Opinion

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.)

 

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.




Miller and Tysen: Music that Makes a Difference

Rachel Hoffman

When people come to the theater, they often have a purpose for seeing a specific show. Some wish to be entertained, others wish to cry. Some hope to see their favorite stories played out in front of their eyes. While I have gone into shows with a variety of purposes before, I have found that the shows and music that have had the largest impact on my life are those which show me a part of my own life or my own heart in a way that I’ve never seen it before. As Stella Adler said, “The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” For me, I am most at home in the theatre when I’m watching a creation whose purpose is to speak some sort of truth to the audience, to make a difference in their lives.

For me, two of the songwriters that have made some of the biggest difference in my life is the duo of Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen- composers and lyricists of Tuck Everlasting and the lesser-known musicals The Burnt Part Boys and Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. Miller and Tysen’s music has accompanied me at some of the most important moments in my life, both good and bad. The stories they compose for possess great lessons on their own, but when combined with Miller and Tysen’s work, the stories are brought to life, and force a person to experience real joy and heartbreak.



Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway in 2016, and received much criticism after closing after just 39 performances. While I’m certain there were many factors that went into this show’s early closing, I also know that this show touched many people’s lives. It left its audiences with a lesson that I think most people today need to hear- “You don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.” This show is one of few that I think was actually better than the book it is based off of. (Spoiler alert ahead) You see, in the book, a thunderstorm destroys the tree, along with its immortality-giving spring. Winnie has no choice but to remain mortal. In the musical, however, we watch Winnie pour the water on a toad, and choose to let her life run its course. She wants to stay on ‘the wheel’- not be a boat stuck floating on top of the water forever. Through Tuck Everlastin, we learn that the most important gift we’ve been given- and that we can give others- is our time. The length of our life isn’t what’s important, it’s about what we do while we’re here. Miller and Tysen relate these lessons in beautifully crafted lyrics, as well as the heartbreaking ballet at the end of the show in which we see Winnie’s life play out in her most joyous and devastating moments. Songs like “Time,” “The Wheel,” and “Everlasting,” remind us that our fear isn’t in dying, but in “not being truly alive.”

I was introduced to the show The Burnt Part Boys at a musical theatre showcase my university put on in late 2016. One of the numbers was “Climbing Song,” and as I watched the performance, I made a mental note to go home and listen to the rest of the show. When I found it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had been written by the same duo as Tuck Everlasting, which had been in my regular music rotation for several months already. As I listened, I knew I had found a hidden gem. In this story of loss and great expectation, Miller and Tysen remind us that, “The devil’s plan is mighty, his work a piece of art. He has blessed every man with a burnt part.” The characters in this story learn how to work through grief and other people’s expectations of them to become the people that they want to be, not who they are expected to be.

Miller and Tysen had a 100% success rate with me thus far, so I decided to discover what else they had created. The final work I was able to find is called Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. (They’ve also composed a show called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but I’ve never been able to find more than a few songs from this show online.) Fugitive Songs is a series of songs sung by characters who are on the run from something- whether it be a relationship, a dead-end career, or a lifestyle. I was enchanted by the hauntingly beautiful songs like, “Wildflowers,” (which helped me through a breakup,) “Reasons to Run,” and “Lullaby,” (which is the only song I’ve ever found with my name in it,) and laughed my way through “Lost,” and “Spring Cleaning.” While this song cycle doesn’t have a plot, it has a theme- we’re all on the run from something. This series of songs encourages the audience to look at their own life and ask, “What am I running from?”

No matter what critics say about Miller and Tysen, there is one indisputable theme among all of their music- they create stories with a purpose. They have created work that forces us to think, to question, to be human. And as creators, they have succeeded in doing what most artists dream of- making art that matters to someone.




Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Shattering the Jukebox Stereotype

Darren Wildeman
At the time of this writing it’s been about a week since I saw Beautiful (it’ll be closer to a month when it’s published) and I have just only in the last couple days gotten “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” out of my head (although that may change when I listen to it yet again). However, traditionally for jukebox musicals the music isn’t usually the issue among audiences. It’s the book. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me step back a bit and tell why I even went to see Beautiful here and what I expected.

