Opinion

This Is Our Story: The Character Development of Shrek

Darren Wildeman
When one thinks about musicals with good character arcs there are probably a few that immediately come to mind for you. However, one musical in particular stands out in particular for me. Shrek. Now I realize opinions on Shrek are semi-polarizing. I understand it. I think Shrek is far from a perfect musical, it certainly has a campy vibe to it, and it definitely has holes in the writing where things don’t mesh. However, one thing it does have is fantastic individual characters with incredible development.

Shrekcovernew.jpg


We’re not even going to start with the main characters. We’re going to start with Shrek’s parents who we see for all of half a song. However, in this limited stage time we see the type of environment Shrek has grown up in. They’ve grown up with this fear, with this idea that ogres have to be reclusive. They basically tell Shrek he needs to live on his own, and if anyone comes near him to scare them away because they’ll kill him if they get the chance and nothing good in the world is for him. This helps serve to establish Shrek’s personality, which we see in what I think is a brilliant introduction of a main character and overall one of the best opening songs in musical theatre.

Over the course of his life Shrek has seen what his parents have told him is true and this has given him a no-nonsense attitude. In out of town tryouts there was actually a scene that showed this even more where young Shrek got mocked and tried to join other people but was always chased away. In pure staying true to the movies Shrek form we see Shrek bursting forth from the outhouse and telling us how life has shaped him. Shrek makes it clear immediately he’s a loner and has followed his parents advice the lyrics “Doing what I can with a one man conga line” shows us he’s quite happy how things are, and “sure I’m fated to be lonely and destined to be hated” tells us he’s accepted this as the soul reason for his existence. He’s accepted that he doesn’t fit in anywhere, and has essentially become what people want him to be. In this sense these themes will tie in nicely to “Build a Wall” where Shrek says he’ll be what people want after he gets burned and that he should have listened. However, that is getting way ahead of the story. For now, Shrek is living the life his parents warned him about and rejects anything that is considered “fun” by others or that even involves other people. He’s not only accepted his fate as a social outcast but has full on embraced as he wants people to “take your fluffy fun and shove it where the sun don’t shine.” I think through all these lyrics, and circumstances it’s safe to say Shrek’s character at the start of this show is very well established, not to mention that the entire song is an absolute bop.

For the sake of writing space, I won’t be focussing too much on the secondary characters of this musical (i.e. Pinocchio and his gang). But I will say this, they’re interesting characters. Sometimes in a musical secondary character can be a bit flat, but book writer David Lindsay-Abaire does a good job of making sure they still serve a purpose. While they don’t even have that much main stage time, their progression from complaining, unhappy fairy tale characters to being proud of who they are is a nice secondary plot that works well with the main story in Shrek and how mean Shrek is initially vs. when he’s more accepting at the end also allows them to serve as a nice device for the main plot. But we have a ways to go before we see that version of Shrek.

After Shrek wanders through the menagerie of fairy tale creatures we now come to meet one of the other main players of this story, and a character that will really show us more of Shrek’s personality. Remember the opening song established that he’s not only accepted who he is, but fully embraced it. What better way to bring this out then to bring out a character who is almost exactly Shrek’s polar opposite- emphasis on almost- Donkey ends up escaping the fairy tale mob and thinks he can tag a long with Shrek to escape being captured and sees Shrek as his salvation. And Donkey is an absolute pain in Shrek’s butt. Shrek has already established he embraces the solitude. He’s embraced the image that no one wants anything to do with him. So not only does Donkey catch Shrek off guard by WANTING to hang out with Shrek, and in “Don’t Let Me Go” thinks they can be best friends, but he does it in the most annoying way possible by never shutting up and even worse, breaking out into random song. Donkey in almost every way possible- despite a similarity that neither of them know about yet- is the perfect foil for Shrek, and despite Shrek’s protests he forces himself into a begrudging “friendship” of sorts.

If the dialogue wasn’t indicative enough of what Shrek thinks of Donkey, it becomes even more clear in “Travel Song” including the brilliant lyric “this ass of mine is asinine.” Throughout this whole song Shrek makes his feelings of Donkey abundantly clear and is already sick of him.

Now we come to the final character introduction of Fiona. She’s the stuck princess who needs rescuing and is waiting for her Prince Charming. She envisions the perfect life where she gets rescued and lives happily ever after. However, it comes into question if this is what she truly wants or if this is just how she thinks it should be. In her introduction song “I Know Its Today”, Fiona says “I know he’ll appear because there are rules and there are strictures.” This brings up the question, does she really want her Prince Charming? Or does she want him because that’s supposed to happen according to her fairy-tale stories. Needless to say, she’s quite shocked when she meets Shrek, and is reluctant to go with him despite his promises of a prince. Not just because Shrek is an ogre, but because as we all know, she’s been cursed to become an ogre at night.  This is why she asks the crew to stop and make camp. She doesn’t want to be seen, and she very likely doesn’t want people to react to her like she reacted when she saw Shrek. Fiona now goes to sleep for the night leaving Shrek and Donkey alone.

Earlier Shrek had insisted to Donkey that there is absolutely nothing else he’d rather be or rather be doing in his life. Remember, we already established in the opening that Shrek has not only accepted who he is, but has full on embraced it. Based on what we know about him so far there really isn’t much reason to question it. However, call it intuition, call it perseverance, or maybe it was because Shrek did imply earlier that he has layers and there might be more under the surface but Donkey now asks Shrek one more time if there is truly nothing else that he’d rather be. This becomes what is man people’s favourite moment and song of the entire show.

Shrek opens “Who I’d Be” by finally revealing that maybe he isn’t as hardened as he’d have us believe. It’s not that he doesn’t wish he could be something else, it’s that he believes doing any of these things is so impossible that he’s better off repressing them and becoming who people want him to be and just embracing that side of him. “Shut out the dreams, don’t give them any airtime in your brain because they’ll never happen” is basically what his life has been. And he expresses as much to Donkey “I’d have a hero’s ending, a perfect happy ending, that’s how it would be, a big bright beautiful world; but not for me” This is a very clever throwback to the very opening song and what Shrek’s parents told him. Nothing in the world is right for him. In the opening song his parents told him “a big bright beautiful world, but not for you.” And told him no one would want anything to do with him. By having Shrek reprise this line we really see how much that message has stuck with him and that he truly believes and has seen the world that nothing is for him, and this is why he hasn’t bothered dreaming about it.

At this point Fiona chimes in from where she’s sleeping also talking about how an ogre has to hide, this blends really nicely with what Shrek has said about how nothing can be for him. Fiona knows that if she is ever found out she’ll be the same way and knows that she’ll have to stay “in the dark and all alone.” Donkey’s part in this song isn’t much but here he says “You’re all alone” I think this whole time Donkey thought Shrek was exaggerating about how much he wants to be alone and how much he hates others. Remember how we said despite how much their personalities clashed there was one thing they had in common? That was being alone. Both of them had been rejected, and neither had any friends. But they both showed that in very different ways and made them appear as polar opposites when they had one thing in common. But now when Shrek finally paints a picture of how far his loneliness stretches and he basically tells Donkey that “yes, I’ve had dreams, but I stopped bothering to think of or wish for them because there is no way I can have them” I think now Donkey finally sees the picture that Shrek is painting. And for the first time he truly and 100% realizes that yes Shrek is all alone, for real. Almost as if to drive home the point even harder for donkey Shrek sings his chorus one more time. Now Fiona jumps in and as a throwback to her introduction song she reiterates the rules and strictures she has from her books. Again, this makes you question, does Fiona in her heart of hearts truly want Prince Charming? Or does she just want him because that’s what her stories have told her should happen? It’s almost as if she’s reconvincing herself that this plan is the right one. Whatever thoughts she might be having about Shrek already aren’t correct because as she already stated earlier ogres are hidden away never to be seen. She has to tell herself again that she can’t even think about Shrek like that because the plan her stories have given her is the correct and only plan. After this Donkey jumps back in once more. He’s digested what Shrek has told him and essentially vows that he is going to be that friend Shrek needs. This is a huge thing for Shrek as he’s never dared to even dream, he could have someone like that. Despite all the characters’ thoughts and ideas that they’re considering they all agree one thing “A perfect happy ending that’s how it should be!”

In the second act is where we really see Fiona and Shrek falling for each other. They sing “I Think I Got You Beat” as a competition as who had a rougher life, but then they end up bonding when they realize they had both been abandoned at a young age and have a competition about bodily functions. They both realize something is happening but neither one can fully admit it or bring themselves. Donkey finally convinces Shrek he needs to “Make a Move” and Shrek finally works up the courage.

Shrek begins rehearsing what he will say “When Words Fail” and here again we see just how ingrained his parents’ messages are to him. He keeps trying to think of what he will say to Fiona and he keeps getting stuck. He even goes as far as to ask himself “when words fail do I fail too?” Even now, part of him is still convinced that the big bright beautiful world, is not for him. He’s partially convinced he is going to fail. In the meantime, Donkey has discovered Fiona’s curse and she says that no one could love such an ugly beast which is why she needs Lord Farquaad. Unfortunately, Shrek only hears part of this and assumes she’s referring to him and shatters any hope he had. Shrek believes now that his parents were right all a long, he was stupid to try and veer off of being anything else and that he needs to just go back to what he was because that’s all he can have in this world.

As stated earlier, “Build a Wall” is a re-emphasis on what he was told as a child. Shrek has been burned, and he truly believes that even people he thought were his friends just see him as an ugly ogre. This is his re-commitment to what his parents always told him, and it’s burning even stronger. “You’re looking for a monster and today’s your lucky day” shows that he’s going to be as nasty as he possibly can. And remember Fiona’s fairy tale stories from earlier? Shrek is well aware of these and is well aware of what they say about him he sings “She wanted Prince Charming, I wanted my home back…” He is well aware that he is not supposed to end up with Fiona but he had that hope anyways. Build a Wall is about that hope being crushed, Shrek thinking the world is right about him, and now he’s going to be as mean and nasty as possible because that’s all can be expected of him.

Remember, how when Donkey was first introduced, he was the most annoying thing that Shrek hated? Well now while Shrek may still be upset with him and still might find the ass to be a pain in the ass, the persistence Donkey has is the best possible thing. Shrek wants Donkey to go away but Donkey flat out refuses. Because despite whatever Shrek is telling him, Donkey truly meant it when he said he’s going to be the friend Shrek needs. No matter how Shrek has treated him, no matter what Shrek has said. Donkey has seen underneath all of Shrek’s oniony layers and he’s going to stick by him because that’s what friends do, even if Shrek doesn’t realize that’s what he needs or deserves. Even more, Donkey knows the truth about Fiona.

While Donkey can’t explicitly tell Shrek who Fiona was talking about, Donkey convinces Shrek, despite Shrek thinking nobody wants him that he needs to go get Fiona. I think we all know the ending, so I won’t spend too much time here. However, one brilliant thing about these final scenes is the “Big Bright Beautiful World” reprise. Remember how we’ve seen multiple times that Shrek is well aware of what the fairy tales say about him? He flat out tells Fiona “You’ve never read a book like this and fairy tales should really be updated” Shrek knows the story, but because of Donkey and Fiona he’s finally discovered that stories don’t need to prove reality true. He’s discovering he can find a happy ending and that he can break the stereotypes. Same for Fiona.

It’s already been stated a couple times that Fiona wanted Prince Charming. However, it always seemed like this might be what she wanted because it’s what she’s supposed to want. As we saw with Shrek realizing that fairy-tale story types don’t necessarily need to be true, Fiona is realizing that maybe she can be happy with an alternate ending. That maybe fairy tale stories are just that and don’t reflect a projection onto reality. This point is further driven home when Farquaad revealed he just wants to be married to be king. Not only is Fiona falling for someone who is not her Prince Charming, but her Prince Charming turned out to be the furthest possible thing from charming.

And finally, Shrek and Fiona live in their own happily ever after with Donkey sticking around because he was the friend Shrek didn’t know he needed. We see Shrek go from angry at the world to thinking nothing is for him, to hopeful, back to jaded and reinforcing his views, to finally being able to break through. Fiona wanted a perfect fairy tale ending, but she learned she could have this as an ogre while loving someone who is furthest from the Prince Charming she envisioned; both of the main characters learned to break stereotypes in very different ways. Finally, while Donkey is the one with the least character change, he and Shrek both finally learned what it means to have a true friend. Really all three characters were isolated and alone in their own unique way, and while they had very different paths to getting there, they all learned that a “Big Bright Beautiful World” can be for them- they sing as much in the reprise, and that it is possible to find someone out there for you. It just won’t happen the way it does in fairy tales, because fairy tales show a perfect life and a perfect way to achieve that. The final song, “This is Our Story” illustrates all this as well that everyone’s tale is unique. When really everyone’s path will be bumpy, and even a “happy ending” will have its darker moments. But what truly matters is not that everything is perfect, but that someone can be there with you always both through the fairy tale moments and the darkness.

Come to My Garden: A Look at Broadway's Little Known Masterpiece

Taylor Lockhart
I recently got the chance to be in a local community theatre production of The Secret Garden and aside from being an overall fantastic experience it opened my eyes to a musical that I probably wouldn’t have listened to at least not for quite a few years otherwise. I’ve mentioned the show quite a few times in the past, especially when talking about my least favorite year for the Tony Awards, 1991, as opposed to my favorite year, 1954. Not the best year, not the year that had the most success but my favorite year... but then again the biggest show that year was Kismet so what's really all that great about it. Oops, my bad. I just offended the one diehard Kismet fan out there. Anyways in 1991, several really stellar shows opened on Broadway such as Miss Saigon, Once On This Island, The Will Rogers Follies, Children Of Eden (Not Broadway but it did open on the West End that year), and The Secret Garden which is obviously the show were going to be talking about.


The Synopsis

The show begins with a solo from Lily who is Archibald’s dead wife but you don’t know that yet so for now she’s just some angelic voice singing about flowers. The show really begins with Mary having a nightmare in her home in India as various people around her sing a version of the nursery rhyme “Mistress Mary” and then die horribly. Once everyone is dead she wakes up to find that the nightmare was real and everyone is actually dead and she as well one black snake are the only living things remaining in her village. She is put in the care of one of her father's fellow british army men who gives her a home until she is adopted by her uncle Archibald. Her uncle’s assistant Mrs. Medlock travels to pick her up and take her to the Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England. They travel through the moor, miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse, and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep and Dickon because he’s the Johnny Appleseed of Yorkshire. There’s also a terrible whistling that sounds like howling wolves. Truly home sweet home indeed. They arrive and Archibald refuses to see Mary because doesn’t know what to say to hey. Mary is shuffled up to her room where she hears someone crying and wonders along the endless hallways to find them. This will come into play later. In the morning we meet Martha Sowerby a cheerful yorkshire maid who is terrible at everything but they keep on because she sings very nicely. Go listen to “Hold On” and tell me if you’d kick someone who could sing that out. Mary finds herself traveling about Misselwaithe’s many areas of garden. These gardens are not secret. I feel that it's very necessary to make that clear. Mary meets Ben Weatherstaff the gardener who introduces her to her first friend, The Robin. In the distance Dickon is singing about how spring is about to begin and also about how Mary has arrived at Misselwaithe. It’s a metaphor and there will be a lot of those in this show. Mary meets Dickon who immediately is mysterious and hands her a penny's worth of seeds for her garden that she doesn’t have but she could. He’s so mysterious. He then teaches her how to speak to the robins and that she needs to use Yorkshire to talk to them. Mary believes him and Dickon conveniently places the key on the tree for mary to find when she goes to grab her skipping rope and leave...or in some productions, it’s just there in the tree for some reason. It doesn’t really matter but I like the former more. Mary proceeds to return into the manor where she asks her uncle for a bit of earth and he has a full on mental breakdown because Mary wants a garden and Lily loved gardens and Dr. Craven sees that Mary being in the house is making Archibald’s condition worse and they sing the best song in the show about how they both love and miss Lily. Later Mary hears someone crying again and travels to find Archibald’s ill son, Colin who has been crippled his entire life due to a disease that could kill him if he used his heart too much. Colin is a spoiled brat like Mary was in the beginning before meeting The Robin and Yorkshire’s Mysterious Johnny Applessed and Mary has a lovely chat with him before she is reprimanded by Mrs. Medlock and Dr. Craven who tells her she can never see Colin again. She ends up running outside to the gardens where the ghosts of people she knew in the past attempt to traumatize her for life by reenacting their deaths and attempting to grab her like zombies. In the midst of it all Mary’s father runs to her and shows her the way to Lily who shows her the door to the garden which as the act ends she opens up with the key. Act Two opens up with Mary in a dream where she’s having a birthday party with everyone she’s met and learned to love from India and Yorkshire. The party is cut short though when Colin dies and Mary wakes up. Poor kid just really can’t catch a break. Archibald is in torment and decides to run away to Paris to try and free his mind. Before he leaves he visits his boy as he’s done most nights while he sleeps and reads a bedtime story showing us that Archibald isn’t completely a neglectful father.Though he is still pretty neglectful. Mary returns to Dickon with terrible news that the garden is dead and Dickon lets her know “that it’s not dead, it’s just wick!” and they sing a song about it. Mary meets back up with Colin and promises to take him out to the garden. Later at night, Martha and Dickon wheel Colin out to the garden where they perform spells and chant to “Come Spirt and Come Charm” to make him get well. The spirits do show up but no one sees them and they perform indian chants that are cut in most productions because the song is way too long. Colin musters the ability to stand for the first time and they are caught by Ben Weatherstaff who joins in their secret club and reveals he has been tending after the garden because Lily told him to. Later, Dr. Craven tries to send Mary off to school and she throws a tantrum and invokes the power of witchcraft and the rage of an eleven year old girl to get her to leave. Dr. Craven puts her in time out and scolds Mary who after being told she can’t see Colin anymore again tells him what the audience has been thinking, “You don’t want to see Colin get well. You want him to die so you can have this house for yourself.” Dr. Craven almost hits the child before sending her away and returning to sulk. Upstairs Mary believes she’s going away for good and Martha tells her to “Hold On” and convinces her to write a letter to her uncle telling him to come home. Archibald in Paris has been haunted by the thoughts of Lily and Colin everyday and after receiving Mary’s letter finally comes to terms with wife’s death in a heart wrenching song and builds up the courage to return home and resume his life as a father. The kids come into the garden once again as spring has sprung and they play as Archibald returns to hear their loud noises and comes to find the Secret Garden open and inhabited by the children. Mary and Colin run to him as Archibald sees that Colin is no longer sick and is standing and running and playing along with the other children. The two embrace and Dr. Craven is left with no words as to how they kept this all from him Archibald pretty much fires him and offers to let his brother use his flat in Paris so he can be free of them once and for all and let go of “The enormous weight he has carried on their behalf”. Which come on, he did basically look after your kid for eleven years despite the pain that it caused him due to his unrequited love of Lily and tried to do what he thought was best for you so maybe the guy deserves just a little bit more than a boot out of the show because I honestly think Dr. Craven was always trying to do the right thing even if it ended up hurting people and maybe deserves just a bit better but that’s just my interpretation. Dr. Craven leaves and after a push from Martha, Archibald realizes he’s forgotten about Mary. He tells her she will have a place in the family and this home for as long as she lives and gives her the Secret Garden as all of the dreamers one by one leave until all that’s left is Lily. She leaves Archibald marking the moment he can finally stop grieving her and move on to the rest of his life safe with his family in her garden.

