Abby Payne, who grew up in Jasper, writes, produces and acts in 'The Gunfighter Meets His Match,' premiering Monday
Music artist Abby Payne has needed some grit to succeed in a very difficult business.
Jasper, New York of the 1980s and 90s is a long way away from the modern New York City music scene and is centuries away from the Wild West, yet Payne has made that journey.
Payne is combining the love of music she learned in her tiny Steuben County hometown with an affection for Louis L’Amour’s Western stories and her experiences in the wild New York City music scene to produce a new musical, “The Gunfighter Meets His Match.”
“The Gunfighter Meets His Match” is a Wild West musical conceived and written by Payne, a singer-songwriter who has released four albums and will release a fifth, based on “The Gunfighter” musical. The prestigious New York Musical Festival chose Payne’s musical from a pool of over 250 applicants to be featured in the annual festival this summer.
The musical’s world premier is Monday night at 8 p.m. at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street with additional performances the following Thursday through Saturday.
Payne, who is now based in Brooklyn, said the story was inspired by the New York City music industry and the short stories of L'Amour. There is love, loss, and hope, the producers promise in promotional material about the musical, as the audience is transported “to another world with a few familiar echoes of our own.”
“It’s about strong, independent women and a gunfighter who is willing to risk it all for the one he loves. That’s our tag line,” Payne, a 1998 graduate of Jasper-Troupsburg High School, explained during a telephone interview from New York City.
Payne is the writer, a producer, the music director and a member of the 18-member “Gunfighter” cast. She talked to The Spectator on a recent Friday during a short break from near constant rehearsals.
“Right now I’m in band rehearsal,” she said. “We have a four-hour band rehearsal, then I have a four-hour rehearsal with the cast. I’m the music director, so I’m playing piano for all of the scenes. It’s very chaotic. I’m also one of the producers of the show, so I’m dealing with all of the details. There’s a lot to do.”
Payne grew up on a Jasper dairy farm. She is the daughter of Bruce and Linda Payne. She has a brother and a sister. She said she grew up in a musical family while focusing on the flute at Jasper-Troupsburg.
“My family is very musical, so I’m sure that comes up in my music. Just growing up singing all the time,” Payne said. “The Payne family, and on my mother’s side, the Williams family, is all very musical.
“My parents sing. My dad sings in a couple of choirs, a church choir, and a choir in Penn Yan that they sing in. My mother sings and plays piano and many instruments. Even my grandparents are musical as well, and my siblings.”
“When we get together, we always sing. (My brother) will play guitar, and everybody sings for special occasions, people’s birthdays and stuff like that.”
After high school Payne attended SUNY Purchase, studying jazz. Her main instrument is now the piano, she is an accomplished songwriter and a talented singer. Payne has put out four albums a remarkable accomplishment by almost any measure, created and starred in several ambitious music videos. In 2013, Payne was part of a group that founded The Round Table, an artist collective that seeks to create opportunities and build community for female artists.
“The Gunfighter” was created from those career experiences, especially the challenges, Payne explained.
“At the time when I began writing this stuff, I was just thinking a lot about the difficulties of the music scene and New York City. Just really, everything was changing then,” Payne recounted. “You know, you make a CD now, but nobody buys CDs, and the hope of getting a record deal has just really changed a lot, so it felt very much like the Wild West – no laws, nobody knew what was going to happen, uncharted territory. I think that what first inspired me, and then I was kind of charmed by the idea of the early American lifestyle.
“I was a songwriter for a long time, and I just started writing these songs with a Western theme just because I had been reading Louis L’Amour short stories and listening to them on tape in the car. I thought, ‘Oh, it would be fun to write a little series here of Western-themed songs?’ And it just became a concept album. The whole album is about this Wild West idea that was in my head.
“My friends who I had collaborated with a lot as choreographers came to me and said, ‘We think you should make it a musical,’ and they did the staging and choreography, and that’s when it became a musical.”
In 2015, a one-hour, early version of the show had a sold out run at the HERE Arts Center in TriBeCa. As the creative team expanded the musical, additional performances were presented at Joe’s Pub, The Musical Theater Factory and Green Space. Now it’s a full, two-act, two-hour musical, with “Abby Payne and Glitter Kitty Productions Presents” on the program cover.
“Gunfighter” faced long odds to become the featured production of the New York Musical Festival.
“I was pretty shocked. I did not expect it,” Payne said. “It was a very intensive application. You had to give them the script, which I hadn’t really finished, so I had to rush to finish it. I had to send them all the music. It was a lot. It took a long time to get the application together, and I still wasn’t sure if I had done it right, so when I got the call that we were a finalist, I was pretty shocked.
“It was a huge effort, so we were very surprised to get it right away.”
Payne concedes her roots in Jasper have little in common with the unpredictable New York City music industry and the no-holds barred lawlessness of the late 19th century American West. Still, Jasper remains a part of her character. And those Western short stories and novels she always loved have helped shape her as well.
“I would say growing up in Jasper definitely influenced what I’ve become as a musician and songwriter for sure,” she said. “And ‘True Grit’ is one of my favorite books.”