The only reason I went to see Beautiful is because it was a part of my season’s tickets here. And going in I expected it to be the low point of the season. I’m not a huge fan of Carole King’s music when it comes on the radio. Despite this I did enjoy parts of the cast album but obviously the National Tour didn’t have Jessie Mueller so even that I was skeptical on. And then there was the fact that it’s a jukebox musical. And anyone who’s been in ATB or any musical theatre forum knows the reputation that jukebox musicals tend to have. No book. So, while I was going to go because I had the tickets, I honestly wasn’t expecting much.


“A Smiling Blond Woman in a Blue Top”  by Angela George is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0

“A Smiling Blond Woman in a Blue Top” by Angela George is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

First of all, my sincerest apologies to Sarah Bockel for thinking this show needed Jessie Mueller singing the songs and otherwise being skeptical because the music isn’t my taste otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, Jessie is a fantastic talent but Sarah Bockel as Carole absolutely killed it. She gave one of the best performances from an actor or actress I’ve seen live everything she did was absolutely flawless. Also, Ben Biggers was on as an understudy for Gerry. You couldn’t tell the difference. He was amazing.

Now let’s get into the actual story. The very first moment that stands out to me is when Carole goes to sell her song. There is a brilliant 4th wall break. She hesitates and when asked what’s wrong she goes “I just didn’t expect there to be so many people.” How Carole sells her first song to Donnie- who would be her eventual boss- is intriguing and the “1650 Broadway Medley” when she first steps into the office shows us what kind of sound is popular at the time. It’s fun, and is good exposition to set the time frame, it also brings out some songs that even the oldest and grumpiest of Broadway fans may have forgotten about. There was some trippy stuff that was popular (“Splish Splash I was Taking a bath” anyone?). Anyways, getting back to Carole her meeting of Gerry and the start of their career together flows seamlessly. From Carole getting pregnant, to Gerry asking her to marry him. These moments lead to an incredibly deep performance of “Some Kind of Wonderful.” The song works incredibly well and is beautiful and perfect for this moment in the show.  It also goes on to be given to the Drifters.

Also, it’s worth noting that while throughout the show he isn’t one of the main characters that gets the focus; Donnie is also a great character. The way he’s presented as the tough boss that no one can get to but then just as quickly will also display a soft side to his song writers is also a very good transition and building of a character. He’s tough and wants to be profitable. However, multiple times we see this exterior break and we see just how much he has cares for his song writers. On multiple occasions we see him as dining or conversing with Carole and her friends socially as well as professionally. And eventually when Carole moves, he 100% supports her and connects her to produce Lou Adler to record her solo album.

Possibly one of the most touching moments of the show comes next when Gerry writes “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” this is a tender and beautiful moment and Carole seeing it and singing it is amazing. As it so happens this is around the same time we meet Berry Mann and Cynthia Wilde who are competing with Gerry and Carole for a big opportunity for a song to be sung by the Shirrelles.  While Donnie loved both songs “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is the song that Carole and Gerry which got picked by Donnie. What follows after this is a brilliant blend of song and book writing by Douglas McGrath. Carole and Gerry are presented as going head to head with Cynthia and Berry as one writing pair writes a song, gets it produced and the other tries to match them. This is almost presented like some sort of boxing match with music. It’s flawlessly executed. Something like this runs the risk of being too repetitive however, Douglas’ book writing prevents that and shows these two pairs cranking out hit after hit in an effective manner. The other thing that comes out that as fierce rivals and competitors that they are to each other they are also becoming good friends. The show focusses on the song writing, yet we see both pairs humanity coming through equally as much. The exposition in this book is brilliant.

At the end of the second act we see that Gerry is cheating. The second act opens with “Chains” which again is amazing placement of this song given how Gerry is fooling around and playing Carole.