A Bit Of History

Now that you know a bit more about this show let’s take a look at “a bit of history” which is quite possibly the worst pun in the history of the blog. If someone wants to research that for me go ahead but I wouldn’t recommend it. As we previously mentioned the show opened on Broadway in 1991 with music by Lucy Simon and lyrics and book by Marsha Norman. The original cast featured Daisy Eagan as Mary Lennox who would go on to play in the show again in the concert production as Martha. It also featured Mandy Patikin as Archibald Craven, Rebecca Luker, Robert Westenberg and John Cameron Mitchell who went on to write Hedwig And The Angry Inch. So yeah the cast was pretty star studded and is more so now. A version would later open on the West End which changed a lot that nobody needed changed and wasn’t very good so it’s not the one Samuel French sells. Oh, yeah Samuel French owns this show. Why? I have no idea. They own like 15 really good musicals and musicals like Side Show and Heathers I can understand why MTI didn’t buy that, but The Secret Garden is technically a kids show. I mean it’s extremely metal and it’s kinda like if Dr. Suess wrote a musical on existential dread but when I bought the book from some Books A Million it was in the kids section so you’d think MTI (known for its wealth of family friendly musicals) would’ve eaten it up but if they did I wouldn’t be able to keep my script I wrote all my Yorkshire translations in so I guess it’s a good thing in the end. Anyways we got way off topic and I almost missed the best piece of history of all. Let’s talk once again about the worst Tony Awards of all time. Bug off Great Comet fans I don’t care about your tears. In 1991, The Secret Garden was up for pretty much everything alongside Once On This Island, Miss Saigon, and The Will Rogers Follies. It ended up winning nothing except Best Book which could not have been more deserved and we will talk about that in a second. It didn’t win anything else though and Best Musical I can understand and probably in a fair world would’ve just gone to Miss Saigon first instead. I love The Secret Garden but I can say that Miss Saigon was just a bigger and better production overall, but as much as I love Boubil and Schönberg, I mean who doesn’t go ahead and raise your hand because I know you do. Other fans will realize from earlier in the article that I also love Ahrens and Flaherty, and even for how much I dog The Will Rogers Follies, I really love Cy Coleman's work and consider Barnum one of my favorite musicals but The Secret Garden just has a score like I have never heard before and absolutely deserved if nothing else The Best Score win. 

I Heard Someone Crying

It was me. I was the one crying after finishing my first listen through this show. I didn’t cry when I saw Titanic. If dog dies in a movie it’s not fun but it probably won’t get the waterworks going but, this show got me. The only other two shows that has done that are Big Fish and Dear Evan Hansen and I’m convinced the ladder is just because the other two just broke my ability to hold back tears. Big Fish made me cry because of how incredible the story came around in the end and I believe I’ve already talked about that one in the past. I honestly can’t remember. The Secret Garden made me cry in it’s very last song because of how damn gorgeous it is. I already told you to go listen to this musical for yourself but if for some reason you didn’t I mean it, go do it now and then come back and finish this article through your waterfall for eyes. The music itself does it job in always conveying the mood and letting us know how the characters feel but there’s more subtle things in this musical that I don’t notice in any many other musical. For starters, every character has their own different kind of musical style but it all blends together to not be jarring and feel like they come from different musicals. Oliver does a very similar thing but the music doesn’t always fit together. A great example of this is the song “The Letter Song”. The music when Mary sings sounds a little like a xylophone. It’s what one could only describe as childish sounding like children's music and as the music transitions to Archibald’s solos more instruments are added and the music becomes more complex and heavy. It shows us two different characters who feel two different things and have them sing the same song in entirely different ways. Another example is just how different Dickon’s songs sound to everything else in the show. They feature a lot more, what I would describe as country elements and the song feels like it takes place in some sort of nature wonderland. I honestly couldn’t begin to describe how Lucy Simon composed the show. I can only say that every song makes you feel a distinct thing and that's something that's a whole lot harder to describe to if you haven’t listened to the music. It’s honestly nothing short of a masterpiece and I found myself feeling this sense of delight at the simplest things like Simon’s various glissandos that are used in the main motifs. Glissando? Motifs? I’m not a music major. The nice sounding notes at the beginning and end of the show. Yeah, I really like those and the music is very pretty to put it curtly.

It’s A Maze

I would imagine adapting a book like The Secret Garden would be pretty difficult but Marsha Norman does a fantastic job to the point that it does a very rare thing in making an adaptation that in undeniably better than it’s source material. There’s a whole lot of chapters of the book that are mashed together in one scene and so you get some weird lines like Mary just blurting out “Colin, we’re cousins.” The best thing the adaptation does though is bring the characters of Archibald, Lily, and Dr. Craven into the limelight. In the original book the entire story focuses around the kids with the first half of the book being about Mary. The second half of the book being about Colin which is probably why the line “I almost forgot you in all of this” is given to Archibald in the musical because it seems that Burnett completely forgot Mary existed while finishing the book. Oh and I can only assume there was some stipulation that Dickon had to mentioned in every other sentence whether he was in the scene or not because the book is pretty much 90% people just saying how good of a boy Dickon is. I mean he is but it seems kind of unnecessary to the plot. In the musical however, the children are given about half the show and the adults are given the other half. It’s something you never want to see an adaptation without it again. The relationships are so human and the parts with Archibald and Dr. Craven and Archibald and Lily are the most heartbreaking and compelling parts of the show. Another addition are the Dreamers which are ghosts from Mary pasts who aren’t called ghosts for reasons I can’t explain and don’t know. Their character descriptions state they are, “there to follow Mary from her past life until she gets settled in her new one.” which is pretty much right on the money. They show up in most symbolic moments and leave at the end of the show as Archibald welcomes Mary into the family and gives her the garden. There’s also in that part at the end of Act One where they all reenact their incredibly gory and bloody deaths in front of Mary as she wanders around a maze in a thunderstorm. It’s a really great family show make sure to bring the kids. Overall there’s been a whole lot of adaptations of this book. Some that turn Mrs. Medlock and Dr. Craven into Disney villains who just want to kill Colin and inherit the manor but this musical really paints them how I feel they should be as human beings who are selfish and sometimes arrogant but really just are trying to do the best thing even if that varies from character to character. The best example of this Dr. Craven who is sculpted from even less than Archibald and clear love and hatred for Colin combined with his backstory of living his brother's wife, Lily makes him the most fascinating character in the show and one that takes a whole lot of careful thought to do justice. The show ended up winning the Tony Award for Best Book and for how it brings us a new look at previously neglected characters I can say to give that to any other show that year would’ve been absolutely absurd.

The Conclusion

I always get a little carried away in these and maybe lose the point completely along the way but this is honestly a really special show and has been added to a list of my favorites that if it keeps growing the word “favorite” will lose it’s meaning entirely. If you get the chance to see it I absolutely urge you to because most versions of it completely live up to the standard of its music and script with it’s visuals, directing, actor portrayals. Talk of a revival has been ongoing forever and it was confirmed and then subsequently unconfirmed. I have no doubt though that Lucy Simon’s masterpiece will eventually find its way back on Broadway. The show has given me a real appreciation for a hundred plus year old book that I wouldn’t have ever read without it and seriously if you still haven't listened to that soundtrack go do it now. Mandy Patikin, John Cameron Mitchell? What more do I have to say. It’s while maybe not my absolutely favorite one of the best musicals I’ve ever encountered and a 9/10 if not a perfect 10/10. 

Since I talked so much about how great this show is it’s time for you to see it yourself and so it’s time for my favorite ending segment, The Upcoming Productions! Is it called that? It’s honestly been a while since I did an article like this. It might be called, Current Productions or something like that. Who cares!

The Upcoming Productions!

The Secret Garden @ Lake Dillon Theatre Company from 6/30/2020 to 7/26/2020 in Colorado

The Secret Garden @ Missouri State University from 4/2/2020 to 4/5/2020 in Missouri 

The Secret Garden @ The Center For The Arts Inc. from 8/23/2019 to 9/6/2019 in Tennessee

The Secret Garden @ Highland Park Community Theatre from 7/25/2019 to 8/3/2019 in Minnesota

The Secret Garden @ Lake Country Players from 3/20/2020 to 4/6/2020 in Wisconsin

The Secret Garden @ Leon High School from 7/12/2019 to 7/21/2019 in Florida

The Secret Garden @ Santa Clara University from 5/29/2020 to 6/6/2020 in California 

Hey, remember that time I listed a Newsies production from all 50 states. I’m never doing that again! So, you can find all the shows I missed at https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/471/the-secret-garden

Thank you for this article and I encourage you to come back next month because I have what might be my favorite article I’ve done yet cooking up and I’m so excited to put it out there. That’s really all I’ve got. I’ve been Taylor and you’ve been you and I hope you a fantastic rest of your july and I’ll see you sometime in August with that special article. Goodbye.



My Fair Lady's Biggest Problem...Solved

Elizabeth Bergmann

My Fair Lady closed its most recent Broadway revival on July 7. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the Lerner and Loewe masterpiece first opened on Broadway in 1956 starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. This most recent revival received critical acclaim and a Tony Award for Costume Design. It has been revived over and over with many stars of the stage and screen portraying these beloved characters all around the world. The movie (for all its casting controversy) is a breathtaking movie-musical that is so true to the original script that one can honestly run lines WITH THE MOVIE.

Outside these professional settings, amateur theatre groups have done the show over and over. My own Midwestern city saw three productions that all performed within two months of each other. Eliza Doolittle is a beloved role for sopranos everywhere (playing her was a dream come true for me). Higgins is a godsend for the sing-talking men of the world, and Freddy Eynsford-Hill’s song has been sung in auditions billions of times. The point is, the world would be a vastly different place without this amazing musical existing.

800px-MusicalTheater3.jpg


That does not mean that the show does not have its problems. By far, the biggest one is the ending, which differs from Shaw’s ending in a big way: Eliza comes back. We can bring up sexism, adding romance where it doesn’t belong, and a million other criticisms. All of these are valid issues to find within this musical, but the ending is definitely a contentious part of the show, especially with the changes this most recent revival added.

Higgins starves Eliza, threatens her with violence, and takes all the credit for her accomplishments. Eliza returns to him after he treats her horribly. I am by no means defending anything Higgins did, or saying Eliza was right to go back to him. So, how do we solve this problem? Simple: It isn’t a problem at all if you dissect these characters as much as I have.

My Fair Lady is based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, as I said. Pygmalion is named for the man with the same name from Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a man who was fed up and uninterested in women, so he sculpted his idea of a perfect woman out of ivory. When he falls in love with the statue, he prays and makes offerings to Aphrodite for a woman identical to his statue. When he returns home and kisses her, she comes to life and they get married. Many versions of the myth include her name as Galatea, and this story has inspired countless stories of an artist’s creation coming to life.

Shaw refused to give Eliza and Higgins an ending like the one in My Fair Lady because he saw it as opposing the point of the narrative. In a letter to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the first Eliza, he wrote:

“When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on 'consort battleship' you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final 'Buy them yourself.'”

Higgins rants against women because he believes none of them measure up to men in the way he wants. Rather than realizing his scope is limited, or that certain behaviors are forced upon women from a young age, he just sees them as non-intellectuals who don’t appreciate literature and the arts because they’re too stupid and emotional. As much as Eliza changes, Higgins changes even more. The best performances show his growth from a man-child used to getting what he wants to a man who learns to see the humanity in those that are different from him. The only person Higgins likes at the beginning of the show is Colonel Pickering, who is himself an educated linguist and gentleman. By the end of the show, Higgins has actually grown to care for Eliza, and even goes to his mother, a woman, for help when she disappears. He has created this incredibly strong woman out of the flower girl he found, and she is as perfect as any woman could be in his eyes. He exclaims “I like you this way!” when she defies him. Everyone focuses on Eliza’s change, but if we are to call this a coming-of-age story, a stronger case can be made for it being Higgins’s story.

This only works, however, if we are able to see him grow past his arrogance expressed in “You Did It” about Eliza’s progress. He takes all the credit for her, without seeing the admirable qualities that she already possessed, or that she cultivated in herself along the way. He can only grow to see her as a person, rather than a creation, when she stands up to him. The line he says immediately after “Without You” is so critical: “Five minutes ago, you were a millstone around my neck, and now you're a tower of strength, a consort battleship.” He needs to see her as a new, independent person, rather than just his project or pet. The best actors are able to make him see the error of his ways, without allowing him to apologize through words.

Eliza, meanwhile, comes into her own in the world of the gentry. She grows to a point of emotional maturity where she no longer cries when confronted. She learns how to navigate all parts of society, not just the working or lower classes. She finds value in herself and recognizes her abilities beyond being able to sell flowers. As freed as she can be when people don’t look down on her, however, she does also come to realize that upper class women don’t have as many opportunities as men, either. A very powerful moment comes when she’s faced with the dilemma of where she’ll go after the ball. Higgins’s immediate reaction is that she’s too good to work in a shop as planned, so he declares “You could marry, you know.” Eliza’s response to him saying that all she’s worth is marriage is heartbreaking: “We were above that in Covent Garden. ... I sold flowers, I never sold myself. Now that you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else.” The environment she’s in is impossible. So, she decides she will marry Freddy.

Now, Freddy Eynsford-Hill has a far larger role in My Fair Lady than he does in Pymalion. In the original play, he shows up once, is enchanted, and is only ever mentioned when Eliza tells Higgins her plans. His family, while certainly part of the gentility, no longer has the finances they once had, and Higgins tells Eliza that she’ll have to support him since he’s been raised to not work. In My Fair Lady, a lot of effort is put into Freddy’s devotion through “On the Street Where You Live.” He is an impressionable young man, and since many of the Eliza actresses are older, it’s not unreasonable to reach the conclusion that she can exert a certain amount of control over Freddy. She can accomplish a lot more as a respectable married woman than as a single one, and she knows this. While leaving Higgins to marry Freddy may not be financially advantageous, socially, it’s one of her best moves. There’s no reason marrying Freddy would be a terrible idea for her.

If that’s the case, then why am I not bothered by the return in My Fair Lady? Because of that power imbalance with Freddy and Eliza. I can’t think of many people who want a huge imbalance like that in their relationships, and does Eliza really want to spend the rest of her life with a man who says “I spend all my time here. It’s the only place I’m really happy” when she walks out of her house and sees him there? To me, the most important thing in My Fair Lady is the growth of Higgins and Eliza’s relationship. They grow to respect each other, and even to care, and while the script explicitly states there is no romantic attraction, that doesn’t mean that they are incapable of cohabitating. By the time she leaves, Higgins sees her as an equal. He says he doesn’t treat her any differently than he does anyone else, and there is evidence of that (he’s rude to everyone regardless of his relationship to them). In fact, only Eliza seems to remember that he planned for her to move out after the bet was won. Higgins sees no problem with her continuing to live there and go about her life. He even expresses that he’ll miss her companionship in the final song, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” which he has never expressed about anyone.

Okay, so Higgins wants her to come back. But doesn’t it undermine Eliza’s entire arc for her to come back to him instead of going out on her own and marrying Freddy? Well, that depends on why she comes back. There are plenty of bad reasons for her return. Is she coming back because Higgins has manipulated her into it? No. Is she coming back because it’s what he wants and she’s putting his needs first? No. Is she coming back because she can’t support herself in the world? NO (she has a plan to apprentice herself to Higgins’ rival and make money teaching phonetics). While we can’t pinpoint exactly why she comes back, I have several theories. Maybe she comes back because she’s found a home in 27A Wimpole Street. Perhaps she finds that while she doesn’t need Higgins, he seems contrite enough that if she wants to live with him, they could make it work (this especially works if his “Where the devil are my slippers?” is delivered with a smile to indicate a joke). Maybe she understands that manipulating Freddy into a marriage will just continue a sexist cycle that she’s been trying to break free from. Either way, if these are taken into consideration, Eliza can still come into her own and stay there while returning to the Higgins residence.

“But what about the new feminist ending of the revival?” I’ve not seen the revival (I’m a broke college student in the Midwest). I’ve heard various things, including a slap (which I have mixed feelings about), but from what I can gather, the gist is that Eliza does come back, but then leaves again through the audience when Higgins asks her where his slippers are. One post I read included that there is a blue light to indicate that maybe Higgins is imagining her, which I think would speak volumes to his arc. But if this is the real Eliza, her returning and then leaving again can still fit into her arc. Maybe she did come back expecting things to be different, but sees he refuses to change. She could be giving him one last chance to apologize to her. I’m sure each actress in the role presents it differently, and I’m sure each adds their own nuance. I’m interested to see if future productions keep this new ending, and how different directors and actors tackle it.

None of this changes the fact, though, that this ending is not what George Bernard Shaw would have wanted for these characters. After a 1914 production changed the play slightly to give a happier ending, he wrote a whole essay, “What Happened Afterwards,” that has since been attached to published versions of the script. To that, I have to say something that might seem obvious, but still needs to be said: My Fair Lady and Pygmalion are different shows. Yes, the scripts are nearly identical, and Shaw probably should be given a writing credit, but the shows are different. The original play didn’t include the pronunciation exercises we hear in “The Rain in Spain,” those came about in 1938’s Pygmalion film. This same film introduced the concept of a ball, rather than a party, being the test, as well as the idea of a Hungarian villain, and the musical really cemented Zoltan Karpathy as a character. If we are to say My Fair Lady must keep Shaw’s ending, then we must say the same of other adaptations that are not 100% faithful to their source material. Pygmalion alone would mean tackling all the film adaptations, as well as She’s All That, the end of Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and even the short-lived television series Selfie. Adaptations require changes, and if Lerner and Lowe wanted to change things, that is their prerogative. It doesn’t destroy Eliza’s arc. Galatea has still come to life.

Confessions of a Musical Theatre Addict

Chris Lynn

Previously, I wrote a blog about non theatre people who state that they hate musicals.  I gave some advice and suggestions on how to introduce a non theatre person to the wide variety of music and subject matter encompassing musicals via the hater’s personal interests and hobbies. My claim was that there was a musical for everyone and everyone’s interest.

Today’s blog is a similar theme, but instead the focus is on a more insidious hater: the hater within. Before diving in, I have a confession to make. I am a recovering hater.  I loved Be More Chill and hated Rent.  (Oops! I did it again! After reviewing the situation, I think I'd better think it out again!)

Why would a music theatre fanatic expressing hate for a particular show be an insidious act?  Consider the following: (1) Aren’t many of the members on All Things Broadway either very young or very new to the world of music theatre?  (2) Which were the first musicals that swept you into the world of music theatre? Certainly a goal of All Things Broadway as well the goal of many of you readers is to encourage and promote more theatre.  Trashing a specific musical that is the catalyst for a newbie losing their showtune virginity is counterintuitive to this goal. Most of us can remember our firsts! My first loves were Fiddler On the Roof and Phantom of the Opera.  I still have a fondness and reminisce my date with Fiddler.  While I once loved Phantom, I have moved on and feel like Little Red Riding Hood as I have discovered many more musicals: “I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn't known before” (Stephen Sondheim).  

