Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Modernizing Movie Musicals: Chapter 1 (Concept)

When I talked about the Hollywood adaptation of the musical Hairspray last year, I mentioned how the producers should write the book on making movie musicals. Honestly, this is something I’ve thought much about long before Hairspray last summer, and since they haven’t written a book on the subject, I’m taking it upon myself to do it for them, one chapter (or idea) at a time.

Chapter 1 is about the concept. Hollywood analysts used to say that modern audiences wouldn’t buy musicals because audiences have become too sophisticated. I said it then, and I’ll say it again—Nonsense!

Let’s face it, there’s nothing “sophisticated” about the run-of-the-mill torture movies or action flicks. It takes as much willing suspense of disbelief to watch Transformers, I Am Legend, and Iron Man as it does to watch a musical. I would believe that Judy Garland saves the day by singing in Summer Stock as much as I can believe that Edward Norton turns into a giant green man.

This is evidenced by the great successes of Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, and Mamma Mia!, the latter of which is probably one of the corniest, most un-sophisticated musicals of them all.

The key, however, is all in how it is done. Up until Hairspray, no one ever would have thought that the traditional singing musical would work again, which explains a few of the problems with the Dreamgirls adaptation, which attempted to hide its musical roots until the characters had to inevitably sing something outside of the concert setting.

What those analysts should have said is that audiences were too sophisticated for musicals the way they were usually done in the 1930s-1950s. It’s simply a matter of updating the style, which means breaking away from the movie musical’s Broadway roots.

the Broadway Mouth
September 30, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don’t Tell Her Who Told You

You know, for a writer, those are the suckiest words ever. I’ve heard them twice. Twice! Life is so not fair.

I’ve already written about how much I hate networking and why I’m so bad at it (namely because I hate using people and that’s what networking usually becomes).

But, okay, there’s another reason. It always backfires on me and ends with “Don’t tell her who told you.”

The first incident isn’t industry-related like the second. After my first two years of teaching when I attempted to run from the profession in every direction but back, I wanted to become a technical writer as a way to support myself while I worked on my craft. I didn’t go to college for technical writing, but to my way of thinking, if you have skills, the desire to work hard, and the natural intelligence, you can write anything well, even poetry.

But not everyone agreed with me, particularly the people hiring technical writers. Fortunately, the librarian at the school where I had taught and his wonderful wife had a friend who had done technical writing. They hooked me up with her, and she gave me great advice. I mean, she really guided me. She wanted to give me a leg up, and she knew a place where they would likely be hiring technical writers.

But there was a hitch. There’s always a hitch. She gave me the name and phone number of the guy who owned the company, but she had had an awkward run-in with him at a meeting once, and she said, “Just don’t tell him who told you to call him.” She told me to tell him that I met her at a specific conference or something like that.

Did I mention I was only twenty-four at the time? I was a smart twenty-four, but in this situation, I was simply inexperienced.

So I called the guy. I introduced myself and said something like, “Someone told me to call you. She said you might be looking for technical writers and that I might be a good fit.”

“Who was she?”

Crap! He wasn’t supposed to ask that. That wasn’t in the game plan! He was supposed to buy it, ask for my resume with writing samples, and then interview me.

My response to his question was so incredibly stupid (like something I would have said during my days in improv) that I won’t even write it here anonymously. It’s that bad. No freakin’ surprise I didn’t get the interview.

Jump ahead to the summer of 2005. I am now a much smarter twenty-eight, and I am in California for the summer in an attempt to get a sitcom pilot, a drama pilot, or two spec scripts in the hands of anyone with eyes in the industry. Based upon advice in a book (pretty worthless advice, in my opinion, unless you happen to be a telemarketer), I start cold calling agencies in an attempt to talk to someone who will allow me to send them a script.

I start with the smaller agencies. No one cares, no one wants to hear me, see me, or even believe I exist. Every single one. So, I begin in on the bigger agencies.

I call one of the biggest agencies in the industry; I mean huge. This guy answers the phone.

Guy: I’m sorry, man, I can’t transfer you to an agent. You’re aiming too big. No one here’s going to talk to you unless you know someone.

Me: That’s how it is everywhere. I did start small, but nobody wants to talk to you unless you know someone.

Guy: Listen, I know someone you can call. She’s a show runner on South Beach, but I bet she’d be a great person to go to. I’ll give you her number, but you cannot tell her who gave it to you. Whatever you do, don’t tell her who told you.

