26 July 2006

Up Next, "Halliburton: A Journey in Song"

A few days ago I had assumed (hoped, really) that the Food and Drug Administration's anthem was an aberration, musically-speaking. It seems that while it is certainly painful, that musical tribute to a soulless organization is not unusual. In fact, there's at least one composer who makes his living producing corporate musicals; the Wall Street Journal profiles Ian Seeberg, "the Irving Berlin of corporate theater" (subscription required):
"What everybody likes is that I have a vision. They like that I'm leading the parade, that I know where the parade is headed," said the Los Angeles-based Mr. Seeberg, who's written some 20 musicals for clients like Waste Management, Sun Microsystems and Bank of America, and has composed theme songs and served as impresario for more than 200 corporate extravaganzas bankrolled by, among other clients, IBM, Coca-Cola, Mattel and Chrysler.

Mr. Seeberg's most recent gig, "Wal-Mart: The Musical," played to 18,000 of the retail giant's employees this past May at the chain's annual meeting in Bentonville, Ark. The show, budgeted at more than $1 million and conceived as a way to allay the fears of veteran employees about new products and procedures, included numbers like the anthem "It's All About the Customer...Always," the tango "Step Across the Aisle," and the Gilbert and Sullivan-flavored "Just Say Hello": "When you see someone who's searching/And they don't know where to go/Simply Take Initiative/Step up and say hello."

. . . .

"The thread linking all my shows is that I go for the lowest common denominator -- what we relate to as people, not as salespeople necessarily, not as upper management or middle management or even as people in business," said Mr. Seeberg, who is in his 50s. "I try to bring everything down to a very visceral level where we can laugh at something, cry at something. Then I know the point will be made. The most erudite corporate exec in the world can get up and talk to his minions and he certainly can be motivating and inspiring on a very intellectual level. Mostly you're getting a veiled threat like 'sell this product or we're going to tank. If you're not making your numbers we won't be seeing you next year.' But with a show there's a huge takeaway. It lets you as the audience member see yourself reflected in a character and lets you see your work situations played out.

. . . .

It takes three months for Mr. Seeberg to write a show, he estimates. He's currently working on four, among them productions for Toyota and Redken. If he's frustrated by the narrow scope and proscribed nature of his projects, he's keeping it to himself. "I never look down on these shows," he said stoutly. "I treat each one as if it were for Broadway."

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