Maybe we all need to leave trash talkin’ to those that dribble a basketball and NBA fans that heckle the opposing team’s players and referees. Music theatre is not a spectator sport, (we no longer live in the times of Shakespeare) however, it is an art that requires a great deal of collaboration from a multitude of disciplines. When a musical is successful and wins, we all win.  Instead of bashing a musical or someone’s personal taste, rejoice in their newly found passion and support that passion by suggesting similar shows or other shows that may be of interest.  See my previous blog:

https://allthingsbroadway.com/blog/2019/6/17/a-musical-for-everyone-according-to-their-hobby?fbclid=IwAR3a8uMweLN6tVFfOPJiGe_-6y0Zr-b4E8VvZwnKVlDpyNhiQ7BBLWNnrCE 

Certainly, you can criticize, debate, critique, give your opinion, and analyze a show.  However, all of this can be done respectfully while also preserving and promoting the artform. The same applies to trash talking a new Broadway show by openly hoping for its financial demise.  As evidenced in the title of this blog, I loved Be More Chill.  I get the argument that Be More Chill was too small for a larger Broadway stage and more appropriate for a house with smaller audiences.  I also understand that many were annoyed by the obnoxious fanbase. Again, I invite debate and dissenting opinion. However, I will NEVER understand rooting for a show to fail.  I don’t understand it in a cliquey community theatre environment, and I certainly don’t get the motive on a larger national scale. If you truly love music and theatre, you do not hedge bets for music and theatre to fail.

Perhaps some shows are more appropriate for the smaller, more intimate Off-Broadway theatre (100-499 seats).  However, by this logic, these smaller more intimate shows will rarely get the recognition that they deserve. Of course, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway shows have their own recognition awards called the Obie’s. On the other hand, how many of you watch the Obie awards? How many posts on the Obie Awards did you see on All Things Broadway? (I get it.  It is not called All Things Off-Broadway). What kind of national attention do the Obie awards receive? I will debate anyone wishing to compare the quality of Broadway shows to some Off-Broadway shows such as The Adding Machine, Bat Boy, Dogfight, Evil Dead, Floyd Collins, Forever Plaid, The Last Five Years, Murder Ballad, A New Brain, Songs for A New World, and many more that this midwesterner has not been offered exposure priviledges. Thankfully, some of the Off-Broadway shows listed above have enjoyed exposure beyond New York City. Sadly, many more deserving shows have not. Most of them are on the other end of the exposure spectrum than the exceptional granddaddy of them all: The Fantasticks. Again, if the goal is to promote and give exposure to great musical theatre, then why not have some of these shows highlighted on a nationally televised awards show like the Tony Awards?  I would like to see Off-Broadway shows having eligibility to win a Tony or an award with an equivalent media exposure. While I agree that many of the Off-Broadway shows that transfer to Broadway are swallowed whole by cavernous spaces and lose their intimacy and charm, many of them still deserve just as much or more exposure than their razzle dazzle big set design counterparts.  Perhaps the award shows should be split into 2 different shows: one for plays and one for musicals. I know that is probably not the answer, but I certainly would love to see performances of some of these Off-Broadway shows. At the very least, I will be anticipating the Obie Awards with as much enthusiasm, if not more, than the Tony Awards! They have also had some incredible hosts including John Leguizamo, David Pierce Hyde, and Rachel Bloom this past season. Here is a link to the Obie Awards. http://www.obieawards.com/

Julie Bovasso, Shelley Winters and Jason Robards at the 1956 Obie Awards

Julie Bovasso, Shelley Winters and Jason Robards at the 1956 Obie Awards

While I love musicals, I will venture to say that I am probably like many of you. Like you, I have strong opinions and discerning tastes. Some people love every single musical, but I don’t think that applies to most of us. Most of us love many shows, cannot stomach many others, or leave the theatre of some shows indifferent  with an unmemorable impression. Granted there are some shows that you love right from the starting gate. I got a horse right here, his name is Into the Woods or Pippin or Big River. Some shows, unlike one’s personal thoroughbreds, are considered more as icky sticky glue. For me, those shows are Cats, Rent, and  (Sondheim fans around the world take a collective GASP!) Passion. Still, there are many other shows I am willing to give a second chance on a different race track (theatre company), managed by a different trainer (director), with different jockeys (leading players). Recently, in the role of hater, I made a snippy comment about a musical that was not one of my favorites. I stated that Spring Awakening was basically a story about sexually frustrated and repressed teens. Of course I was called out on my ridiculous overgeneralization by a Spring Awakening fan. Luckily, I was able to swallow my pride and admit that she was correct and there was much more to the musical than just that. I promised to give the show another chance and actually found a production from a reputable theatre next Spring. Who knows?  After seeing a different production I may change my mind. Then again, I may not. Generally I have an aversion to biopic musicals, jukebox musical, and recent non-musical movie stagings. BUT BUT BUT!!!! I am willing to give some of these shows a try. I am willing to shed my hater ways and be a little more open minded. Certainly, I have not seen many of the musicals in these genes, so there is a good chance that my opinions of them could change. I will be seeing an equity production of The Full Monty next week. I adored the movie. Watching the musical with fresh unbiased eyes and ears will be difficult, but I promise to try.

I am sure I am not the only one, but I used to avoid listening to a new musical or reading about it until I personally saw a production. This has become increasingly difficult due to 1) the temptations found on social media and streaming music and 2) living in the midwest and the need to always hear or see something new. For my non theatre friends, appreciating a show beforehand by simply listening to a cast recording is a near impossible task. For theatre folk like us it is both a welcoming reprieve and a curse. Every once in awhile, however, one cannot judge a musical merely from a cast recording. 

What if you are giving your honest opinion about a musical while being respectful of others, yet people still get offended? Well, welcome to today’s world where some people are addicted to outrage. I am a fairly Pollyanna kind of guy. I choose to believe most of us are good as well as smart enough to see when a fellow theatre aficionado is doing their part in creating an honest, open, dissenting, and respectful climate for public discourse. Having said that, the very few that do not fit this description, tend to be much louder and obnoxious than the mainstream. The sheer volume of their few voices makes their numbers seem greater than what they actually are.  What do these outrage addicts look like? They make take personal offense to any criticism of a show that is close to their heart. Honestly, if you are not one of the writers, producers, actors, creative team members, or anyone else directly involved in Tootsie or Beetlejuice, then respectfully, take it down a notch. There are members on All Things Broadway that are indeed involved in a Broadway show in one or more of these capacities. Some get offended by the discussions followed by the barrage of threads on the topic of overrated vs. underrated musicals. While some took offense, a small cadre of users laughed it off, and playfully poked fun at the ridiculous notion of meaningless terms such as overrated and underrated!  

The most disgusting display of outrage is when people are accused of being racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, simply for having a less than favorable opinion on a particular show.  I’ve seen this on All Things Broadway as well as in person in Play Selection Committees that I have served as a member. I have been called any number of these names, and then I did the unspeakable!  I confessed that I hated Shakespeare! Agghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!! Blasphemy!

Most of the disrespectful speech or speech that is counterintuitive in promoting and encouraging the artform of music theatre are listed below

Overly Produced Musicals

In tne of the community theatres that I participate, the mere mentioning of Oklahoma! on the play selection committee becomes a running joke.  I think the show has been produced there at least 7 times during its 40+ years of existence.  Other musicals that fall into this category include

  • Anything Goes

  • Bye Bye Birdie

  • The Sound of Music

  • Guys and Dolls

Please keep in mind that even though these shows are older and considered classics, there are still some people left on the planet who have never seen them either live or on a screen. Even newer shows are being produced quite a bit as well. I would encourage your local theatres to keep revivals limited to at least 5 or 6 years between productions. There is a plethora of worthy musicals for your local community theatres and high schools to produce. Give your audiences a smorgasbord of variety.

Outdated/Racist/Sexist Musicals

The criticism of some of these shows has merit, yet some criticism is overblown outrage as discussed above. One such example is Carousel, a musical with arguably some of the most lush music ever written by Richard Rogers. These themes of domestic abuse, however, are difficult for most of us to swallow. Carousel, indeed is a difficult show to watch. How can one reconcile such a beautiful score with a show that seems to not only accept but encourage a man striking a woman? The challenging bit of dialogue in question follows: “It is possible for someone to hit you. Hit you hard and not feel it at all”. Julie responds to her daughter that yes, it is possible to love someone so much and never feel the physical slap at all. Was Oscar Hammerstein trying to make a point about the power of forgiveness? For many of us, myself included, some acts such as domestic violence are unforgivable, or in the very least should not be tolerated. For me the message of Carousel, was a cautionary tale - a tragedy. Carousel is very real, raw, and relevant today with the themes of domestic violence and the choices many women make in those types of complicated relationships. I suspect we have many real life examples of Julie Jordans walking amongst us today. We scratch our heads when we see them continue to return to their abusive homes, husbands, and boyfriends. We hear these modern day Julies eerily echo the sentiments of Julie Jordan: “He only hits me because he loves me.  It is my fault that he hits me”. For me, this makes Carousel a challenging, important, and ultimately a heartbreaking piece that was actually ahead of it time, rather than outdated.

A show that I do consider outdated and thus somewhat offensive is My Fair Lady. I personally find very little admirable qualities in Henry Higgins. Falling in love with a woman he treats like dirt does not redeem him. Many may argue otherwise, but personally, I just don’t care for this show, or Learner and Lowe’s other musical (Camelot). Both are very pretentious/snooty in my opinion.

Other musicals considered outdated due to culturally sensitivity issues include the following.  You decide if there are merits to these arguments:

  • Annie Get Your Gun

  • The King and I 

  • Showboat

  • The Robber’s Bridesgroom

Rabid Fanbase

While a rabid fanbase can be annoying, please try not to judge a show based on the obnoxious behaviors of its adorers. Of course, Be More Chill is the most recent and newsworthy of this category. Judge the show on its own merits. Some of the shows you will like and some you will not. Try not to allow meaningless terms like overrated, underrated, over appreciated, or underappreciated sway your opinion. Who cares what others think anyway? What a boring world it would be if everyone’s favorite musical was Wicked. For fun, see if you can give the nickname for fans of each musical below:

Rabid Fan Quiz

Musical ----------------------------------------> Nickname of the Fans

Wicked

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Newsies

Fun Home

American Idiot

Spring Awakening

Phantom of the Opera

Les Miserables

Matilda

Heathers

Jeckle and Hyde

Something Rotten

Passing Strange

 

*Answers at the end of this blog.

Biopic Musicals

I am personally not a fan of Biopic musicals. I would rather just see a music artist in concert or (if deceased) on youtube or a film. I have no interest in seeing an impersonation on stage.  Sounds too much like Elvis in Vegas. If you love this type of musical, then more power to you and the musical theatre artform. There is certainly enough room for this sub-genre. If the subgenre plays a small role in bringing in new fans via an already established fanbase, then I say Bravo!  I would suggest, giving your biopic musical loving friend additional suggestions of both bio and non biopic musicals that would be of interest:


Jersey Boys  ---> Forever Plaid

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical  or Motown ---> Dreamgirls or Memphis

Bat Out of Hell---> Rocky Horror Picture Show

Million Dollar Quartet ---> Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Always...Patsy Cline---. Pump Boys and Dinettes

Personal Favorites

We all have our personal favorite musicals.  If someone else does not like it or hates it, then who cares?  That should not diminish your joy nor the joy of others who love the same show.  No, No, No, they can’t take that away from me. One of my personal favorites is Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden.  As the song goes, the show hits very “Close to Home”. I had once suggested this show in a play committee for an outdoor community theatre. One of the members who had great pull, shot it down with the argument that the show was too long and the story dragged. Of course, the show’s typical running time falls within the average of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Oh well, the show was nixed from our list fairly quickly after that exchange. We all have those shows that seem to have been written specifically for us and our own unique situation in life. Another show that resonates with me and my personal philosophy is a complete unknown late 1970s one man show called Reason and Rhyme or 3 Questions: A Musical Oratorio by Robin Field. See Link below. Funny that my two favorite musicals have never played on a Broadway or Off-Broadway stage. This just goes to show, once again, that great musical theatre is not confined to the Broadway stage, regardless if it has a huge cast and set design or a one man show with only a piano on a bare stage. Link to Reason and Rhyme:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIs9xM7Sac8&t=1698s

Guilty Pleasures

Some of the musicals we love DO NOT have the best music or include corny or contrite dialogue. Yet, we still love them and derive great pleasure from them. You don’t have to remind us! So, don’t poo poo on our parade! One of my favorite guilty pleasures is Evil Dead: The Musical. Yes it is campy, but I think that it is intended to be…. well… stupid. Evil Dead does not take itself seriously. I don’t think the musical mega hit Mamma Mia takes itself seriously as well.  The plot is ridiculous and the song lyrics are woven into the story in a tongue and cheek punfest fashion. Mamma Mia is not my kind of musical, but as evidenced by all the community theatres around the world mounting productions, for many it certainly is their kind of entertainment. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Movie Adaptations

When I mention movie adaptations, I am speaking of non musical big box office hit films that made it to the Broadway stage less than 10 years after its initial movie release.  Again, not my preferred musical brand, but my opinion should not interfere with others who love these shows. I’d rather see a story that is not so fresh in my mind with iconic performances so recently established.  As mentioned earlier, I will still give these shows a chance as I am seeing The Full Monty next week.

Slow Moving Shows

Not all shows are full of razzle dazzle or showstopping numbers. Some musicals play out more like a dramatic play. While the music may or may not be memorable after leaving the theatre, these shows can be appreciated if not loved. Musicals that come to mind include: Fun Home, Grey Gardens, and A Little Night Music. Interestingly, most of the songs from Fun Home and Grey Gardens are personally unmemorable, but their stories and dramatic performances left an indelible mark. Conversely, I know all the songs from A Little Night Music and enjoy listening to them, but the show itself (for me) was slow and pretentious. I love you, Sondheim!  Don’t hunt me down and shoot me one of these weekends in the country. Still, I have immense appreciation and respect for A Little Night Music.

Non linear / Non traditional plots

Some people hate musicals that do not follow a traditional plot. I have directed 6 musical productions. Of those musicals, 3 of them were productions of Godspell. My wife and daughter do not like Godspell.  Ironically, I am an atheist, and Godspell is one of my favorites!  Go figure! Special thanks to Mr. Sondheim for starting the trend and giving us great non linear musicals such as Company and Follies.

Objectionable Plots

Are there some shows that include a plot that are a total turn off? Which shows leave a bitter taste in your vibrato? For me those shows are Rent, Grease, and Passion. Most of the musicals I enjoy include characters with strong traits of individualism and a will to overcome. I love the music in Rent, but I have zero empathy for the cadre of characters that beg us to feel sorry for them. I really wanted to love Grease, another show with great songs.  Why did the writers have to create such a terrible ending where Sandy compromises herself? Did she have to fall prey to peer pressure? In order to fit in, she turns into a slut. No thanks. I totally disagree with the concept of unconditional love as portrayed in Passion. Yes, Fosca was sickly, however, I felt like she was suffocating both the leading man and me the entire show by manipulating both of us with unearned guilt. Love without reason? No thanks.

Jukebox

I think I already covered Jukebox musicals both with its cousin, biopic musicals. Enjoy your show Jukebox fans!

Thank you for reading all. Relax! Let’s all agree to agree and agree to disagree. The most important thing to do is go see a musical…..and don’t forget to bring a friend!  After all, just as we learned in The Book of Mormon.

Happy Musical Theatre Humming all!


*Answers to Rabid Fanbase Quiz:

Rent: “Rentheads”

Wicked: “Wikedites”/”ShizKids”/”Mizzies”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: “Hed-Heads” 

Newsies: “Fansies”

Fun Home: “Fun Homies”

American Idiot: “idiots”

Spring Awakening: “Guilty Ones”

Phantom of the Opera: “Phans”

Les Miserables: “Les MizFits”

Matilda: “Maggots”

Heathers: “Corn Nuts”

Jeckle and Hyde: “Jekkies”

Something Rotten: “Egg-heads”

Passing Strange: “Scaryotypes”



Fun Home: Why I Had a Not so Fun Experience

Darren Wildeman
For a musical with all the hype and and five Tony Awards I expected to be blown away. I wanted to like it. I was expecting something challenging, and something deep and emotional…I got nothing. I found many songs forgettable and much of the story to fall flat.

I know Alison Bechdel’s story, not inside and out, but I’ve read about her before seeing Fun Home and know who she is and at least had a general idea of her experience. And I thought there was fantastic fodder there for a musical. I was expecting that story to result in something brilliant on stage. And yet I was bored.


One thing that I did enjoy was the transitions between “adult” and “young” Alison. That is a fascinating way to tell a story. However, even this aspect I felt lacked execution. The transitions feel choppy and at times confusing. It’s a fascinating concept, however it doesn’t portray the story very well. I was expecting these to give an emotional punch to the gut, but instead…they don’t. The story continues and even in pivotal moments of the show you know in your head what’s happening is huge to the plot, but it isn’t conveyed. The story telling doesn’t allow for that to happen or for you to fell the significance of what are supposed to be the big, emotional moments about Alison from discovering her sexuality to realizing the death of her father don’t feel like the big emotional moments. It feels like you’re being told the story and not shown it. Sure, an event might have happened on stage but not in a way that makes you feel the full force of it. It feels bland and light, which is not what a musical of this magnitude is supposed to feel. The show seems like it’s trying to make you see what happened, and make absolutely sure you see it, but in making sure you see it, it sacrificed something. I can definitely see what happened, but I didn’t get the storytelling that I’d expect in these big moments for Alison and the major moments of her life. In the moment when the show implies that Alison’s father had a sexual encounter with the much younger boy, the show makes it clear what happened; however, it fails to really stop and acknowledge the significance of it. When her father goes to see a psychiatrist it’s clear that something big should be revealed like this but it feels like the show just told us it’s sunny outside.

While a lot of this hangs on the storytelling the music certainly didn’t do any favours either. There’s a classic saying that you should be able to walk away from the musical being able to hum a song from the show. I don’t believe this saying is totally true, however I should at least be able to know the music from the show. Despite seeing the show and giving the cast albums a couple of listens I can barely even tell you the titles of any of the songs never mind what they sound like. I do talk about some of the better songs later and the score certainly has its moments. I don’t hate the score, but I just don’t think it does the what I find to be bland storytelling any favours. However, as I said the show does have its moments.

That’s not to say the show isn’t totally without emotion. One thing I thought was extremely well done in this show was the last half hour or so. The ending moments of this musical are the heart wrenching, emotional moments that make the type of impact the rest of the show is looking for. First off in the last few scenes we see how strained Alison and her Father’s relationship have been in “Telephone Wire.” It’s the scene where their tense relationship finally comes to a head. From there we see Bruce totally snap. One of my fellow bloggers (thanks David) pointed out what an amazingly well written song “Edge of the World” is. It shows Bruce’s thoughts and his thoughts and psyche totally deteriorating. Almost in a similar style to Javert’s suicide. These ending scenes and the finale of Alison playing Airplane with her father are extremely powerful. Things are shown and not told here and the last third of the show or so is really well told and does give you the emotional punch to the face the rest of the show lacks.

This begs the question, what does the last third of the show do so much better that the majority of the show lacks? I feel like in these last scenes the show finally takes a minute to stop and slow down the action. It isn’t just one scene ending and having the next plot point strolling in before you can swallow it. I said earlier the show doesn’t acknowledge the significance of some of the past events. However, I feel that finally happens here. It’s odd to draw a parallel between Fun Home and Come From Away but the people who I’ve seen that didn’t love Come From Away said the show moves too fast, we don’t get to know the characters extremely well, or feel the emotional impact. That’s what I feel about this show. I feel like the moments earlier on in the show could really do with a longer run time. If the show was longer and had a proper intermission I think chewing on the emotional and impactful moments would go a long way in helping the impactful moments early on in the show.