For those of you not in the industry (or don’t have a $14.95 handbook like me), a show runner is basically a producer. It’s a high-level, work-your-butt-off-to-get-somewhere-and-have-arrived position.

South Beach was the very short-lived UPN drama (though everything on UPN was short-lived, including the network) co-produced by Jennifer Lopez, the show about pretty young rich people who have reckless sex (not to be confused with the entire 2008 fall line-up on the CW). Yes, it was UPN, but Jennifer Lopez gave the show pedigree, and this was a big-time connection.

So, I called the phone number, which must have been for someplace in UPN because that’s how the receptionist identified herself. I asked for the woman, and the receptionist says, “Oh, she’s out of the office. Let me give you her cell phone number.”


I call her cell phone.

Me: Hi, my name is _________________, and I was given your name by—

Show Runner: Wait a minute. Who is this?

Me: I’m _________________, and I was given your name to call. I’ve written a few shows—

Show Runner: How did you get my cell phone number?

Me: I . . . called your office, and when I asked for you, she gave it to me.

Show Runner: I’ll have to talk to her. She should not be giving out my phone number. She just can’t be giving it out to just anyone.

Me: I’m sorry. Would you like me to call you back another time at the office?

Show Runner: I’m actually on my way to catch a flight. Who told you to call me?

Me: I’m not supposed to tell you.

Show Runner: What?

Me: He told me that you might be interested in reading my work, but he said I couldn’t tell you who told me.

Show Runner: He told you not to tell me?

Me: I know it’s odd, but he said you would be a good person to contact.

Show Runner: (awkward pause) Okay . . . why don’t you email me copies of your stuff. I’m really busy, but I’ll try to take a look at it.

Me: Thank you, I’ll do that. And don’t worry. I won’t call you on this number again. I’m sorry.

So I emailed her my stuff, and I never heard from her again. No wonder. Would you have emailed me back?

I guess I should have emailed her again to check in, then called to check in, then sent a sympathy card saying, “I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your job. I hope it gives you more time to read scripts emailed to you by freaks who call you out of the blue on your cell phone.” Live and learn.

I guess I need to justify these two embarrassing stories by saying that I was actually almost hired as a technical writer twice. The first one was for a position writing about medical treatments in a manner that an average person could understand. The interview went great, and the man interviewing me was a former teacher. We connected instantly, and he had full confidence I could do it well. When the time came, though, he did call to let me know that he had hired someone else, someone who had actually done that very same writing before. He couldn’t pass that up.

An interview for a second position was going really well. The man who co-owned the company graduated from the same college as I, and we shared a few stories of professors we knew. In an attempt to paint myself as a skilled and versatile writer, I talked about my playwright aspirations. Duh! He didn’t hire me because he was looking for someone long term, which is what he basically told me before I left. Little does he know that it’s been seven years, and I’m still not produced anywhere.

I haven’t mentioned this on my blog yet, but I actually did finally escape the clutches of the teaching profession. This past spring I was hired by an exceptional, small, privately owned company. I have the most kind, incredible, and all-around amazing employers and work with some really great people in a human services industry in a position that makes me feel like I’m doing some good in the world.

Getting the job was the story of my life. When I actually get the interview, people genuinely seem to like me, and when they check my professional references, they find that the impression is supported by my track record. I earned this position out of a pool of two hundred applicants, was actively pursued by my employers, and wound up very happy.

There’s a certain hip hop star out there. I interviewed with his/her personal assistant to be a manny. I didn’t get the job because my years of teaching weren’t experience enough. See, if you’d only checked my references . . . You would have had one heck of a manny . . .

But, for the record, I’m happy where I am now. I’m still not anywhere near my dreams, but I have been able to watch my niece grow these past two years, and I now have a job that doesn’t require every ounce of my energy. I actually have time to write! As long as I can write, I know I can improve until my work is worthy of production or publication.

But I hope to God to never hear anyone say, “Don’t tell her who told you” again!

the Broadway Mouth
September 28, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let’s Put on a Musical!

Almost a year ago, when I wrote about my very favorite theatre books, high on the list was Peter Filichia’s Let’s Put on a Musical!. I didn’t realize when I had originally written the piece, but Filichia had recently updated the book. Well, I’ve finally acquired a brand new copy of this wonderful second edition. Honestly, theatre fans, you need to check it out.