 Shortly after he reveals he’s been cheating Gerry has a massive breakdown. He is hospitalized and says he wants to come home. However, it isn’t soon after this that he is revealed to have been cheating again and Carole finally leaves him for good.

Gerry is just a phenomenal character in this show. Not in a morale sense, obviously cheating in a marriage or relationship is not okay. However, I like the writing in that Gerry doesn’t cheat for seemingly no reason. There is clearly something ticking about him and he is most likely mentally ill and what he is experiencing is the result of some sort of inner turmoil. Possibly mania, but regardless it’s clear he’s suffering. When I saw the show, my heart can’t help but hurt for him a little bit. There is no excusing his actions let me make that perfectly clear; however, Gerry appears to have been mentally ill in a time when we knew very little about what being mentally ill meant. He had moments when he wanted to be there for Carole and his daughter, he had moments when he tried, but unfortunately, he went down the wrong path and hurt a lot of people. As we see later in the show, he had a lot of regrets.

Going back to Carole, the other moment I love in this instance is Carole’s mother when Carole tells her it’s over. Throughout the show Carole’s mother is presented as a hard ass who doesn’t at all care about her past or her husband. She’s over him and doesn’t think of him and is harsh towards Carole whenever he is mentioned. However, when Carole tells her, we see the true hurt that her mother has also been masking for years now. Not a day passes when she doesn’t hurt for her lost marriage and lover, and she reveals to Carole just how much hurt is there. Not only does she disclose her hurt to Carole, but she then reminds Carole how much she has done in her career. As Carole was thinking all her song writing and music had been done with Gerry and that she needed him. However, her mother reminded her how young she was when she sold her first song, she shows her that she can carry on without Gerry. In this instance we see who Carole’s mother really is and how strong she has been. She goes from being a necessary but not a large role, to being the parent that Carole once again really needed. In a sense it’s a character reveal how tender and loving she comes across to Carole in this instance as opposed to just being the well-meaning but harsh mother. It’s an incredible flip that is so well written.

From here we see Carole meet Barry and Cynthia in a bar. Barry and Cynthia convince her to sing and she sings what was then a new song “It’s Too Late” this is another brilliant song placement and weaving the already existing song into the score. It reveals the pain that Carole has felt and how she’s trying to move on.

From here we see Carole reveal she’s moving to LA to get a fresh start. Not only is she moving to LA but she tells Donnie she has some songs she wants someone to record and that someone she thinks should be herself. Donnie hugs her and thinks it would be a fantastic idea. She then says goodbye to Donnie, Berry, and Cynthia to start out in LA.

Carole records her album Tapestry and is on the last song. She doesn’t want to record it because it’s one of the songs she wrote with Gerry. Lou Adler convinces her to sing the song because despite all the pain she’s been through which is prominent in a lot of her songs people also need to be reminded of the hope and happiness there can be in love as well. Thus “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is recorded.

This is yet another fantastic song placement. It would have been easy to place this song towards the beginning of the show when Gerry and Carole are falling in love. But instead it gets placed at the end, which would be the least logical place in the story for such a song. However, after so much hurt, and so much pain, it flips that hurt on its head as a subtle but powerful reminder that even in the darkest times there is hope. The album and Carole go on to win many awards

Finally, Carole is about to play on Radio City, we see Gerry appear backstage. He comes to make amends and apologize for everything. For reasons I discussed earlier about Gerry I like how he’s presented here and how friendly this exchange is without excusing everything Gerry did.

In short, this show was fantastic. I think the reason it worked so well is that Carole wrote a lot of these songs to tell her story. And the writers recognized that and Douglas Mcgrath wrote a near flawless book to weave Carole’s story together with her own songs. From Carole’s own heartbreak and triumph, to her and Gerry’s competition and friendship with both Barry and Cynthia, to her starting over. This show flows near flawlessly and there are no moments where the music takes over to stop the story. The book and the score work together, with neither one taking over or fading away for the sake of the other. It’s a fantastic book and it has 100% deserved to do as well as it has done.