Overall, I think Fun Home tries to be an emotional punch in the face. However, the moments early on in the show don’t allow for enough room to breathe or scenes to process the sad moments before it hurriedly moves a long to the next scene. It’s not until the final few scenes where the audience is allowed to take a moment and process what is happening. Make no mistake, these final scenes are well done and impactful, but the rest of the show pales in comparison with them. The majority of show could do with that same amount of space and room to breathe rather than the show moving a long quickly to tell rather than show us what happens in a rather vanilla fashion.

Where Are the Teenagers?

Rachel Hoffman

In the past few years, there has been a surge of new musicals whose stories are centered around teenagers. From shows with serious themes, like Dear Evan Hansen, to shows that are more extravagant and fun, like Mean Girls, to shows that fall into both categories, like The Prom, the teens seem to be taking over Broadway.

But despite the slew of shows set in high schools and with high-school-aged characters, there are very few actors in these shows who are actually the age of the characters they are portraying. While there are some exceptions, it is very difficult to find a professional show about high schoolers with a cast the same age as its characters.

Of course, there are many valid reasons why it is difficult to cast teenagers in Broadway shows. The most obvious reason is that kids under the age of 18 are still considered minors in New York, and are often still attending school. When children and teens are employed as performers in New York, their employers are responsible for ensuring that the child’s work schedule, tutoring schedule, and break time comply with the state’s child labor laws. (For curious minds, these regulations can be found at https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/LS559.pdf.) And aside from the legalistic side of it, it is true that older actors and actresses are often just better choices for the roles. It is much easier to find a performer in their 20s with several Broadway credits and professional training than a teenager with the same qualifications.


Obviously, there are some shows that require children to be cast. Shows like Matilda, School of Rock, and The Sound of Music, among many others, simply cannot be performed in a convincing way without child performers. It is the characters in their late teens that are most often filled with actors and actresses that are older than their onstage counterparts.

While there have been many recent shows set in high school, the casting of adults in teen roles isn’t a new trend. Musicals about high schoolers have been around for decades. From West Side Story, to Grease, to Bring It On, Broadway musicals set in high school have always had casts full of 20- and 30-year-olds.

But at what point does an actor stop being believable as a teenager? Perhaps the most drastic recent example of casting older actors as teenagers is the current Broadway production of Be More Chill. With a cast made almost entirely of actors in their late 20s and early 30s, much of the cast is almost twice as old as the characters they are playing. Living in the midwest, I haven’t had the luxury of seeing this show- or any recent show, for that matter- on Broadway, so I feel that I can’t make a judgement on whether the actors truly appear to be in high school in the show, or if they appear to be adults portraying high schoolers. But I do wonder, what made the casting directors decide to cast multiple actors in their 30s instead of actors closer to the age of the show’s characters? What must be done to make a 30-year-old believable as a high school student? Does anything have to be done at all? Would they have still cast the same actors if they were 35? 40? (But I digress… perhaps this should be a discussion for a later blog.)

Of course, an obvious exception to this trend is Andrew Barth Feldman, who just made his Broadway debut in January as Evan Hansen at just 16 years old. This was a huge shift from the opening of the show three years ago, in which Ben Platt, at 23, was the youngest member of the original cast. Since Platt, several actors in their 20s have played the role of Evan. But now, for five of the eight performances each week, Evan’s shoes are filled by someone who has been walking the halls of a high school himself for the past few years. (Feldman isn’t playing the demanding role full time in order to allow time for training and to build up his stamina. Michael Lee Brown, an actor in his 20s, plays the role for the remaining three shows each week.)

Recently, a friend of mine took a trip to New York City, and was able to see Feldman as Evan. When I asked her about it, she could not stop raving about how amazing he was, and how wonderful it was to see a teenaged role filled by a teenager. When I searched for reviews online, these same remarks kept popping up. Many of the critics talked about how seeing a teen play this role made the experience all the more real and raw. And just last week, a new review came out in The New York Times, claiming that, “At many moments he [Feldman] surprised me, despite my repeat viewings, with new melismas and spins on lyrics that sharpened the story to a slightly different point.”

This got me wondering, should Broadway be giving teens more of a chance? Of course, there is no shortage of incredibly talented adults searching for work in the theatre world. But I also don’t believe that there is a lack of talented teenagers who are capable of impressing audiences on a Broadway stage. After all, there have also been shows on Broadway that required children to hold very large roles (Tuck Everlasting, Finding Neverland, The Secret Garden). Why, then, should there not be a larger number of teenagers playing teen roles?

Whatever the reason, teen actors and actresses will most likely just have to wait their turn to be in the Broadway spotlight. While seeing a teen play a leading role on Broadway is no doubt inspiring, there is no indication that the age of the actors are correlated to the success of the show. And after all, the goal will always be to sell tickets and fill seats. Teenage actors who wish to wish to attend any of Broadway’s most famous high schools may just have to wait until they’re older to do so.



If Hamilton Never Was: Revisiting the 2016 Tonys

Darren Wildeman

Often dubbed “The HamilTonys”, the 2016 Tony Awards were dominated by Lin Manuel Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton winning 11 Tonys, just one short of tying the record set by The Producers. And it is still one of the hottest shows on Broadway. However, what if there was a universe where Hamilton was too innovative and too different for its time? What if Hamilton didn’t make it past the out-of-town try outs and faded into obscurity? What would the 2016 Tonys season have looked like? In this article I will be breaking down who may have been nominated in a world without Hamilton and who would have won in its place.

Lin-Manuel_Miranda,_Phillipa_Soo,_Leslie_Odom,_Jr.,_and_Christopher_Jackson,_White_House,_March_2016 (1).jpg



Best Orchestration Nominees

August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

Larry Hochman, She Loves Me

Darryl Walters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Sara Bareilles, Waitress

In this scenario you are going to see Waitress come up a lot. And I don’t think anyone will argue against the orchestrations of this show. Sara Bareilles wrote a beautiful score and a nomination for Orchestrations is more than deserved.

 

And the winner is: August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

I think people forget just how good the music in Bright Star is. 2016 was an incredibly strong season. Bright Star has a beautiful blue grass feel to it and the orchestrations go flawlessly with its music. Bright Star may have gotten a bit lost in 2016, but I feel like this would be a nice nod towards what the show did and was.

 

Best Choreography Nominees

Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof

Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea

Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting isn’t remembered for much these days. Unfortunately, its score underwhelmed many and the book wasn’t that highly regarded either. However, one thing it did have is absolutely beautiful choreography. Some people considered it a snub that it wasn’t nominated in the first place, so I think it falls in here pretty naturally.

And the winner is: Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

This choreography choice is incredibly intense. But Tuck Everlasting has a style and beauty about it in the actors’ movements. Also, while people don’t like to admit it, politics certainly plays a role in Tony voting and Nicholaw as highly regarded as he is up to this point has never won a Tony for his choreo. So, between choreo being a strength of Tuck and Nicholaw not having won in this category yet, that he becomes the automatic favourite here.

 

Best Direction of a Musical Nominees

Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

John Doyle, The Color Purple

Scott Ells, She Loves Me

George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Bartlett Sher, Fiddler on the Roof

 

There were a lot of incredibly well directed shows this season. However, the revival of Fiddler on the Roof breathed new life into a timeless show. If it was possible to make that show anymore stunning Bartlett Sher found a way to do it. I think a nomination here is incredibly well deserved.

 

And the winner is: Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

I think in this scenario Michael Arden winning is a no brainer. A fantastic director who has yet to see his Tony who did a beautiful job with the Deaf West Spring Awakening. A well-deserved Tony for a gorgeous job on what is a very heavy musical.

 

Best Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening

Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Japhy Weiderman, Bright Star

 

There isn’t an obvious choice here for what show would be nominated. However, Bright Star did have some very beautiful lighting effects that gave a really nice setting for the show.

And the winner is: Justin Townsend, American Psycho

American Psycho isn’t remembered for much these days although it did get some love. However, one thing it did do well is incredibly intense lighting design. The visual effects are incredible and are certainly worthy of a Tony.

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me

Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Ann Hould-Ward, The Color Purple

 

And the winner is: Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Again, the visual beauty of Tuck Everlasting. As I said when they won choreography, there isn’t necessarily a lot that gets loved in terms of music or book. However, it is a very visually appealing show.

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

Es Devlin and Finn Ross, American Psycho

Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Walt Spangler, Tuck Everlasting

 

Once again, Tuck Everlasting comes through to pick up another design nomination. Not much I can say here that I haven’t said already. This musical is simply stunning to look at.

Since She Loves Me won we will not be changing the winner of this category.

 

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple

Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jennifer Simard, Disaster!

Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Keala Settle, Waitress

 

And the winner is: Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jane gave a terrific performance in this production of She Loves Me. Everyone else here is amazing but that production was so incredible and Jane played her role so well this is well deserved

 

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress

Michael Mulheren, Bright Star

Steven Skybell, Fiddler on the Roof

Billy Porter, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

 

And the winner is: Billy Porter, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

This is a very tough category all of a sudden. A lot of fantastic men here. This was incredibly difficult to decide. However, Billy absolutely gave it all in Shuffle Along. And I think his performance really stood out.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Laura Benati, She Loves Me

Carmen Cusack, Bright Star

Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Jessie Mueller, Waitress

Ana Villafañe, On Your Feet

 

On Your Feet is another musical that had a somewhat lukewarm reception. However, playing Gloria Estefan is not an easy task and Villafañe gives a great performance.

Since Cynthia Erivo won this award that year, we will not be changing the result here.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Nominees

Alex Brightman, School of Rock

Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Zachary Levi, She Loves Me

Benjamin Walker, American Psycho

 

Note: For this category we are rolling with four nominees instead of five. All the male nominees from a major show have been nominated and any of the remaining shows did not get enough love from critics or voters in other categories that I feel comfortable adding a fifth nominee.

Benjamin Walker gave a fantastic performance as a serial killer. Some considered it a snub in the first place that he wasn’t nominated so he’s the obvious choice here.

 

And the winner is: Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Burstein as Tevye breathed all sorts of new life into the musical. Tevye is not an easy role to play in the first place and Burstein did it flawlessly. In a very tough leading male category, Burstein was the obvious choice here.

 

Best Original Score Nominees

Bright Star, Music by Steve Martin and Eddie Brickell, Lryics by Eddie Brickell

School of Rock, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webver, Lyrics by Glenn Slater

Waitress, Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles

American Psycho, Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik

 

The now fourth nominee was a tough one. There isn’t an obvious show that should step in. However, Duncan Sheik wrote a fantastic and very unique score that I think in this scenario would grab the attention of the voters.

 

And the winner is: Waitress, Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles

Bareilles’s score for Waitress is nothing short of gorgeous. She wrote a very catchy score with songs that hit all the right notes. I think she hands down wins best score in this scenario.

 

Best Book of a Musical

Bright Star, Steve Martin

School of Rock, Julian Fellowes

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, George C. Wolfe

Waitress, Jessie Nelson

 

Waitress being the next big musical of the season that wasn’t nominated I think giving it the nod for book here is a pretty no brainer. However, that being said the book of Waitress is quite a bit weaker than the overall score.

And the winner is: Bright Star, Steve Martin

 

I think Bright Star may have had a chance to win score. However, it also has a very strong book which is something Waitress didn’t have as much. So it makes more sense that Waitress would win where it’s really strong, and Bright Star would win book. And Bright Star definitely deserves this. The story does not have that many flaws in it and is overall a very well put together story

 

Best Musical

Bright Star

School of Rock

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Waitress

American Psycho

 

I don’t think it’s too insane for American Psycho to be the next show up in this scenario. It already got acknowledged for its unique score and it collected a decent amount of nominations elsewhere. It would only have an outside chance of winning but to be the next show nominated I think is quite reasonable.

 

And the winner is: Waitress

Despite the shortcomings I mentioned earlier, I think Waitress is what would win. It seems like after Hamilton, Waitress was the baby of both fans and critics alike and this would lead to it getting the favour for Best Musical.

 

Well that’s the Tonys without Hamilton. Before I totally wrap this up though I’m going to crunch some numbers and breakdown which shows did well in an absence of Hamilton.

 

Hamilton article.png



Please note that a couple of shows won awards and were nominated for awards pertaining to Revivals so there are some awards here won not seen in the actual article. As you can see this season becomes very spread out if Hamilton was not a thing.

 

American Psycho, Tuck Everlasting, and Waitress become the big winners. Each one picks up 3 more nominations and each picked up some wins as well. Bright Star also gets its recognition for awards.

 

Let me know what you think of these nominations and awards? Do you agree or do you think some shows should have won more?

Favoritism? Or Just Not Good Enough?

When one looks back at the high school drama experience, one common theme continues to rear its ugly head - favoritism. From TV shows to your local high school, you hear all about how favoritism is rampant… But what if I told you it does and SHOULD take more than talent to get a role at the educational level? Blasphemous, right? What else could possibly go into the process?

 

Show selection:

 For those of you who have had to pick shows for either a high school or other groups (community theatre companies, professional companies, etc.) there has to be a fundamental understanding of the community/talent you have access to. If I live in rural Alabama with 1% of the population being Black/African American, I’m sure as heck not going to be Hairspray or Ragtime (though that does not stop people, smh). If I have a huge amount of men who show up to auditions consistently, I probably wouldn’t do Little Women or 9 to 5. You get the point! You have to have some sort of idea of who you could potentially casting so that your company/school has a successful production. However, I will be clear that this is NOT the same as precasting - just because one is aware of the people who could be auditioning and picks shows that suit those strengths is not the same as handing someone a role regardless of the audition. Picking shows without your school in mind is a mistake.

 

****Your**** audition:

 Now, obviously, auditions can be scary! Nerves can happen, and in some cases, they can be super hard to overcome. Something that I have learned over the time I’ve spent auditioning is that instead of looking outwards and blaming others for me not getting what I would have wanted… Let’s examine how I actually did in the room. How did I sound? Was my song/monologue appropriate? Were my beats/intentions clear? There are SO many things that go into your performance/audition, and while obviously we all try our best in the room, sometimes our talent is not showcased to the best of our abilities. While blaming others is a very comfortable thing to do, without looking at what you could have done better you’re limiting your opportunities to grow.

 

Someone else’s audition:

 Sometimes, regardless of the subjectivity of talent, someone has just a better audition than you. It happens! They came in and had a really good day, they sang a better song, they showed their gifts off better than you did in this instance. There’s nothing to be done in a case like this except do the best you can each time you walk into the room. Hell, there are people who I have seen who are just SUCH great auditioners… And that work then doesn’t translate quite as well when they go to perform. Auditioning well is such a valuable skill, and sometimes someone else just comes in and kills it.

 

 

What the director values/is looking for:

 There are so many interpretations of theatre, which is one of its best qualities. We can agree or disagree, however when it comes to the director's vision at the end of the day that is what will shape the casting process. What if you’re a better singer than actress but the director wants a better actress than singer? Or vice versa? It’s all subjective, but at the end of the day if you don’t fit the director's vision you have to go about changing their mind. That may not happen in 16-32 bars, a cold read, a dance call, and a callback (if you get all of that!). While I did say previously we do need to be introspective about how we do in room, remember that the creative process is still more than just you!

 


High School Drama, the EXTRAcurricular:

 For one, being involved in your school’s shows is not a right but a privilege. Being a student of the school, things like behavior/grades will absolutely be something that is reflected upon. Whether it be in the classroom of the teacher or around the school, being a good citizen absolutely is something that is kept in mind. Being involved with drama (the non-performative sort) or being a disruptive force during the creative process will not bode you well. Regardless of how well you sing or anything of the like, educators don’t reward those (usually) who don’t deserve it. Unreliable students should not, and in many cases do not get what they want in drama departments. While people being a teacher's pet/etc should NOT be the thing that gets people parts, it is absolutely a point in your favor - do your best to be the best you can be… it will more than likely be noticed.

 

How “talented” you are:

 In an attempt to say this as nicely as possible - there are a lot of people in the world who have a slightly (or majorly) inflated sense of self. While someone may think they are the next *insert Broadway star*, the reality of it is that not only is there always someone better… But we may not be good as we think we are (or alternatively, we may not have done as well as we think we did). This is a weird bullet to swallow, but at the end of the day this absolutely can be someone’s Achilles heel.

 All of this to say, there is SO MUCH that goes into the picking of shows/casting/the creative process. While obviously there are PLENTY of schools/instances that really go above and beyond anything I’ve just talked about, we do have to continue to keep in mind the multidimensional aspect of casting and season selection. For those of you who find yourself stuck in either a school or community where you deeply/truly believe that the favoritism is so rampant do not hesitate to find greener pastures or other opportunities. It’s absolutely unfair at times that things like these can ruin an experience, however all I am asking for is for people to be honest with themselves and open about the potential “why” of a situation.

 Next article I’ll hopefully be talking the conversation of creating your own art! As someone who has recently started his own theatre company, I’ve spent the last year developing a nonprofit. If you have any questions you want me address in the next article comment below!

Major Change in Musicals: A Necessary Plot Point to a Successful Musical

Darren Wildeman
This past holiday season I was gifted the book The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows are Built by Jack Viertel. It was a fascinating look at musicals, and I could go on about the fascinating information and behind the scenes looks in this book. However, I will be looking at one thing Mr. Viertel brought up and made very clear early in the book. And it can be considered “a key to success” of sorts for a musical. That’s not to say that as long as a show does this it will be successful, rather it’s just often one component to a successful show. It’s not the only component, however, it’s a pretty darn important one.


Full disclosure: All credit for this idea goes to Mr. Viertel. It’s because of him I’m writing this article. I got the idea from his book, and it is by no means my original idea. However, I’m going to discuss this idea and flush it out. I highly recommend this book and if you want to purchase a copy for yourself you can find it here.

Now I imagine when I said I have a key to success for a musical some of you automatically thought this is some Buzzfeed clickbait BS. Afterall, musicals are such finicky beasts, how can there possibly be a one size fits all perfect solution that a musical must have? And frankly, if I were you, I’d agree with you. Musicals are so different from each other, how can there be something that fits almost every single musical?

Honestly, you’d be surprised how simple the answer is. The answer is change. Again, this isn’t the one stop fix all for a musical, but it is almost essential. Now you might be thinking this is obvious. All musicals have change, that’s the whole point of a plot. I’m not necessarily referring to this. Yes, a changing plot is important, however what I’m referring to and what Mr. Viertel talks about is a far bigger change. A very large number of successful musicals are set either directly in, or against the backdrop of the dawning of a new era, a major change in the world that will greatly affect their life, or the changing times.

Let me first explain this point using two of the examples Mr. Viertel uses in his book and then I’ll expand on it myself. Think of Fiddler on the Roof.  It’s about a simple farmer, in a simple Jewish village which is very set in their ways. However, the future of this village is unsteady as a “fiddler on the roof”. Not only do Tevye’s daughters flip Jewish customs on their head by choosing who to date and eventually marry, but Tevye himself slowly comes around and lets it happen. However, not only are Tevye’s daughters breaking the mold, but the future of the village and their lifestyle is on the edge. Throughout the entire musical we see the Russian presence in this small Jewish village. Police officers and guards who live there are a constant reminder as to how precarious the existence of this village is. And as you all know at the end, Tevye, his family, and the rest of the cast are forced to leave.