At first, it may not seem like such a great book for the average theatre fan. It’s a book written to guide theatre group into picking shows that will work for them—outlining general plot, casting needs, significant sets, props, and so on.

But even for the serious musical theatre aficionado, there’s a wealth of interest.

My favorite part is Filichia’s analysis of each show. For each show profiled, he discusses the shows strength and weaknesses (called liabilities). These can include anything from plot holes and weak book-writing to lame lyrics. As one who aspires to write musicals worthy to be produced on Broadway, his insights—don’t forget he is a highly respected critic—are not only interesting but invaluable.

Also of interest is the background he gives on each show, which are brief but to the point, his often detailing their success or failure by listing specific performances for their runs, often including revivals. That’s interesting because it gives you a perspective on how modern audiences have responded to shows.

He also details any suggestions he has or directors have had after working with many of the shows. Again, here are some valuable insights into the construction of the shows, how they work, and how directorial choices affect the final result. It’s interesting to read what these theatre professionals have to say about their experiences with the shows.

Gone from the prior edition are his lame advertising suggestions (well-intended but pretty bad, nonetheless), and replacing it here is the inclusion of any special effects needs, which is a pretty significant consideration in selecting a show.

Also new to this edition are many new shows, from bigger titles like Thoroughly Modern Millie; Beauty and the Beast; and Titanic, to smaller shows, some off-Broadway, like Caroline, or Change; A Man of No Importance; and The Spitfire Grill. Even many of the entries from the prior edition have been updated with new suggestions, revival successes, and other information of note.

As must be expected, there are a few significant absences from the book. My beloved Jane Eyre is not discussed (though, I already know Filichia has qualms with Rochester’s struggle not to get divorced before marrying Jane), nor is the rather big Disney title Aida, which would be high on my list as a high school director (not to mention the show ran for some four years and was far more successful than many other smaller titles included here). There are a number of smaller titles that made it in order to, my guess would be, give choices to small theatre companies looking for small, inexpensive shows. Still, it seems odd to include A Class Act, Pete ‘n Keely, and Thrill Me and to leave out a success like Aida.

Also absent are the “Also Worth a Look” titles from the prior edition, which Filichia only briefly summarized, perhaps because they were shows of lesser interest or higher difficulty. A few of those—Meet Me in St. Louis, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Singin’ in the Rain—are produced quite often and their exclusion would probably be noticed by many community theatre and high school directors.

Despite those exclusions, Let’s Put on a Musical! is an invaluable reference, either to learn about shows or just to learn more about ones you know. Whenever I see a production, hear a new cast recording, or even revisit a recording I’ve heard before, I often pull out Let’s Put on a Musical! to get another perspective. In fact, I would say get the new edition AND hunt down a copy of the old one. There’s enough differing material in both to make it worth the while.

the Broadway Mouth
September 25, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

$11.99 is a Pretty Darn Good Price

For an Original Broadway Cast Recording of a new show, $11.99 is a pretty darn good price. I was perusing the music section at my local Barnes and Noble recently and noticed that there were several significant permanent price drops on a few recent Broadway show cast recordings.

Barnes and Noble pretty much sells items at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which means that their discounted prices are likely going to be reflected wherever these CDs are sold.

The shows whose prices I recall having lowered to this unbelievable steal of a price were Paul Gordon’s and John Caird’s Jane Eyre, William Finn’s A New Brain, and David Yazbek’s The Full Monty. There could be other titles as well. If you know of any, please share them with the rest of us.

the Broadway Mouth
September 23, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reviews, Internet Buzz, and How I Wasted $125 (And You Can Too!)

What stinks most about Internet buzz is you never know what to believe. It really does stink. Right now there’s a lot of buzz going on about many shows out previewing throughout the country—people have strong opinions about 13, 9 to 5, Shrek, not to mention the already-opened Tale of Two Cities.

The start of the problem is that you can’t always/usually trust the critics entirely. We all have loved shows the critics have gleefully trounced—perhaps The Wedding Singer, Wicked, or Sweet Smell of Success. So when the reviews come out, you read them fully aware that you are quite possibly reading something written by someone who sees 150 plays a year, hates 100 of them, despises 35, thinks 10 are okay, and only actually liked 4.5 (second act trouble, you know). Nothing surprises them because they’ve seen everything, and you can’t tell if they are more interested in being entertained or seeing something that breaks new ground.

