly what I’m doing now.
Wonkybot.com: After the Alabama performance you headed back to Atlanta where you went into a studio with some of the performers to record material. How did that go?
Michael Plahuta: It was fantastic and any opportunity to record new material is always exciting. We had Allie Jordan Butcher (Valerie the Vampire, Spooky Troop), Kaylin Hedges (Tara, Tara Tremendous) and Anna Bella Foster (Fi Fi the Fairy, Spooky Troop) record an astronomical amount of songs in such a short period of time. Stewart and I working with talent in the studio is always a fun experience as we watch and listen to our material get captured into a recording for us to later share with the world. We’re so proud of what was accomplished.
Wonkybot.com: What’s coming up next?
Michael Plahuta: Stewart, Todd and myself would love to continue to showcase both Tara Tremendous and Spooky Troop as musical concerts, with the vision that it leads to a full production. We have plans for a North American tour in the works. Stay tuned!