What this setting does is it sets up a family, and an entire community stuck in how things have always been. However, both within the community with Tevye’s daughters, and outside of it with the Russians their existence is extremely tumultuous. The audience is on a hook wondering on a personal level what will become of the daughters who want to be independent and go their own way. But also, they are wondering what will become of the town and its people. From a historical perspective we know. But Fiddler on the Roof humanizes this, and makes us feel for them.

Another example of this that Mr. Viertel gives is The Music Man. However, this is a different type of change. In “Rock Island” we see the salesmen discussing and debating credit and the new way to sell products. As you hear many times in the song a lot of the salesmen think cash is the only way to go. What Music Man does here is really interesting. Everyone knows that Harold Hill and his antics are the main piece of this show. However, even before Hill is introduced, we see these men being faced with change. What this does is it shows that these men are struggle with new things, and don’t totally know how to handle them; in turn this makes Hill’s hijinks having a heavier hinderance to the people of this town who already don’t like change and now have to deal with a Music Man.

There are many other shows that fit this template as well. For example, Hamilton. Not only is it set in a constantly shifting political environment but Lin Manuel Miranda also drew parallel’s today’s world and political environment.

The Sound of Music is set against the backdrop of World War II and Miss Saigon is set against the Vietnam War. While the plots of these two musicals are very different from each other the concept is the same. You get to witness the characters stories and the plot in light of turmoil and war which directly affects them and their actions.

Les Misérables is set right in the midst of change. Shortly after the French Revolution and in a very constantly changing landscape in France. Again, everything the characters do, and how a lot of events go down are dependent on what is happening in their world.

Disney’s smash hit Newsies is all about change. The newspaper boys go and cause the change. Once again, almost all of what the characters do is about enacting a massive change in their world and fighting for justice. The only difference is rather than being amidst the change, in this musical the newsies CAUSE the change.

For what I hope is obvious reasons Come from Away also fits this billing. 9/11 is an event that forever changed world history and this musical observes the characters who were directly involved.

This begs the question are there any musicals that aren’t set against a massive change in their world? The answer is definitely. Once, Next to Normal, Waitress, Dear Evan Hansen Sweeney Todd, among many others are all shows where there isn’t a major change in the outside world, or where there is a major change threatening the characters lives as they know it. So, you might be wondering what do these shows do well that they don’t necessarily need that challenge?

If a show doesn’t have a massive change, or something that threatens a part of the characters existence from the outside, then there needs to be a really good story happening internally. In Next to Normal it’s the death of Gabe and Diana’s mental illness, in Once it’s the relationship of Guy and Girl and the heartbreak. Characters need to be threatened in a musical. A story of any sort, never mind just a musical where the characters are comfortable, really isn’t much of a story. So, by adding a massive challenge like a war, an constantly changing political landscape, or just something that’s threatening day to day life in the characters time gives the author something else for the characters to react to other than the story.

However, in the absence of that challenge an author can choose to make the characters own struggles and character arc the main story. This can work extremely well, however, it is a bit of a risk. If the characters own struggles aren’t interesting enough, or are fairly minor the audience is going to grow bored very quickly. So while it’s definitely possible, adding minimal outside confrontations or challenges is generally there to help aid both the story and the character arcs.

I Choose to Leave

Michael Kape

Dammit, it happened to me again. I was attending a local production of Grand Hotel, a musical I really like. I grant you it’s not an easy show to stage, and it requires some real acting AND singing chops to pull it off right. I’ve seen it twice before, but it was a part of my subscription series at this theatre, so I went. Two other musicals in this season so far were Hairspray and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

I walked out of all three at intermission

Pul-leez, don’t tell me out of courtesy to the performers I should have stayed for the whole thing. Why? Hell, more than 30 years ago, one of my employees was appearing in a misbegotten production of Oliver. I liked Lance, but the man could not sing nor dance nor act. My BFF and I fled at intermission. (We kind of knew we were in trouble when the program listed every piece of music in the show, including the scene change music. Huh? What?) When I saw him Monday morning, he completely understood.

As I’ve noted before, I spent seven years on the Dark Side as a theatre critic. As such, I could not leave at intermission no matter what (though there were times when I wished I had).

During that time, Miss Saigon came to town. I had seen it once already in New York and left the Broadway theatre screaming internally because I hated it so much (fake emotions, overamplified music, terrible retelling of the Madame Butterfly story). When I was called upon to review it, I figured (wrongly) I must have misjudged it and I’d go in with a completely open mind. (I have since learned if I think something is terrible on the first outing, it’s never going to get better on subsequent ones, the four times I agonized through Cats.) The night I saw Miss Saigon, seated next to me was the artistic management of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Yes, that included a future internationally-acclaimed director (for Hunchback) and a future Tony-winning director (for Raisin in the Sun). At intermission, they ALL walked out. I was left by myself in the entire row. I wish I could have joined them. By the time I found my car in the parking lot after the show, I was screaming (out loud) mad. I hadn’t misjudged Miss Saigon; I had suffered through it twice.

Walking out of a really bad production or an awful show is a major luxury for me these days. I don’t savor walking out, but I don’t deny myself that possibility if my ears are ringing from off-key performers screeching in my ear on the last note of a major song (while being overamplified by head microphones). I didn’t deny myself the pleasure of leaving a supposedly hit Broadway comedy if I didn’t laugh once in Act I. I didn’t deny myself the relief coming from leaving a revival of an antiquated British sex comedy, which just seemed plain stupid. I certainly didn’t deny myself the gratification of walking out at intermission of a popular (well, with teenaged girls) musical I found to be shrill and mediocre in its best moments (though I regrettably did sit through the whole thing a second time). I definitely didn’t deny myself giving into the anger I felt watching a star-studded revival of a brilliant drama done badly by every actor in the all-male cast. (Okay, in order: that production of Grand Hotel; Tale of the Allergist’s Wife; Boeing, Boeing; Wicked; and the ill-fated That Championship Season—fortunately, that was a $1.50 ticket from Play-by-Play).

As I noted in my last blog, going to the theatre is a kind of therapy for me. For two or more hours, I am transported out of my own woes (being widowed; now living with Tourette after being poisoned by a medicine I was taking) and into another world. If I’m not enjoying myself (be it a drama, a comedy, a musical, or a piece of performance art), then that night (or afternoon) of theatre has failed me. Why should I suffer through another act?

Producers have gotten wise to people like me; they eliminate the intermission so we can’t leave. How do I know this? Two ways. First, about 10 years ago I got involved in the production of my first Broadway show as an investor. It was a wonderful script called Impressionism and was going to be a great show—or so I thought. Went to the second preview, and it was terrific. Then some negative buzz started appearing online, and unfortunately, the director listened to it. Cut the show to shreds and eliminated the intermission because some people were walking out. The result? On opening night, I didn’t recognize the play at all. It was awful. Terrible. Really bad. It closed quickly and I lost my investment.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago in Los Angeles. In Southern California, no matter how bad a show is, the audience gives it a standing ovation (and you know how I feel about those). Except once. The show was Amélie, and I knew there was trouble ahead when I saw makeshift signs posted in the theatre about there being no intermission (though one was advertised in the program). At the end of this unholy mess, there was a smattering of polite applause, no standing O, and people ran to escape the Ahmanson. I guess too many people had walked at intermission when it first played in San Francisco (where audiences are much less polite).

I’m sure at this point someone might be tempted to snark at me about how if I was a decent person, I would stay out of courtesy to the actors and the effort they’ve put forth. Sure, if I was a decent person. I never said I was (hence how easy to lapse into the critic’s role as well as rightly earning my sobriquet of ATB’s Grumpy Olde Guy®).

Recently, I went to see a local production of a play near and dear to my heart, The Diary of Anne Frank. I was in a production many years ago (typecast as the grumpy olde dentist, of course), and I had taught the play to a class of teenagers when I was in college. However, this production was so badly directed, designed, and acted I couldn’t stay. I was cringing in my seat during the entirety of Act I and I did not want to subject myself to even more torture in the second act. Can you blame me? Wait, maybe some of you can.

I’ve forced myself to sit through badly done Shakespeare (King Lear with Sam Watterson a few years back at the Public) but have walked out of the Scottish Play with a well-known actor (who shall remain nameless because I think he now omits it from his resume). I’ve bitten the bullet and sat through such gems as Censored Scenes From King Kong (which Carrie Fisher never acknowledged she did on Broadway) and America Kicks Up Its Heels by William (Falsettos) Finn starring Patti LuPone. (Years later, my BFF was at a party with her and brought up us having seen her in it at Playwrights Horizon. She categorically denied it. She swore up and down she didn’t do it. She did. We saw her do it.) I even forced myself to sit through all of Love Never Dies, one of the 10 worst musicals ever written (in my opinion) because people on ATB swore Act II was better than Act I. It wasn’t. I suffered in agony through that whole goddamn piece of crap. I couldn’t even laud the actors because they were pretty terrible in it as well—though no one could make such substandard material work. But really, did the Phantom have to do a bad Lon Chaney Jr. impression at the top of the show?

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever walked at intermission? Have you ever been tempted to not return for Act II (only to discover Act II was even worse)? If so, what was the show?

And for those of you unfortunate to have to stay for the entirety of a really bad production because you knew someone in the cast, might I offer you some surefire lines to say after the show? Here are my favorites:

·         “Well, that was interesting.”

·         “You should have been out front.” (Especially good if the actor was really bad.)

·         “I don’t remember seeing anything quite like tonight.”

·         “I know professional actors who couldn’t do the role like you did.”

·         “You certainly had a lot of people talking.”

And if you’ve ever been the recipient of any of these remarks as an actor, thank your lucky stars you have friends not willing to tell you the whole stinking truth (ooh, flash to Bosom Buddies from Mame).

 

(Grumpy Olde Guy® a/k/a Michael Kape has lived too long, some say—him included. He says life’s too short to put up with bad theatre. So, he doesn’t! If you all weren’t so much nicer than him, you wouldn’t either.)

 

Overrated/Underrated

Zachary Harris
A part of being in the All Things Broadway Facebook group is seeing particular topics rehashed at a much higher percentage than others. Need a thread about bootlegs? Oh, we’ve seen plenty. Race/Gender/Inequality? Another hot button topic. Did I say bootlegs? Race? DID WE TALK ABOUT BOOTLEGS? Sarcasm aside, the introduction of new faces and perspectives in a continuously growing group is a blessing. Ranging from industry professionals to people who have just discovered Broadway and want to discuss their newfound love with thousands of people, there are SO many things to be discussed (especially when it comes to an artform we all adore).

opposites-489521_1920.jpg

 

That being said, there is a particular conversation that happens ad nauseum – “What’s your favorite underrated musical?” or “Most overrated show?” This is posted multiple times a week, and while I’ve mentioned above that this sort of active conversation is wonderful… I’m about to sound Grumpyä. This particular conversation absolutely blows my mind, mostly because of the premise that it is based on. The idea of underrated and overrated then denotes or implies that there is some sort of adjudication or rating system involved with the arts. What I mean by this is that, for example, in most competitions there is some sort of grading systems that are palpable. Broadway, Broadway shows, The Tony Awards, and other large regional awards are not subjected to such a standard in judging. This art in whole is absolutely subjective. There are plenty of INCREDIBLE productions/shows that don’t last long on Broadway, that don’t win a ton of Tony Awards, and don’t make the stupefying amounts of money that some of the other shows do. This does not worsen the quality of the work or the performances or adjudicate the art presented to us, the audience. Is Avenue Q not a good show because it beat Broadway megahit Wicked? No. Why did it beat it? Who knows, and while we can all put up some mightily high amounts of conjecture out about why it did or did not deserve such an award, it’s all subjective. At the end of the day, regardless of if you love or hate a show, its success on Broadway does not then adjudicate the work. Even if I love Ragtime so much, I know people who hate it. Heck, it didn’t even win Best Musical that year at the Tony Awards! Does that make Ragtime less beautiful? No. Does that then make the performances any less iconic? No.

 

You could then say that the success of musicals is the “rating system” of the art, but then how does that factor in the terrible productions of beautiful source material? Beautiful productions of shitty source material? Commercialism and supposed greatness of musicals aren’t really correlated. Are some of the longest running shows hypothetically/subjectively the “best” in the history of theatre? I certainly think so. Under what system do we then hold that infallible? Those categories are already very defined entities. If something made $10 and another thing made $5, the thing (or show) that made $10 objectively made more money. If a show ran for 4852703945872 shows, and another closed on opening night… the former objectively had a longer run (and probably made more money while we are at it). If I like score A more than score B… that doesn’t really objectively mean anything. My personal interests in the score can be coming from a lot of experiences, including but not limited to my upbringing, biases towards certain instrumentation, and so much more. How does any of that make one show better than another, in an objective sense? How does that then create a ranking that is the standard? Well, it doesn’t.

 

At the end of the day, the conversation I think that the people are attempting to have is “What musical do you think is underappreciated? Which of these do you enjoy the most?” All of that is absolutely subjective (to a damn point, let’s not try to explain how Hamilton is underappreciated), and no one would blame you for your opinion.

 

 

A Beautiful Dream: Anastasia on Broadway

Kelly Ostazeski
When I was a child, the movie Anastasia was released, and even in the months leading up to seeing the movie, I grew infatuated with the Romanov family and their story. A stage production wasn't even in my thoughts yet, as I had never even been to New York yet. I loved the movie, the score, and the happy ending it imagined for the lost grand duchess, but somehow I longed for more historical accuracy – even as a child.



 I'll never forget years later, when I was in a play production class (technical, business, and marketing aspects of theatre) in high school, we were directed to design a poster for a show to come to Broadway. I took this as an opportunity to imagine what Anastasia would be like on stage. I even started dream-casting people to take the roles from the movie – Bernadette Peters as Sophie and Angela Lansbury as the Dowager Empress, of course reprising their roles from the animated film. The crazy thing was, the poster I designed ended up looking a lot like the original poster for the Broadway production.


 I was overjoyed when it was announced that a stage adaptation was in the works – from the reading in 2012, to the workshop in 2015, and the Hartford premiere in 2016. This was a show I knew I'd have to see. Then they announced the casting for the Broadway production – and this was the first time I saw the name Christy Altomare. Little did I know the impact this show would have on me, and how much of a dream come true it would be, and how perfect Altomare would be as Anya.


 I noticed that they'd removed Rasputin and, I assumed, his song “In the Dark of the Night” from the score. I was actually really excited about that that. I'd always hated the character and his song as a child. I felt like he was unnecessarily gory and too scary for a children's movie. Plus, how would that translate to the stage?


 I was so glad when I found out that Gleb was the new villain, son of the Romanov's executioner, and a Bolshevik leader. They'd taken out the magical aspects and given the show more historical accuracy, just like I'd wanted. Even if recent reports came out and the real Anastasia was found, so it couldn't be completely accurate, I know.


 I got rush tickets one day in November of 2017, and saw the complete original Broadway cast. Altomare was marvelous and captured Anya's strength and sensitivity. Derek Klena was the perfect Broadway leading man. Ramin Karimloo was a perfect mix of alluring and dangerous as Gleb. Caroline O'Connor, whom I've loved since the movie Moulin Rouge!, was absoluely stunning as Countess Lily (Sophie in the movie). John Bolton was hilarious and perfect as Vlad. Mary Beth Peil was a wonderful Dowager and brought so much new depth to her.


 The new songs completely flowed into the story and felt like they'd always been there. When the spirits began to dance around the theatre during “Once Upon a December”, I'll never forget how my friend and I glanced at each other, wide eyed, and then we broke down into tears. The sobs continued to “Journey to the Past”. I never expected this much beauty, and how this show lived up to – and exceeded my expectations.


 Meeting Christy Altomare that first time was incredible. I tried to tell her how much the movie had meant to me and now, seeing it on Broadway was a dream come true. It truly was.


My next experience with this show live was last year at Feinstein’s/54 Below for the “Broadway Princess Party”, where Altomare and the singing voice of Anya in the movie, Liz Callaway, premiered their duet of “Journey to the Past”. It was incredible to hear these two beautiful voices blend, and to witness the shared joy between the two of them. I'm so glad they released the duet as a single.


It took me too long to return to the Broadhurst Theatre, and I don't know why. Somehow, I felt that the show would always be there, and become a staple for Broadway. I thought it would last at least six years or so, and that we'd see many Anyas cycle through the show. But perhaps Altomare was the only Anya meant for Broadway.


 I saw the show next in Baltimore, with the tour cast. It brought back my love for the show and I knew that I'd be seeing the show again soon on Broadway. I finally saw the show in January of 2019, when I was in town for BroadwayCon. Thank goodness Christy Altomare and John Bolton were still in the show, as well as delightful new additions Cody Simpson as Dmitry and Vicki Lewis as Lily.

 

Then they announced closing, and I knew I'd have to be there with the other fans to celebrate this incredible dream of a musical, and to see it one last time.

 

March 31, 2019. It was less than two weeks ago, but the memory still lives in me. The energy and emotions as we approached the theatre, seeing that marquee for the last time. The line was around the block to get in. The audience erupted in cheers and applause during the pre-show announcement. Every single character got entrance applause, usually reserved for “stars”. Standing ovations mid-show are rare, but Altomare earned them for “In My Dreams”, “Once Upon a December”, and “Journey to the Past”, and John Bolton and Vicki Lewis got their own for “The Countess and the Common Man”, which is still probably the funniest song I've ever seen performed. The cast was visibly crying during several moments, especially “Stay I Pray You”, and Altomare cried during “Journey to the Past”. It made it more...real, and more emotional for the audience. I know I cried quite a bit. I can't imagine there was a dry eye in that audience.

 

At the end of the show, the last lines held more weight and more meaning.

 

“The Dowager Empress: As of today, there will be no more Anastasias. The reward for her safe return will be given to charity.
Gleb: There never was an Anastasia. She was a dream.
The Dowager Empress: A beautiful dream.
Gleb:  A dream that only time will fade.
The Dowager Empress: So, no more talk of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov.
Gleb: The new order has no need for fairytales. The case is closed.
The Dowager Empress: Still...

            [Then the entire company joins with one final verse of ‘Once Upon a December.’]

 

Far away, long ago,
Glowing dim as an ember,
Things my heart used to know.
Once upon a December!
 

 

As of that day, there would be no more Anastasias at that theatre for sure, but she was more than a beautiful dream. Once upon a December, there was a beautiful adaptation of a beloved animated film that enchanted the Broadway stage, with an extraordinary cast of inspiring people. There was an actress named Christy Altomare who loved playing this princess and loved her fans and their enthusiasm so much, and touched the hearts of everyone who met her.

 

I couldn't have asked for anything better than this.

Why Your Theatre Should (and Probably Will) Perform Newsies

Taylor Lockhart
Okay it’s been nearly a year since I finished my run with Newsies and nearly two years since it started. I’ve definitely hinted at how much I love this musical in the past and how much my involvement in it meant to me. I now even have an unofficial twitter account promoting regional productions of the show and I look for every chance I get to see it. I’ve really thought hard about writing something about Newsies just about every month since last July but It’s really been hard to find something to write about. The story of the underdog musical that went from Disney flop to cult classic to musical that was only ever made to be licensed and then to of all places Broadway where it became one of Disney’s biggest musical hits is pretty well known at this point and it just doesn’t make sense in 2019 to talk about the history of musical that closed in 2016. I was pretty stumped until I took a look around me at the professional theatres, the community theatres, and the schools in my area many of which have or are going to do a production of Newsies. It came to my attention that this shows story is far from over and there’s a new phenomenon that is sweeping regional theatres all across the nation which I’m going to call Newsies-mania.