But you also can’t trust the message boards (of which I am a proud member) because everyone there thinks they are the next Ben Brantley with the one and only perspective anyone should have about any show, an opinion that is Gospel truth because they themselves form it with a story sense that would make George Abbott plead for a master class. And let’s face it; if the director makes a choice different from what we would make, he or she clearly made the wrong decision, right?

That’s why I never know what to think. And that’s how I wound up throwing away $125 on Tarzan.

Yes, I knew the critics hated Tarzan—but did they hate it because it was slow, plodding, and well-intentioned-however-sadly-misguided (and very boring, despite a great amount of talent on stage)? Or did they hate it because it was a Disney show? After all, you can’t really be a critic and like a Disney show.

Then I read the message boards. Okay, what they said about Tarzan, these are the same things people said about shows I loved—The Scarlet Pimpernel, Jane Eyre, The Wedding Singer, Bells are Ringing, Follies, Beauty and the Beast—so did they hate it because Tarzan had a giant purple spider and a cartoon projected on a screen rather untheatrically? Or did they hate it because they hate pretty much everything, particularly if its Disney?

Right now there’s some pretty bad buzz out there concerning about every musical opening so far this fall—Tale of Two Cities, 13, Shrek, and 9 to 5. If I make it to New York next spring, how will I know which one is a Tarzan and which is a Wicked? My inner voice says I’ll probably love Tale of Two Cities, and since I couldn’t stand ten minutes of the movie Shrek (okay, mostly because it was so ugly), I don’t really care about the stage version. I have high hopes for 13 because of Jason Robert Brown, though the concept sounds highly not interesting (though I am willing to give it a try because Jason Robert Brown is a genius in my book, which makes it of interest despite the kid-focused story), and I’m willing to see what happens with 9 to 5 since I do have a soft place in my heart for Stephanie J. Block.

Hmmm, the critics have nothing to do with those choices, and I guess I’m not too dissuaded by the message boards either.

But then, do I really want to waste $125? On Tarzan, I knew it was a real gamble, and I walked in knowing full well that I could be wasting my money. But I wanted to see the new Disney show because it was a Disney show and had its original cast. Plus, truth be told, I really wanted to see Merle (insert: sigh) Dandridge in it. It was a calculated risk I consciously made fully aware of the possibility. Still, it cost me $125, and it didn’t do anything for me.

the Broadway Mouth
September 20, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

High School Musicals, Part 3: Dancing in Women’s Underwear . . . ?

Midway through The Wedding Singer, my thought was “This would be such a fun show to do in a high school. Too bad it can’t be done.”

It’s a myth that old Broadway shows were purely wholesome entertainments. I once saw a great regional production of Oklahoma! with a group of teachers who had grown up loving the movie. They were more than slightly surprised by some of the lyrics in the stage version. In the old days, though, when schools did shows like Oklahoma! or The Pajama Game, they could easily look to the film adaptations for guidance on how to incorporate alterations to make the show appropriate for their students. The lyrics were already changed by the original creators for the movies, so there was no danger is adapting those changes.

My college directing teacher told us that you could get away with taking out the swear words, but really, anything other than that, you were legally out of bounds. She taught us to respect the work of the playwright, to honor their intentions, and that if a show in its entirety wasn’t right for your actors or your audience, then it was best to pick another show.

When I saw The Wedding Singer, I knew there was no way for a high school to do the show without severely damaging the integrity of the piece. Here was a show with instant name recognition for the audience, with really catchy songs, and loads of laughs. Plus, kids would love the retro 80s factor. The Wedding Singer really would be a blast for high school students to tackle.

But from beginning to end, there’s too much material not appropriate for high school actors. Songs incorporate the f-bomb, strippers, drugs, and sexual practices. A major plot element involves a character waking up to wonder if he’s had sex with a woman he doesn’t love, not to mention her seduction of him the night before. And what would a high school do with a gay character like George (who, in song lyrics, dances in women’s underwear and professes not to like women at all).

I’ve also wondered what high schools will do with Hairspray. There’s not much inappropriate in the stage version, but there are lines about kids with condoms, a lesbian phy ed teacher taking advantage of her students, plus a few other devious lines here and there that would give administrators cause to wince. If you can easily leave a line out, that’s not so bad for a high school director to do, but to take on rewriting dialogue or lyrics is crossing the line. Hopefully, when it is licensed, the writers will provide equitable solutions for high school directors to use.

