The average Broadway playgoer may not recognize the name Rostam Batmanglij when they see it in the program for “This Is Our Youth,” the new staging of the 1996 play starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson. But a couple of them probably heard one of his songs on the radio on the way in to the theater.
A member of Grammy winning alt-music band Vampire Weekend, Batmanglij pens the original music for “This Is Our Youth.” To judge from snippets overheard at the tail end of a recent tech rehearsal, the piano-based tunes have a more classical bent than the band’s fans might expect.
That doesn’t mean the score stands completely separate from his work with Vampire Weekend. “There are some little ideas you’ll hear in the score that one day might show up in a new song,” he said. “I never know where my ideas are going to come from.”
Batmanglij’s involvement in the project isn’t the first time “This Is Our Youth” producer Scott Rudin has reached beyond the usual pool of legit regulars for a play’s original music. He previous tapped Branford Marsalis to write the music for “Fences” in 2010 and serve as music curator for this year’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Last fall, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem provided the original music for Rudin’s production of “Betrayal.”
Snagging that kind of talent — the kind with fanbases that stretch into demos that aren’t necessarily regulars on Broadway — is one way a Main Stem production might draw in new audiences. The 18-year-old fashion-journo prodigy Gevinson also has the power to drum up Broadway publicity in unusual arenas: She’s on the cover of New York Magazine this week, but for the fall fashion issue rather than the autumn arts preview.
Batmanglij proved a good fit for “This Is Our Youth” in part because he used to live not far from the upper Manhattan setting of the play. He’s also, he said, an unabashed fan of “Margaret,” the 2011 film written and directed by “This Is Our Youth” playwright Kenneth Lonergan.
He’s basing his tunes for “This Is Our Youth” on his memories of his time in the neighborhood. “I want it to feel like someone’s playing it on a beat-up old upright piano right there in the apartment,” he said. “Or in the apartment next door.”