800px-February_23rd_1908_Boys_Selling_Newspapers_on_Brooklyn_Bridge.jpg



I find it hard to believe at this point that there is absolutely anyone reading this who doesn’t know what Newsies is and/or has seen the show a hundred times. It was on Netflix for over a year and it doesn’t get much more accessible than that, but we here at the All Things Broadway Blog are accommodating to all types of people. So let’s discuss what Newsies is. Newsies is a 1992 movie and a 2012 Broadway musical about seventeen year old Jack Kelly who has dreams of moving out west to Santa Fe, New Mexico with his buddy Crutchie. His dreams are crushed when Joseph Pulitzer raises the price of papers for newsboy forcing them to pay more and sell more to gain any profit. Jack angered by this and inspired by a new boy Davey Jacob’s comments about the trolley strike rallies the newsies to stop selling papers and go on strike. A local upcoming reporter Katherine hears about this and wants to cover the story. The day comes and the Manhattan newsies completely on their own without the help of New York's other newsies teams thinks about calling it off until Davey and Jack inspire the boys to seize the day and go through with the strike. The newsies are successful against Pulitzer’s goons until the cops arrive and arrest crutchie forcing Jack to surrender back to his rooftop where he longs to escape New York and be in Santa Fe. Jack discouraged by the Newsies defeat goes back to raising money for Santa Fe. Meanwhile the newsies receive news from Katherine that their strike made the front page. Jack is confronted by Davey and Katherine who convince him to rejoin the strike and help plan a city wide rally where all the newsies can vote and have their voice heard. Jack takes information of the rally to Pulitzer where he is caught in a trap. He is put under arrest for previous crimes of theft and Katherine is revealed to be Pulitzer's daughter. Pulitzer offers Jack the money to travel to Santa Fe as well as his freedom if he betrays the newsies and speaks out against the strike. Jack is reluctant but agrees fearing if the strike continues that Davey and the other newsies will be arrested just as Crunchie was and they have no hope at all of beating Pulitzer. At the rally Jack speaks out against the strike and is publically handed his cash reward in front of all the other newsies. Jack retreats to his rooftop where Katherine is waiting for him. After confronting him about why he sold out the newsies Jack reveals he did it to protect them from Pulitzer. Katherine reveals her final plan in order to stop her father, a city wide newspaper published by the newsies with one of Pulitzer’s own old printing presses encouraging the children of the city to join in a city wide strike. Jack agrees to help and the two confess their love for each other. Later, In the basement of Pulitzers offices the newsies work together in order to publish and distribute their own newspaper. The children inspired by the paper join in the city wide strike and its success is something Pulitzer cannot ignore. The newsies along with the mayor and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt confront Pulitzer to lower the prices of papers once and for all. In the end Jack and Pulitzer come to a compromise that the prices are slightly lowered but newsies can sell back any paper they don’t sell. The deal is enormous and marks a major historical event in which a bunch of orphaned children were able to force something out of the most powerful man in the world. Jack decides to stay in New York with Katherine instead of moving out west and take a job a new job offer from Pulitzer. The strike over, the newsies return to carrying the banner man to man and soakin every sucker that they can. “Here’s the headline, newsies on a mission, kill the competition, sell the next edition. We’ll be out there carrying the banner, see us out there carrying the banner, always out there carrying the banner. *drum build up* Look at me-”

Um, sorry I got a little carried away there. I just really love this show.

So now if you didn’t already, you know what Newsies is and let me vouch that It’s some of the most fun you'll ever have at the theater. It’s probably soon to become beloved to many other people because as I mentioned previously so many people are putting on this show. The fact is Newsies is kinda a perfect show for regional theatres. That’s not saying Newsies itself is a perfect show. I’ll admit as much as the next guy that the Katherine and Jack relationship is very forced and I personally think that Crutchie is underutilized but neither here nor there. What I actually mean is that Newsies checks off just about everything you could want in choosing a show especially one for high schools. The show has a nice historical background that can teach kids important lessons grounded in actual reality. It has good music that isn’t too easy but also isn’t too challenging to learn and do especially if you have girls to fill in on some of the tenor’s ridiculously high parts. It’s family friendly while also not being directed solely at children and It’s has a good chance of selling tickets. While Newsies isn’t a household name the logo right above its own the “Disney’s”one is. It’s a guarantee to audiences that this show is going to be a nice family friendly show with a happy ending and family friendly shows generally sell better than non family friendly shows. That’s the exact reason if you look up the logo for The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical the Disney logo is notably absent. It’s not really in line with Disney’s brand. The only two things that really keep Newsies from being a perfect fit for high schools and community theatres is the choreography and massive need for boys. However following the shows closing both of those things can be tweaked for regional productions. The newsies are now generally played by both boys and girls with the role of Crutchie now able to be played by either gender. MTI officially lists that the main newsies are supposed to be boys but in most every regional production I’ve seen several of the main newsies, especially Specs have been played by girls. It really seems to be very loose with how genders must be portrayed and that leads to the need for boys not being such a big problem. You could probably have an ensemble ratio of 2-3 girls to 1 boy and no one’s going to think any different. It is even historically accurate that there were girl newsies. The other big problem is choreography. Newsies is incredibly well known for its insane dancers and it’s not possible to do the show without dance, however as I’ve seen more and more productions I’ve found it is possible to reduce how much is acquired and how challenging the dancing needs to be. The Newsies have to move in some way no matter how you do it but whether they need to be doing pierrettes or not is up to whoever’s choreographing the show. For example in the number “Carrying The Banner” I’ve seen most schools have smaller groups take center stage with more complex dance moves while the newsies in the background have their own conversations, tussles, swordfights what be it. The newsies would all come together in pivotal unison moments but they wouldn’t be doing anything near as complex. The two very big songs that require choreography are “Seize The Day” and “King Of New York” The two numbers both have long dance breaks so that’s the place where the show could be troubling. “King Of New York” while typically done as a tap number can also be done as a jazz number so that gives a bit more freedom. It’s not like if you tried to turn a tap number into a jazz number in 42nd Street. I personally think at all chances King Of New Yorkshould be a tap number because it gives a good contrast as the act two opener to Seize The Daywhich takes place right before the act one finale but I personally find tap the hardest thing in the world so if you're low on skilled tap dancers I could totally see the change being fit. It’s not essential to the show. Newsies does allow for some wiggle room in some songs  but is still going to be pretty dance intensive no matter how you do it but, I think it fits into a category where that could be seen by many theaters as a good challenge. I think Newsies is the perfect example of a show that offers a challenge while also being achievable by different levels of experience and skill.

With all this in mind it’s really not hard to see why there are so many theater companies and schools doing Newsies. There’s really only one more question to ask. Should your theater do Newsies? Well, I think without even knowing you or your theater I know they totally could and that is what makes this show so interesting to me. In my time running that Newsies account I mentioned I’ve seen pictures and videos from hundreds of productions with varying ages, genders, choreography and sets. I never touched on the sets but there’s so many different ways things could be built for this shows. I’ve seen shows with no towers, one tower, but often three towers. Sometimes those towers move and sometimes there just a unit set. I even saw one production where there were no towers and just one big ramp. I thought it was really cool the different ways people see and interpret this show. Truth be told I could’ve written entire articles on the new portrayal of genders in this show or the interpretation of different settings in a variety of musicals not just Newsies but, I chose to do more of this blanket topic. I think what makes a show perfect for licensing is that it can be done in a variety of ways, by a variety of people, on a variety of budgets. There’s a reason that Newsies is Number 3 on MTI’s trending musicals. It’s only beaten out by Matilda and Mamma Mia which are both newer releases and both similarly good flexible regional shows.. It’s a good family friendly show that could pose as an interesting but achievable challenge to students, a good show that can be done without spending an arm or a leg by community theatres, and a great sure to sell addition to a professional theatre’s season. Newsies may have had a rough start but was a massive hit on broadway and now that it’s hit the public it doesn’t seem to be letting up. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing many more productions of this show for many years to come. They weren't kidding when they said “Newsies Forever”.

With that, the main article is done. You can leave if you want to or if you’re really busy and I’ve been keeping you. My apologies but thanks for reading. I’ve been Taylor you’ve been you and I’ll see you all next month.

Now I want to talk about the Newsies fanbase. I myself am a registered member. I got a little card and everything, but I find it incredible that the fanbase of this show is still so active and strong after about 7 years. It’s kinda hard to tell now because the Newsies tags on Twitter and Facebook are filled with people advertising for their local shows but once upon a long time ago in 2018 these tags we’re still getting a ton of tweets by the hour from the fansies alone. That’s the name of the fans. It’s better than Whovians if you ask me. I honestly could make a whole article on its own discussing the wild world that is Newsies fanfiction and you can probably guarantee that there will still be Jack x Crutchie stories updating in the year 2029. I only hope Beetlejuice gets this popular because I really want to make an article about Beetle-Mania in a few years maybe even around the same time I’ll get to talk about a Newsies revival. Who knows, only time will tell but if you’re reading from the future after you saw me yell in a post about how I predicted a Newsies revival, comment down below “I’m from the future and we don’t have flying cars yet but we do have Cats 2”.

What’s that? You want to join the Newsies fandom? Well have I got a deal for you because for the first time since that Shrek 2 article we don’t talk about it’s the triumphant return of the end segment, “The Upcoming Productions. Catch it now before it disappears for another 4 articles. To show just how many people are doing Newsies I’m going to give you 50 upcoming productions of Newsies for 50 states. Scroll down and find your state unless you’re from Wyoming or Hawaii. Sorry your states hate fun and those only scratch the surface. Visit https://www.mtishows.com/newsies-0 and scroll down to the upcoming tab to find a show near you. There are literally hundreds.

Alabama

Newsies @ Spark Theatre Company May 29th-June 1st https://www.sparktheatercompany.com/

Alaska

Newsies @ Nikiski Middle/High School April 26th-May 4th

https://www.facebook.com/triumviratetheater/app/190322544333196/

Arizona

Newsies @ Mingus Union High School April 12th-14th https://www.mingusperformingarts.com/

Arkansas

Newsies @ Young Actors Guild July 11th-14th

http://weareyag.com/events

California

Newsies @ Roger’s Rocka’s Dinner Theatre   Present-July 14th

https://rogerrockas.com/shows/categories/roger-rockas/

Colorado

Newsies @ Pittsburg Community Theatre July 18th-21st

http://www.pctinfo.org/

Connecticut

Newsies @ Broad Brook Opera House May 3rd-19th

http://www.operahouseplayers.org/

Delaware

Newsies @ Delaware's Children Theatre January 11th-February 2nd 2020

http://www.dechildrenstheatre.org/

Florida

Newsies @ Osceola Arts July 12th-August 4th

http://osceolaarts.org/2018-19-theatre-season.html

Georgia

Newsies @ St. Mary’s Children Theatre October 18th-27th

https://www.stmaryschildrenstheatre.com/past-productions

Idaho

Newsies @ Music Theatre Of Idaho October 24th-26th

https://www.broadwaynampa.org/copy-of-2018-musicals

Illinois

Newsies @ The Little Theatre On The Square July 7th-18th

http://www.thelittletheatre.org/

Indiana

Newsies @ The Civic Theatre April 26th-May 11th

https://www.civictheatre.org/

Iowa

Newsies @ Des Moines Playhouse July 12th- August 4th

https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events-and-shows

Kansas

Newsies @ Salina Theatre  June 7th-30th

http://salinatheatre.com/project/disneysnewsies-the-musical/

Kentucky

Newsies @ Derby Dinner Playhouse   Present-May 19th

https://derbydinner.com/show/newsies/

Louisiana

Newsies @ Baton Rouge Theatre June 14th-30th

http://theatrebr.org/disneysnewsies.html

Maine

Newsies @ Windham Center Stage Theatre May 24th-June 2nd

https://windhamtheater.org/Shows/newsies.htm

Maryland

Newsies @ Children’s Playhouse Of Maryland May 4th-18th

http://www.cpmarts.org/

Massachusetts

Newsies @ Company Theatre April 18th-28th

https://www.companytheatre.com/

Michigan

Newsies @ Grand Rapids Civic Theatre May 31st-June 23rd

https://www.grct.org/plays-box-office/current-season/

Minnesota

Newsies @ Paradise Center For The Arts September 13th-22nd

https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=pcfta

Mississippi

Newsies @ Lynn Meadows Discovery Center July 17th-21st

http://lmdc.org/classes-camps/wings-performing-arts-2/

Missouri

Newsies @ Southeast Missouri June 12th-23rd

https://rivercampus.org/upcoming-events/

Montana

Newsies @ Missoula Children’s Theatre April 25th-May 12th

http://mctinc.org/

Nebraska

Newsies @ Crane River Theater June 25th-August 4th

http://cranerivertheater.org/newsies/

Nevada

Newsies @ Signature Productions April 2nd-27th

http://www.signatureproductions.net/

New Hampshire

Newsies @ Peacock Players May 10th-19th

https://peacockplayers.org/

New Jersey

Newsies @ Algonquin Theatre Arts July 13th-July 28th

https://www.algonquinarts.org/calendar.php?s=5

New Mexico

Newsies @ July 12th-13th

http://waywayoffbroadway.com/box-office/

New York

Newsies @ Plays In The Park July 10th-July 20th

http://www.middlesexcountynj.gov/About/ParksRecreation/Pages/PIP/CurrentSeason.aspx

North Carolina

Newsies @ Yadkin Arts Center July 26th-28th

https://www.yadkinarts.org/events-tickets/?_page=2

North Dakota

Newsies @ Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre July 9-18th

http://www.shst.org/productions.php

Ohio

Newsies @ La Comedia Dinner Theatre April 18th-June 6th

http://lacomedia.com/

Oklahoma

Newsies @ Lyric Theatre July 9th-14th

https://lyrictheatreokc.com/shows/newsies/

Oregon

Newsies @ Thoroughly Modern Productions August 16th-25th

http://thoroughlymodernprod.com/productions-auditions/

Pennsylvania

Newsies @ Millbrook Playhouse July 12th-21st

http://www.millbrookplayhouse.net/disneys-newsies/

Rhode Island

Newsies @ Theatre By The Sea July 17th-August 10th

https://www.theatrebythesea.com/2019.html

South Carolina

Newsies @ Village Square Theatre May 1st-17th 2020

http://www.villagesquaretheatre.com/season.html

South Dakota

Newsies @ O’gorman High School April 30th-May 4th

https://ogorman.sfcss.org/activities-athletics/performing-arts/theatre-2

Tennessee

Newsies @ Millenium Rep August 2nd-11th

https://www.millenniumrep.org/2019-season

Texas

Newsies @ San Angelo PAC May 10th-12th

https://www.sanangelopac.org/Online/default.asp

Utah

Newsies @ Hale Theatre  Present-April 20th

http://www.haletheater.org/

Vermont

Newsies @ Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School May 10th-11th

Virginia

Newsies @ SPARC July 26th-28th

https://www.sparcrichmond.org/tickets/

Washington

Newsies @ Numerica PAC May 1st-12th

http://www.numericapac.org/

West Virginia

Newsies @ Robert C Byrd High School April 12th-14th

https://www.facebook.com/RCBTheatre/

Wisconsin

Newsies @ Verona Area Community Theater April 25th-28th

https://www.vact.org/upcoming-schedule-1/2019/4/25/newsies

 

 

 






Be More Chill Has Too Much Chill

Darren Wildeman

One of the shows that has been under the most scrutiny since it announced a Broadway run is the musical Be More Chill with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz. It has a science fiction theme and has a very rabid fan base. However, it has also faced plenty of scrutiny over if the show is appropriate for Broadway, and people not being sure how it is going to do. Many people hope it succeeds; however, it also has a very large number of detractors. I’m not going to be talking about the plot and music of Be More Chill as much. Rather, I’m going to analyze the opinions surrounding this show, how this show will do, and why or why not it might be fit for Broadway. Instead of exploring the show itself I’m going to explore how polarizing this show is, why that might be, and why in general a lot of people see it as a potential flop when so many others think it deserves Best Musical at the Tony Awards this spring. This article isn’t meant to trash Be More Chill or to burn it to the ground. If it can be successful in some capacity the more power to it, and the people working on it. However, there are some major concerns for this show and its life in my opinion.


The first thing to acknowledge is that Be More Chill does have a large fan base. To deny that there aren’t fans and try to say no one likes it is 100% promoting a false dichotomy. However, part of the issue lies with who this fan base is. Be More Chill’s fan base is largely comprised of teenagers, and younger people all around the country. This is fine, in fact a musical that appeals to the younger fans is kind of neat. However, this is also what is hurting Be More Chill. Unlike Dear Evan Hansen (more on the comparisons between these shows later) or Hamilton, Be More Chill almost only appeals to the younger audience at times. And for the most part, young people aren’t the people who can afford to go to the theatre, and obviously the vast majority of America does not live in or near New York City, so the show is not able to be viewed by the many other fans it does have. That’s the problem with appealing to a somewhat limited demographic. There aren’t as many people. And this limited demographic also appeals to my next point.

For some reason Be More Chill gets constant comparisons to Dear Evan Hansen. However, that is an awful comparison in my opinion. The two shows aren’t even in the same area code. Dear Evan Hansen deals with mental illness, and the impact our words and actions can have. Dear Evan Hansen is a much more maturely written musical. I’m not saying that to crap on Be More Chill but I don’t think it can be argued. It’s teaches lessons, and has very well written adult characters. In short, it has more things that would appeal to a more mature audience. The story is also SO different that I don’t think you can even make a fair comparison to Be More Chill. The reason I bring this up is because people will point to Dear Evan Hansen’s success at both the Tony’s and commercially. But these shows are so far different that this isn’t a fair comparison at all.

If we’re going to compare Be More Chill to anything it would probably be Little Shop of Horrors because of the sci-fi camp vibe. However, Little Shop of Horrors while being campy and cheesy at times has the spectacle that some theatre goers look for, while still having characters and moments that will still resonate with a broader audience. Be More Chill, while it does some things well it just doesn’t have that mass appeal. It’s a niche show that while appeals to some, doesn’t have the writing nor the qualities that the larger audience looks for.

Some would look at the minimalistic staging, some might even call it intimate. They might argue that the minimalistic staging works because shows like Once, and last year’s big Tony winner The Band’s Visit have the same minimal staging properties. However, I don’t think I need to tell you the difference here. Those shows have much more mature writing and the staging works with the story in totally different ways. Minimal staging does not immediately mean it’s a really well-done intimate show.

In fact, in many cases it’s much better for an intimate show to stay Off-Broadway. Shows like Once and The Band’s Visit are exceptions. That’s not to say that every small show with a niche audience appeal should stay Off-Broadway; however, Off-Broadway theatres have the type of atmosphere about them where these types of shows tend to do much better. So many shows that are Off-Broadway have the vibe about them that Be More Chill has; and unless a show has superior writing or a quality about it that puts it over the top a show is generally much better suited to stay Off-Broadway. Honestly going to Broadway can absolutely swallow a show like Be More Chill whole and it will get lost.

