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Shaina Taub's 'Die Happy' Fuses Broadway And Pop


A handful of musicians cross smoothly from pop to Broadway and back like Elton John and Cyndi Lauper, who've written big musical blockbusters. Shaina Taub is part of a new generation of young composers with a foot in each world. This summer, her musical adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" will be part of the free Shakespeare in the Park series in New York.


SHAINA TAUB: (Singing) If music be the food of love, play on, play on. If music be the food of love, play on.

SHAPIRO: And at the same time, Shaina Taub has just released a new album of her own original songs, most of them not tied to any musical. The album is called "Die Happy."


TAUB: (Singing) If I die before you, you can have my records. You can give my books away.


TAUB: Thanks, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: So on this album "Die Happy," a lot of the music is overtly political. You can tell it was written in the last year. There's one song called "Huddled Masses" that quotes the famous Emma Lazarus poem that's on the Statue of Liberty.


TAUB: (Singing) Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses on your teeming shore yearning to breathe free. Send them all to me. Give me your tired, your poor...

SHAPIRO: When did you write this?

TAUB: I wrote this song at the end of January 2017, so sort of right in the wake of the inauguration and that weekend of protests that broke out at airports across the country in response to the travel ban. But actually, the notion for the song I was sitting on for a couple years.

It was initially inspired by two columns specifically by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He has one column called "Anne Frank Is A Syrian Girl Today" and one called "The Statue Of Liberty Must Be Crying In Shame." And he just talks about, you know, how the Jesus story is a refugee story. And so I knew I wanted to construct it in these three mini stories - one about Jesus, one about Anne Frank, and then one about a Syrian refugee today.


TAUB: (Singing) He flew to reach our border to start his life anew. He's detained today at JFK. We did not let him through.

SHAPIRO: Do you know whether Nick Kristof is aware that those columns inspired this song?

TAUB: Yeah. Well, I've been so excited for years to write this tweet of just tweeting at Nick Kristof, being like, your columns inspired this song. He tweeted back, and he shared the song. And that was a really exciting moment for me.


TAUB: (Singing) Remember what I stand here for.

You know, I always think of how Nina Simone says, how can you be an artist and not reflect the times? And so I'm just inspired by so many artists of previous generations and this generation to kind of take what's going on around me and use the tools I have at my disposal, which are, you know, songwriting and singing, and do it from there.

SHAPIRO: The last song on this album is called "Still I Will Love." And it comes from your musical adaptation of Shakespeare's "As You Like It."


TAUB: (Singing) On the heaviest day, on the bitterest night, still I will love. Still I will love. When I'm tired and hungry and we're in a fight, still I will love.

SHAPIRO: To me, this song makes a lot of sense as a last track on the album because I think it sums up a lot of your artistic work - fighting political battles that you may lose and still insisting on a positive outlook on life.

TAUB: Yeah. This is the only song on any of my albums or EPs that did belong in a musical and an album. And it felt like I had to put it on the record because even though I wrote it for "As You Like It," it did feel like this statement of really how I'm feeling right now in the world. And, you know, in the musical it was for these weddings that happen at the end. Four weddings happen concurrently. And so I kind of did this research where I just made a giant document of all wedding vows I could find from all different cultures and religions around the world...


TAUB: ...And just looked for the common threads.


TAUB: (Singing) Our worst and our best, still I will love. Still I will love. When we lose all our hair and our teeth and our minds, still I will love. Still I will love.

SHAPIRO: I would not be at all surprised if this song gets used at many weddings in years to come.

TAUB: (Laughter) I would love it. I would love it.

SHAPIRO: Shaina Taub, thank you so much for talking with us today.

TAUB: Thanks, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Her new album is called "Die Happy." And this summer, her musical adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" will be presented as part of the Shakespeare in the Park summer season in New York.


TAUB: (Singing) Chasing our dreams, when we're messy and weepy and feeble and old, when we don't have a clue what the future will hold, still I will love. Still I will love. Still I will love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.