Also, if the show flops on Broadway that could kill its chance of coming back and having success in an Off-Broadway theatre. Not a lot of shows make the transition back Off-Broadway if it goes to Broadway.  There is a chance that it could have success as a touring show so it could be more accessible to its younger fan base. However, for a show like this going to Broadway is a huge risk and I don’t really see it paying off. A move like this could literally kill the show outright.

One could even argue that Be More Chill could have gone for some spectacle and been successful. The issue is that would greatly change the vision of the show but again I go back to Little Shop of Horrors. That is not a small stage show, it does have some stripped-down qualities but it also has some spectacle. And spectacle can cover a lot of miscues in writing. I don’t think Wicked is an awful musical; however, it certainly has writing flaws that are covered up by the stage presence of the show. Bringing some of that stage presence could have possibly helped Be More Chill in its move to Broadway.

However, it is obvious that Be More Chill wanted to go with the small musical/intimate vibe. However, it just doesn’t have the audience appeal or extreme high-quality writing or story telling that is going to bring it over the edge like the smaller shows such as Once or The Band’s Visit. All in all, I think Be More Chill has bitten off more than it can chew, and I’d be concerned about the ultimate survival of this show in any capacity once it is done on Broadway.

Top 5 Fox Movies That Should Get a Stage Adaptation

Taylor Lockhart



If you’re living under a rock then you might not have heard that Disney has officially acquired Twentieth Century Fox, an acquisition that means the X-Men and Fantastic Four can now join the Avengers, that Anastasia is now technically a Disney princess and that Jekyll and Hyde The Musical is now apart of Disney Theatricals. Yes, I hear you saying right now, “That’s not how producing companies work at all!” You would be right but the prospect of seeing a Fun Home revival helmed by Disney is so incredible that I’m okay with being wrong. With all this being said I thought it was the perfect time to revisit one of my older articles in which I talked about my “Top 9 Disney Movies that Should Get a Stage Adaptation”. Keep in mind that Disney Theatricals is the same company that made an animated movie specifically so it could be adapted for the stage then let it sit in Germany for like 15 years and then finally brought it over to the United States just to decide after two playhouse runs to do absolutely nothing with it but the adaptation of a movie that flopped so hard it won a Razzie and was only ever intended to be made for licensing ended up becoming one of the biggest broadway hits of the last decade. In short, they are absolutely unpredictable. They may not even use any of their new Fox properties or just immediately go ahead with one of them like The Princess Bride or something right out of the gate. I mean who honestly knows. This is all just for fun so if you disagree feel free to let me know but chances are you won’t have to hear about many of these any time soon. So without any further ado here are the Top 5 Fox movies I would live to see made into stage adaptations. Why not 9 you like last time? Sorry, we’ve had some budget cuts. Anyways, Let’s go!



#5 Home Alone

The Number 5 spot on my list goes to the Home Alone series of movies. I can’t personally imagine what a Home Alone musical would sound like and how it would be brought to life but it’s one of those franchises I can look at and see the serious possibility of it happening. Home Alone is something years later people still know and love and probably watch at least once or twice every christmas. It’s kinda surprising as far as I know no one has ever brought up the idea of a musical adaptation. I’m not saying this should happen and personally it’s not one that I think broadway needs to see but with the success of A Christmas Story, Elf, and others like it it’s not hard to see that Home Alone certainly is one of the most adaptable properties on this list that’s sure to turn a profit. I think it could be fun and it would certainly be interesting to see Kevin Mcallister's crazy traps come to life on stage. I think it would need an update to the story in order to bring it up to a two act show but there’s some material for something magical if done correctly. In any case it’s a well known story that would make an excellent children's musical to tour during winter like some of the other musicals I mentioned currently do.



#4 Mrs. Doubtfire

Come on, do I even have to say why the Robin Williams movie would make a perfect show? We’ve seen crossdressing done tons of times before on Broadway like with Mrs. Trunchbull in Matilda, and Mrs. Doubtfire would bring a new version of that which we haven't seen yet. There’s enough material there to adapt into two acts and room for some incredibly heartfelt songs. Luckily for me, I’m not the only one who thinks this as a Mrs. Doubtfire musical is in the making and may be on Broadway very soon.



#3 Alien

No, no no no no no no no...No! I’m not talking about an Alien musical. Good lord, No, that is the single worst idea I’ve ever heard. Instead, I’m talking about a straight play stage adaptation. If you’re invested into the theatre scene than odds are you have seen the school that recently put on a play adaptation of the Alien film, North Bergen High School. It’s really well done and a friendly reminder that high schools are capable of doing some really cool things and that the arts in schools should be given more money to work with!

(Hey a little pause real quick, I do feel the need to acknowledge, though because many other blogs and news articles haven’t, that unauthorized adaptations are illegal and while in this case the creators were cool enough not to take legal action, that’s not always the case. This is an incredibly cool production and you should celebrate it for all it’s worth but I would be wrong to just ignore the fact that if you now want to stage an adaptation of a movie for yourself and sell tickets for it as apart of your school's season it’s against the law and you shouldn’t do that. Thanks! Now back to the article!)

It’s really blown up and has me rewatching the film and considering the possibility of an adaptation coming to life on stage. We’ve seen just how poorly action musicals work like with Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark but the movie has enough really good scenes to make an incredible suspenseful action play. We’ve already seen from shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that plays can have fantasy settings So why not a sci-fi one? If done right it’s possible to do more imaginative concepts with straight plays like Alien really well. I’ll admit fear nothing more than a million movie adaptations filling Broadway …(well maybe wasps. I’m pretty afraid of wasps) but a somewhat interactive experience reliving the Alien films live could be awesome and successful. Musicals have had the chance to get incredibly creative as we can see this year with shows like Beetlejuice but plays are often stuck in the real world with very few plays experimenting with Imaginative concepts like this one. I think if done right and those are the key words, If done right these high schoolers could be on to a pretty good idea and a new live big budget version of Alien could terrify audiences who have now lost the ability to hide behind a screen.


#2 Deadpool

Deadpool is the musical comedy we absolutely need. Deadpool is such a stretchable character you could do literally anything. Any story, any type of music, anything. A Deadpool musical sounds incredibly stupid and that is why it’s a really good idea because Deadpool works best in the exact places you never thought he could. It would be really nice to have a “go get drunk and then see a funny show” type of musical that doesn’t take itself seriously and Deadpool would be right in his element breaking the fourth wall with the audience. You could even have the character call people out for bootlegging the show, this script practically writes itself. I personally think that Deadpool would be a lot like the Beetlejuice musical is right now with him being a fourth wall breaking narrator figure but even crazier and even funnier. Okay, I’m going to pitch you an idea right now and you tell me if it doesn’t sound like the most amazing experience you could possibly have ever. A revival of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark except the “Spiderman” part is crossed out and Deadpool is written in and “Turn Off The Dark” is modified to be some sort of sexual pun. I can’t think of one but just imagine with me for a second. It follows the storyline and songs of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark except narrated by Deadpool who makes fun of the musical while constantly derailing it into directions the entire time. It’s hilarious for broadway fans and the script is written so that anyone out of the loop can still enjoy the hell out deadpools quips. Now that is a show I would pay some good money to see. I’m talking Hamilton money. I would pay Hamilton money to see that show.

#1 The Greatest Showman

It’s really not a question is it. The Greatest Showman was made to be adapted for the stage and is almost certainly going to be at some point. I don’t think I need to spend even a second explaining why it would work so well or if it would be profitable because it would and it has. I think it’s need some adapting to make it work but It’s undeniable that The Greatest Showman would work on Broadway. It would be nice to see a full musical with a story that uses tricks from Cirque du Soleil. Hell, perhaps Cirque du Soleil could be a producer and help make this musical one of the biggest and best broadway has ever seen. Maybe with Hugh Jackman returning to Broadway with The Music Man you could see him once he’s done there reprising his role to do the musical on Broadway. I wouldn’t bet on it but you can certainly bet that The Greatest Showman is coming.

Well, that’s my list. Let me know if I should do another sometime regarding a different studio. At some point I’d like to talk about books that I think should have musical adaptations since those feel so much more original than movie adaptations and while it’s fun to speculate I can say I’d rather more original works appearing on stage in the future. I hope to see you again in about a month but remember that we publish articles every Monday and Thursday. If you didn’t like me then chances are you might like one of the other writers and what they have to say. Thank you for taking your time and reading and I hope you all have wonderful rests of March. I’ve been Taylor and you’ve been you and I’ll see all next month, goodbye.






My (Not so Good) Thoughts on Community Theatre

Jyothi Cross

I was born and raised on community theatre, it helped me grow from a tiny 8-year-old with too much energy and no acting skill to what I am now. I will be forever grateful to the gifts of confidence, improvisation and voice projection (it’s never not useful) that community theatre has given me but over the past year I have come to understand the dark underbelly of community theatre and, in some ways, have come to resent it.

This week I directed my first show, a production of Peter Pan for a school competition, with a cast of mostly 13-year-olds and it rocked. The process was hell, but the show itself – which involved Tinkerbell flying in on a fishing rod to the Mission Impossible theme song and around 20 lighting cues – rocked. Nonetheless, one quote stood out just as we were preparing for our second out of three shows that day:

‘Let’s go show them that theatre kids can be cool!’

It’s a nice sentiment, but a sad one too. These 14 kids worked their butts off to produce a 30-minute show in 6 weeks, giving up most of their lunchtimes and spending however much on costumes and make-up. My co-director and I fell out 5 times over the course of the show and had both lost our voices by the end of it. Every single member of our production gave their soul to that show and all the audience would think of them was that these kids were ‘Theatre Nerds’ who weren’t worth their time. This is the first thing I hate about community theatre, the fact that this audience who would spend their weekends idolizing actors like Zac Efron or Zendaya don’t recognize how amazing these people are to even get up on the stage. Community theatre actors don’t want praise or fame, they act because that’s what they enjoy but are considered leagues below the football team who spend 80 minutes faking injuries and kicking a ball – Theatre Kids are cooler than them any day.

My second reason for hating community theatre? It all stems for the downfall of my local theatre group – my lifeline if you will. I had spent 4 years in a cold Church hall watching numbers slowly decrease until eventually, last November, the group kicked the bucket. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried pretty much all that evening, with my childhood gone there was nowhere to go and in a little town like mine, there were no other opportunities. Community theatre is addictive; it draws you in and then, unless you’re lucky, it doesn’t go anywhere. We get addicted to the lights, to the characters, to the rush of adrenaline when you step on stage in front of an audience even if that audience is just your mum and dad. Unfortunately, this addiction isn’t sustainable. 

Of course, my perspective is from one town in the UK and I know in bigger areas or bigger countries like America the opportunities are more common and there is more space for development but, nonetheless, the facts stand. Unless you are the best of the best community theatre doesn’t go anywhere, instead, it simply becomes a fun story you’ll tell your kids one day. However, people get bored of seeing the same crazy show again and again. They get bored of doing the same workshops again and again. In the moment it feels great but from the outside? People start looking for unique and varied theatre which often leads them to larger theatre companies and slowly but surely your local theatre group dies out. 

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps. I hate community theatre because I love it so much. I love the family, the characters, the training, and I hate it because no-one ever seems to realize how cool a person that makes you. Does that make sense? Put your thoughts in the comments!

 

Rodgers and Hammerstein? No Thanks.

By Grumpy Olde Guy® (a/k/a Michael Kape)

When I was three years old (yes, I really was—once in 1957), my mother, the late, great Frumah Sara(h), bought me a box of 45 rpm records filled with Rodgers and Hammerstein for Children. And I played those 45s until they wore out—even the songs from Pipe Dream and Me and Juliet and Allegro. No Flower Drum Song or The Sound of Music; those had not been written yet.

Got older, wiser, and learned a thing or two along the way. Played the Professor in South Pacific in my junior (and last) year in high school. Did my senior thesis in college about the impact of Oklahoma! on American musical theatre. Actually saw productions of Allegro, Me and Juliet, and (*gasp*) Pipe Dream. Cringed through the stage version of The Sound of Music (a/k/a Life With Father in Austria). Read the biographies of both men as well as Musical Stages, Richard Rodgers’ autobiography. Was even accused of reporting a wayward production of Oklahoma! to the R&H Library (it was indeed wayward—setting the show in a rehearsal hall on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed; don’t ask but we at Atlanta Theatre Weekly carried the review in 1997).

No one can say what I’m about to discuss comes from a place of ignorance.

R_and_H.jpg


* * *

I was maybe 10 years old; the television remake of Cinderella was airing (with Lesley Ann Warren in the title role). She starts singing, “In my own little corner,” and I remark to my family (gathered around our giant 24-inch RCA color television at the time), “That sounds just like all the other Rodgers and Hammerstein songs!” Same exact music. Same cadence. My 10-year-old self had called it. It’s pretty damn sad when a 10-year-old can see through the miasma and deception now known as Rodgers and Hammerstein.

* * *

The first (and only) time I saw The Sound of Music onstage, I couldn’t help but notice something very odd about the song, Do Re Mi. It’s a song filled with English language puns (“Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun”). So far so good. But here’s the rub. The characters singing it (seven children and their governess) only speak German. They don’t know from English language puns. Just one of the many things I dislike in Austrian Life With Father.

* * *

Richard Rodgers wrote incredible scores with Lorenz Hart. Some stunning work. American Songbook classics. Rodgers wrote the music first, and Hart then supplied the (often-brilliant) lyrics. In Musical Stages, Rodgers spend two-thirds of the book on his collaboration with Hart. It was about the art of creating Broadway musicals and how much it thrilled him. Then he gets to his time with Hammerstein. Just a few scant chapters. It was a business deal. And he got bored after Carousel, which might be why all his subsequent shows with Hammerstein began to sound the same (even the melody to Me and Juliet’s No Other Love, arguably the best song in the musical, was actually a cutout from an earlier effort, just as The King and I’s Something Wonderful sounds so much like Love Look Away from Flower Drum Song). Is it any wonder my 10-year-old self could immediately identify an R&H song? After all, the songs for the “slightly-older-but-wiser” alto they wrote all sounded the same from show to show to show.

* * *

Ever notice how the best music Richard Rodgers wrote had no lyrics? I mean Carousel Waltz. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue Ballet. Victory at Sea scoring. March of the Siamese Children. But when he did his own lyrics in No Strings, they were pretty lame (except the opening number, The Sweetest Sounds).

* * *

There is the matter of R&H racism. Before you start citing South Pacific, let me go further back and cite Oklahoma! Even in my college thesis I called out the racist approach Hammerstein used with the character of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler. I’m not Iranian, but I found the characterization to be extremely offensive and, yes, racist. It was meant to be funny; it was not. Racism is never funny.

Likewise, examine the casting of African American actress Juanita Hall. First in South Pacific, because her skin was darker than others in the show, she played Bloody Mary, a Tonkinese proprietress (and pimp—more about that shortly). A few years later, R&H cast her again, this time as an Asian American in Flower Drum Song. Really? What about the casting of Jewish actor Larry Blyden as Sammy Fong? Another case of “Oh just give them slant-eyed makeup and the audience will think they’re Chinese.” Yeah, not racist at all (bullshit).

Bloody Mary is a character in the short story Fo’ Dollar, one of the pieces in Tales of the South Pacific R&H used as the basis for their show. She also pimps out her 14-year-old daughter Liat to Lt. Joe Cable. Liat’s age is never discussed in South Pacific, but it sure looks like pedophilia to me (not unlike one of the storylines in ALW’s Aspects of Love—but I digress). Can we say this is just oh-so-distasteful? I knew we could.

I even question the pseudo-liberal bent of South Pacific (You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught). I’ve checked and anti-Tonkinese discrimination is not now nor then running rampant. Just me, I guess.

* * *

When the last revival of Carousel (the one R&H show I can stand) was playing, a lot of discussion arose (finally) about the matter of spousal (and child) abuse. Billy strikes Julie. He strikes Louise, his daughter. He’s a sexist pig (Soliloquy) who would much prefer having a song to a daughter. The problem here is simple—what worked in 1945 doesn’t work 70+ years later. It definitely makes an audience uncomfortable—and not in the intended way.

* * *

For 62 of my 65 years, I’ve had Rodgers and Hammerstein drummed into my head. I want them out. Gone. Vamoosed. If I could reach out to my 10-year-old self, I’d say, “Kid, you’re smarter than you realize.” (I’d say smarter than you look, but I was a bespectacled geek back then and I looked pretty damn smart.)

I know people will start raining venom on my head because I just don’t like the work done by these two. “It’s classic American musical theatre,” they’ll cry. It might be classic but it ain’t good. “But I love [fill in the name of any R&H show]. How can you not like it?” After all this time, believe me, it’s very easy.


My Top 5 Least Favorite Musicals

Taylor Lockhart

Hey wow, that title is pure clickbait but I honestly didn’t know what else I could call it because while it comes off like a crappy buzzfeed article, this is truly my opinions on what are my least favorite musicals and why I don’t like them. I mean after all I liked Rent Live, I gushed on Big Fish and Hunchback and I discussed the Tonys without bringing up how they’re probably rigged so I think it’s fair to say things have been too positive for too long. Of course this is just my opinion so if I disagree with you then I disagree with you, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong or your right just that we’re not the same person. Theatre would be really boring if we were, I mean could you imagine a world in which Newsies never left Broadway and ran forever and ever and ever bringing joy to the hearts of the young and old from 2012 to the end of time, that’d be absolutely horrible. Anyways without any further ado here’s my list in no particular order.



5- My Fair Lady

Do you love the boring “masterpiece” that is George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion? No, well maybe you’ll like it with some music slapped in there and I do quite literally mean slapped in the middle. You see Lerner is credited as the writer of My Fair Lady’s book which is very shameless because Shaw should be credited for the book as My Fair Lady is literally just Pygmalion with songs slapped between. Now is that a problem? Today I think so little rewrite of the script for it’s adaptation would be seen as lazy but back then I can give them that it was a standard. Oklahoma!, which came out 13 years earlier had many of its scenes ripped straight from the play “Green Grow The Lilacs”. It made sense that a musical adaptation of a play unless it was something like Shakespeare could just be that play with music added in. So what is my problem. Well, It would seem Mr. Lerner and Lowe in adapting Pygmalion would just leave it be. That they would make it a musical and not change any fundamentals to the original story but this is where Lerner and Lowe decided to cement one of the most horrible cliches in musical theatre history. Let’s take a look at the original ending of Pygmalion the play My Fair Lady is based on. In the ending of the play Shaw decides to make very clear that Higgins and Eliza do not get marry. It was something he stated immensely during his life was very important. Unlike the original myth it was based on Shaw wanted Eliza to become an independent woman. So tell me how this message in which Eliza leaves the man who has been treating her poorly manages to be more empowering in 1913 than its musical counterpart forty years later. I’ll tell you how. It’s because Lerner and Lowe wanted a “happy ending”. I want you take a step back from where you are in your musical knowledge and pretend your being asked a question knowing nothing about musicals and the types of them out there. You would probably say that musicals have upbeat music, big dance numbers, and happy endings. That’s just sad. That musicals are expected to be happy because it was set as the standard that a musical would leave the audience happy no matter what, but what really bugs me is in trying to leave the audience feeling good Lerner and Lowe completely screw up the meaning of Pygmalion. Look at a musical like Les Miserables. Les Mis ends on a happy note allowing us to see all of our barricade boys and girls in heaven finally free before the show ends. It’s a lot more upbeat than if Jean Valjean just died and that was it but it doesn’t lose any of the purpose of the story Les Mis tells. If anything, its improves it. Now look at Hunchback. The Disney version changes the ending drastically and some would complain that it’s similar to My Fair Lady, that it was changed purely to leave audiences on a good note but honestly, I don’t see the problem here. The original Hunchback leaves readers with a feeling of hopelessness for how cruel humanity can be and the disney version doesn’t tell us that humanity isn’t cruel. Instead it shows us how humanity can be good and gives a message of hope and that we can decide to treat people better. This is very clear in the lyrics “What makes a monster and what makes a man” and in the final song that was saved for the credits, “Someday”. I think a musical can change it’s ending to make it happier and it is ballsy for a show to just end on such a sour note but when you ruin the entire point of a show in order to make it happy that is when I have a problem. In My Fair Lady’s ending, Eliza returns to Henry. Luckily West Side Story would come along a year later to say that it’s ending wasn’t happy and it didn’t care whether you liked it or not.  I’m not the first to bring up how terrible this decision was but I might hopefully be the last because the recent Broadway revival of My Fair Lady finally decided to fix the ending making it more so like it originally was and I hope to see that change put into future scripts as well. My Fair Lady still has well written music and while I don’t like the songs I hope you do. I have never liked My Fair Lady at all, as I never liked Pygmalion but I think with an ending restored to the original empowering message Shaw intended I won’t hate it.


4- Cats  

Wow that one show was like a whole mini blog. Welp, guess I gotta speed it along. Of course it’s in here and you’re probably pegging me as being a band wagoner but rest assured I don’t dislike Cats because I think the music is bad or it’s a even a bad show. No, I don’t like Cats because well it’s freaking Cats. Go look up the longest running Broadway shows of all times and look what’s No.4 Cats. 29 highest grossing shows of all time No. 10 Cats. How did a musical based on T.S. Elliots bedtime stories become the face of Broadway? I don’t know. I honestly can’t say anything but good job Mr. Webber.

3- Heathers High School Edition

First of all, do I hate Heathers? No, I can acknowledge that Heathers probably doesn’t have the best message out of every musicals and at the very least doesn’t translate it’s message well but hey neither does Dear Evan Hansen. I rather really like Heathers and it’s very important to realize that so I can express why I hate Heathers: High School Edition.. Heathers is a near perfect example of a musical taking place in high school. As a high schooler I don’t feel like this is an adult trying to write high schoolers but actual high schoolers to some degree. If you don’t know kids cuss a lot, so much so that you stop noticing that it just gets added to your vocabulary like an adjective. High schoolers are mean and don’t call you “dumb” or an “idiot”. The words Heathers throw around in it’s opening number are words I hear in school and are things that help sell the setting. It’s important you understand the hell Veronica lives in because if you don’t than you lose part of the shows narrative. Quite simply put, Heathers isn’t a kids movie and high school isn’t like a kids movie either. It seems like there are people around you who exist purely to bring you misery so to have a musical be so unapologetic and so real, It’s no wonder that Heathers is so popular with the youth. So for a musical that I feel nails the material it’s based on why do I hate it’s high school variant so much. Well, because it does none of that. Heathers High School Edition follows the standard procedure for making most high school editions. Take a show and suck the life out of it so you can sell it’s battered corpse to schools to perform. Now I get it, MTI knows that high schoolers don’t need such strong censorship and won’t track you down if you do the non high school version of Avenue Q and Les Mis High School Edition is a good stand in for a show that never has any chance of leaving the restricted category, but it’s Samuel French’s Heathers: High School Edition most of all that leaves me writhing. It was pushed as though it had such a strong message for kids that they needed to hear but then cut it up so that the message was still there but the show had no resemblance to the original Heathers. I hate censorship and I think you lose something of a piece of work when it’s censored, but I understand sometimes it’s necessary to a degree. I think a high school edition works best when it serves to make a show more doable for schools and carefully snips out what might be unacceptable but it's important that it doesn’t affect the feel of the show. If you take out some of the innuendos in Legally Blonde, I’ll notice but it’s nothing I’ll write the entire show because of. So for a show like Heathers that is littered with things deemed unacceptable to the point if you censor it or take it out entirely I will notice, what was the point? If the version we see is so cut through why did there ever need to be a Heathers: High School Edition. I honestly think a high school version of Heathers could work but more love has to be put into it. The new version of “Candy Store” feels like the writers put down the first thing they thought about. If your looking to do Heathers: High School Edition, I just can’t recommend it but, I love Samuel French even when they make some mistakes, so I’d recommend another one of their shows in its place like The Secret Garden or Rock of Ages or just the full version of Heathers if your school doesn’t care.



2-Sweeney Todd

Woah, why is Sweeney Todd on this list? Do you not like Sondheim's masterpiece? Well, remember something doesn’t have to be bad to be my least favorite musical just one I don’t like. So, do I not like Sweeney Todd? Well, no, not technically at least. See, I’m be an idiot to say Sweeney Todd had unengaging music or a bad script or wasn’t an incredibly revolutionary musical which it totally was. It’s just...I really don’t like blood. I really don’t like being trapped in the middle of an aisle during a school trip and I can’t leave but I feel sick because I just watched someone’s throat get slit live on stage, and yeah in theory you can look away but Sondheim that cheeky bastard made sure you will always know and see it even when you close your eyes that picture of someone’s blood squirting out of their throat after Todd has slowly dragged his razor along their neck. Sondheim put in an organ sound everytime it happens. So, yeah I don’t see Sweeney Todd unless I have a bag on hand and if I do I always sit in the aisles. That’s enough of that, I’m feeling sick just writing about it. It’s a horror musical alright and if that makes it your favorite then more power to you. It’s the only musical on this list I don’t dislike I just can’t physically stand it.


1-Annie

Why do I have such an ungodly hatred for such a sweet little show. Worse than My Fair Lady which has a good reason, worse than Cats which is way more popular and worse than Sweeney which literally makes me feel terrible. Why is this worse than all of them? Is the music bad? No. Is the story bad? No. Are the characters uninteresting? No. Is it uninteresting? Not Really. So why do I hate it? Well, the truth is I don’t know. I can’t make sense of it but know one thing for sure is that I hate Annie. I hate Annie more than any musical on earth. That’s it. There’s no deep analytical message here. No opinions on why this is the perfect example of something else I hate. No really good thoughts. I just really hate Annie.



Okay, that’s enough negativity for one day. I’ve been Taylor and you have been you and I will see you with something much more positive in the future.




Similar Musicals; Different Successes: The Music Man vs 110 In the Shade

David Culliton

The following is a transcript of a surreptitiously recorded dialogue between rainmaker Bill Starbuck and music man Harold Hill in no particular place during no particular time.

Joan_Weldon-Forrest_Tucker_in_The_Music_Man.jpg


Starbuck: Say, ain’t you that fellow who became a music man for a little town in Iowa without knowing a lick of music?

Hill: That certainly sounds like me! Professor Harold Hill at your service, my friend. Who might you be?

S: The name’s Starbuck, Bill Starbuck. I’m a rainmaker, ending droughts and bringing that sweet water from the sky for only $100 per location!

H: Truly a pleasure, sir. Can’t say I’ve ever met a rainmaker before.

S: Oh no, sir, we’re a rare breed. Though I reckon you might be more familiar with my way of business. We may be of vastly different professions, Mr. Hill, but something tells me we’re in the same line of work. Or at least were, ‘till you settled down with that sweet little librarian.

H: Ohhhh a con man, then! Perhaps I have—

S: I ain’t never said that, my friend.

[Transcription note: a brief pause in the audio followed by a slight chuckle from Hill seems to indicate a wink from Starbuck after his ostensibly coy rebuttal of that label]

H: Oh, yes, you must excuse me, my tongue has the nastiest habit of slipping on occasion.

S: [laughing] Oh it’s quite alright.

H: Now how can it be that I’ve never heard of a man of such unique talents as yourself?

S: You tell me. I’ve had my story told a few times; some northern theaters thought it would be a keen idea to bring my tale to the stage set to some quaint music. I always enjoyed the little show they wrote about me. Now keep in mind, I got a brother with the voice of an angel, so you best believe I grew up with an appreciation for the musical arts; this ain’t no untrained ear’s opinion…

H: I seem to be the king of untrained ears, my friend, I’ll trust your judgment.

S: Well, they gave me some mighty fine songs, some good ones too to the wonderful spinster I met in the southwest, and to her family, too! The script they wrote is nice and simple, accurate to how it all happened, some good performers have been in it over the years, and yet with all that, the good people of the world barely know my name!

H: Fascinating! Now what is this theatrical piece of yours called?

S: 110 in the Shade. Damn accurate title, too. The town I was in when that story of my life took place was about as hot as could be, on account of the drought I had rode in to cure. There was actually a non-musical play about that same story of mine BEFORE my musical, called The Rainmaker, but even fewer people done heard o’ that one.

H: How truly ignorant of them! You know, I’ve had my own stories told in a similar medium…

S: Oh I know, it’s how I heard o’ you in the first place! The Music Man, one of the most popular musicals of all time.

H: [chuckling] Very good! Yes, truly an honor to have such a wonderful piece written about me, and to have it reach such success! It’s won awards, been seen by millions, even brought to the cinema a couple of times.

S: Must be nice…

H: Oh well, yes, don’t mean to brag, another one of those bad habits of mine.

S: Hey, we all got our vices.

H: I thank you for understanding, friend. But you must understand, it is nice to have such a legacy!

S: Well naturally; it’s what we all want from life, really.

H: Exactly! And mine is quite rewarding. When my story was first put on stage, it was heralded as a veritable modern masterpiece! People called it funny and inventive, comparing it to some other popular theatrical piece about gamblers or something.

S: No kidding!

H: You wish I were. I’m telling you, this musical play had everything! I was portrayed by some dashing fellow called Preston, my lovely wife by a gifted soprano whom I believe was named Barbara Cook; she even won an award for it!

S: For playing your wife?

H: Only she!

S: Hell of a world we live in…

H: Well that’s not even the best part! The whole piece itself won some sort of huge award that only the best of the best of these kinds of things do. Erhm… did yours win an award like that?

S: Not as far as I remember.

H: Oh, pardon me, I hope you took no offense at that.

S: None, friend; just the facts of the case. I don’t think we won any such awards, but that doesn’t mean folks didn’t like it.

H: Well I should hope not!

S: No, no, people certainly have said nice things about my story over the years! They seem to enjoy its simplicity, theatrical journalists callin’ it things like charming and sturdy. Almost everyone who knows about it seems to like the music at least. The guys who made the music for it I guess created some other show that holds some sort of fantastick record, like longest running ever somethin’ somethin’, so they’re known for solid tuners.

H: What kind of music, pray tell?

S: Oh, it’s all some sort of simple, rural, classical style. Originally, they wrote it more like one of those operas you always hear about, but they ended up changing it to how it is now. You got your ballads and a showstoppin’ song or two, but it mostly is all straightforward and melodical, a real southern, folks-of-the-land flavor, ya know?

H: I think I follow, yes.

S: How about you? What’s the music in yours like?

H: Well it’s got a flavor for the folks of the land as well, but bear in mind these are northern folks, as you might call them. It’s simple, too, like yours, but they like their music big and brassy! It was written to try to reflect the kind of American band music of which I became the purveyor in River City.

S: Same stew, different spices.

H: My thinking exactly! Makes me wonder then why my spices ended up making my proverbial stew so much more popular than yours.

S: Beats me, seems both the pieces based on our lives have so many similarities.

H: A dashing con man rides into town…

S: [chuckling] Dashing, nice touch.

H: Well I certainly thought so.

S: The charismatic fella promises a miraculous solution to a problem, falls for a skeptical young woman…

H: [gasps] You fell for the spinster, didn’t you?

S: Harder than Icarus when he lost his wings.

H: Ouch.

S: Didn’t end quite as perfectly for me as it did for you, either, but I hear she’s all happy and fulfilled with her town’s sheriff so at least she’s not lonely no more…

H: But regardless, fell for her, changed her mind about the man…

S: …AND the whole town’s minds while he’s at it, even if they don’t find the gentleman’s business practices totally… legitimate.

H: Well it doesn’t matter; he brought joy and excitement to a somber little American town!

S: And the girl…

H: And everyone learned something about themselves in the process.

S: Those sound a hell of a lot alike to me! And yet…

H: Curious, isn’t it? So similar and yet one vastly more well-known than the other! But why?

S: Well, maybe it doesn’t help that my story was first being told around the same time as some much bigger stories about people like some matchmaker and a popular comedienne who came after my time, Fanny something…

H: And the people liked it bigger and flashier than just a simple piece about some folks in the south, didn’t they?

S: I reckon. I think the one about the matchmaker won that award you were talkin’ about. It’s a shame, really. There weren’t all that many worthwhile stories being told when mine first came out, but just a few months down the line those other one overshadowed us. Suddenly no one cared much for the tales of a town in a drought.

H: But I don’t understand! My story is the same simple idea: a small town and a man with a big personality, and no one could get enough of it! It was said to be a “fresh slant on Americana,” a loving send up to a bygone era—just like yours!

S: From what I remember of YOUR story, though, it was first being told at a time that wasn’t as crowded with these mega-tales. The only other theatrical piece I really can recall comin’ across at the same time as yours was some big, sad tale about fighting gangs and starcrossed lovers. It was damn good, but it was far from enough to overpower your story.

H: And mine was big, too. Bigger than yours, at least. I think the first time it was shown, the crafty fellows telling it had an actual smokestack blow onstage at the beginning of each telling.

S: Now you’re gettin’ it! Like you said, the people of the north like it when things are big. You had big, brassy music, my friend. There were probably a lot more people up on that stage than mine had, you even had some impressive technical effect to kick it all off! People remember that, especially when there’s only one other really good story to remember any way.

H: It might have had something to do, too, with that fantastic talente who portrayed me in the first go-round. He had told some other stories in the past but hadn’t had the chance to really tell a good one in a while. Portraying me is what really made him a star, especially as… do you mind if I brag a little more?

S: [laughing] Go on ahead, Hill.

H: Well, especially as someone like me, full of bombast and charisma. People love a man with confidence and swagger, and as I think we both know they LOVE a good success story. With that Preston fellow in the lead, the people who heard my story got both of those things rolled into one!

S: That sounds like it’s got some merit. The guy who played me when MY story premiered was already well known. I’m about as charismatic and memorable as you are, but it was another solid spangle in an already well-decorated belt. Not quite as exciting as your Preston.

H: My word… is it really all down to that? Timing and a single well-placed man is what makes people know who I am and draw a blank on you?

S: Certainly sound like that to me, but it’s hard to draw solid conclusions in such a metaphysical plane of existence...

H: Oh, undoubtedly. Mr. Metaphysical Author, would you kindly conclude for us?

David: Gladly, thanks guys! The Music Man had a lot of things going for it upon its opening: an exceedingly strong cast and creative team, relatable success stories in the form of Preston and Meredith Wilson (himself finding great success on his first big Broadway foray), a nostalgic but still large and impressive homage to an idealized (if not a little silly and puritanical) old Americana, not a lot of overwhelming competition, memorable bombast, technical prowess, the works. It came out at the perfect time with all the right pieces in place to create one of the most iconic American musicals of all time. 110 had some good stuff going for it, too: the composers responsible for New York’s longest-running musical EVER, two powerhouse stars, a solid and emotionally-driven book, but it showed up too late for what it was. It was TOO small and TOO simple in a time when Broadway was coming back from a slump better than ever with musicals that were large and complex. It didn’t have room to breathe and so it petered out, a sweet little gem undeservedly lost to the ages. There are so many little intricacies and details that can’t be covered with a speculative dialogue like this, and I encourage you all to look into both shows (and generally look up and listen to 110 if you never have before) and see if you can draw your own conclusions based on what you find.

S: Neat trick!

H: Oh, that was nothing. The con man’s greatest talent, you know it! When you’re not sure where to go next, you can always pull that extra ace card out of your sleeve.

S: Hell of an ace card, though.

D: Thank you, I take that as a compliment!

S: You gotta teach me how to pull that one, Hill.

H: Well hey, you need to show me how to conjure some rain first, Starbuck.

S: With pleasure! Now, your “think method” ain’t bad, but I find props come in real handy. Let’s see if we can find you a hickory stick…

[the two voices fade away]

[end transcript]



Musical Adaptation Idea: A Monster Calls

Darren Wildeman
In this day people are sick of seeing Hollywood movies remade for the stage, and of seeing so many direct adaptations. It’s understandable, musicals have almost always been adapted from material but there is something special about seeing a brand-new idea done for the stage. However, that being said I’m going to propose to you an idea for an adaptation. This is a show that I absolutely need to see as a musical because I think it would be beautiful and heart wrenching.


A Monster Calls

The first thing I’m going to point out is this show would not be a typical Hollywood movie to stage adaptation. For one thing, it was also a novel so aspects of it could be based on that. For another it wasn’t even a Hollywood movie; at least not in the traditional sense. It was produced by Universal, but the director is Spanish and its big release dates were in Spain and the UK. Finally, it had a relatively modest budget at just $43M (and brought in $47M) when an average American Hollywood Blockbuster starts at around $100M. This was not your typical big Hollywood American release; and for that reason, would not be a typical Hollywood adaptation. That alone would already make bringing this to Broadway different from other movie adaptations.

That’s all the budget and background info on this movie, but what about it do I think would make it a good musical?

Let’s take a good look at the story. It follows a boy named Connor O’Malley and him having to accept the realities that his mother is sick. He continually assures himself that he will get better. However, throughout this process he meets a monster. However, this monster isn’t just a typical scary monster you get in a fantasy story. This monster was a yew tree in human form. And this tree comes to Connor to tell him three stories and teach him some lessons. These stories are all fables of sorts. Stories where sometimes it’s hard to tell who the good guy is, stories that show not everything is in black and white, and most importantly stories that will directly impact Connor’s life. Connor has his own story to tell, and after the yew tree tells Connor his three stories, he wants to hear Connor’s story. A story that pertains to a recurring nightmare Connor has, a story that pertains to Connor’s sick mother, and a story however painful it might be to tell that might help heal Connor’s soured relationship with his grandmother.

If you haven’t seen the movie it might be hard for you to see what I’m picturing. The reason I think this might work so well is it would be a scaled back, intimate, heartfelt story on stage, that still has some of the spectacle and magic theatre audiences love. The intimate musical has really made a strong case in recent years. Picture a show that’s scaled back and somewhat minimalistic. In a similar style of a musical like Once, Next to Normal, or The Band’s Visit. It’s a tense family, a family that’s experienced, divorce, now a sick mother, and a grandmother who has tense relationships with her daughter and grandson. It’s a story about how when everything falls apart it can still come together. However, it also has some spectacle in a giant monster, and talking yew tree. It’s a musical that could show real human pain and emotion, but also a musical that would have an added dollop of whimsey and magic, in a story telling humanoid tree that really tries to help people and will help teach Connor some lessons he desperately needs to learn.

I think this story hits a lot of the nails on the head of what people look for in a musical. It has a deep story, but also has the potential for some spectacle which people love. Multiple characters go through a full, fascinating character arc, which is also something desirable. Also, it isn’t a story that is too complex either that could be lost on the stage.

I think A Monster Calls would become the musical that many people didn’t know they needed.