With the exception of a big, challenging show like Les Miserables, I don’t think most high school directors would opt for a “School Edition” or “Jr.” production of a show. High school directors generally do aspire to make a great show, and while “Jr.” productions are great for middle schools, to do a The Wedding Singer Jr. at a high school would be beneath most students and directors (though, there is an audience for high schools doing High School Musical, so what do I know?). The creators could re-write a PG-rated The Wedding Singer, but that would just be cheap. There’d have to be too many major changes (as opposed to changing a line of dialogue or a lyrics here or there).

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is another show that has the potential to be a heap of fun at a high school that would simply not work for a high school to produce.

Maybe that’s why the most common new shows to make it to high school are Seussical and Beauty and the Beast. They can actually be done at a high school.

the Broadway Mouth
September 18, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

High School Musicals, Part 2: Hey Mom, I’m a Hooker in the School Play!

I never knew how I could send my drama kids home to tell their parents they were hookers in the school play. When I was directing high school plays, my kids wanted me to do Les Miserables (and it wasn’t even being licensed yet), I just could just imagine the following scene:

Virginia: Mom, mom, I got a part in the school play!

Mom: How exciting, honey. I’m so proud of you. What’s your character?

Virginia: I’m a hooker!

Mom: A hooker . . . ?

Virginia: And I don’t even need a costume. My director said everything you bought for me to wear to school this fall will work just fine.

Mom: I find that very offensive. We were going for Pussycat Dolls.

Okay, so the conversation I imagined didn’t exactly go like that (and I always had the “True Love Waits” kids auditioning for my plays, so this really was fictionalized), but I am curious how parents react to their kids being in Les Miserables. I tried to see a high school production just to see the cuts that were made, but it was sold out. Still, a prostitute is a prostitute, and that’s an odd thing to tell your mother you’re playing in the school play.

Yes, times have changed. When my mom was in high school in the 1960s, they did a musical revue where “’Cause no one wants a fella with a social disease” in “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story got changed to “’Cause no one wants a fella who doesn’t say please” (my mom never addressed why this song, of all songs from that show, would be selected for inclusion in a high school musical revue, but I say no judgments). How different is that from the current era, where kids get heckled on MTV for not having sex. Now that lyric is so outdated because we’re getting more inclusive than in the 1960s; too many kids have social diseases not to be. Take that, Stephen Sondheim.

I have an acting copy of My Sister Eileen (which was the source material for Wonderful Town). There are 4.25 pages printed in tiny print, titled “My Sister Eileen for High Schools.” It’s the authors’ suggestions for making the play acceptable for high school productions.

Some highlights:

1st Man: (Delightedly.) Another dame! Look, Pete! There’s two broads—one for you too!

1st Man: (Delightedly.) Another dame! Look, Pete! There’s two dames—one for you too!

Wreck: “I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech
And a helluva engineer—
A helluva, helluva, helluva,
Helluva engineer—“

Wreck: “I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech
(Follow with indistinct humming).”

And there are, indeed, some lines that get omitted for sexual overtones. In the high school version, it seems like Violet really is a rumba teacher (as opposed to being a prostitute), Wreck and Helen were actually married secretly (instead of just living together), and there are cuts like:

Lonigan: I found him in the alley, with all these bed-clothes. I think he’s some kind of sex nut!

Lonigan: I found him in the alley, with all these bed-clothes. I think he’s some kind of nut!

But maybe kids in the high school version of My Sister Eileen took matters in their own hands like my kids did during the final performance of The Pajama Game.

There’s a comedy bit at the picnic where womanizing Prez tells Brenda that he’s taking her to get another beer. She protests that the refreshments are opposite from where he’s pulling her. They disappear off stage left, then after some dialogue between Babe and Sid, Brenda walks back on stage straightening her clothes, saying to Babe, “Stay out in the open, honey, don’t get down in them woods.”

In that final performance, I almost died when I saw my Brenda re-enter the stage buttoning up her top, followed by my Prez zipping up his pants. And my Prez came from a very conservative family. It was hilarious because they actually did it, but at the same time, I was mortified that it looked like I had directed them to do it.

the Broadway Mouth
September 16, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

High School Musicals, Part 1: The Most-Performed High School Musicals

According to the Educational Theatre Association, the most-performed high school musicals are (drum roll, please) . . .

Little Shop of Horrors
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Beauty and the Beast
High School Musical

Okay, so I don’t get the High School Musical thing since, I would think, many high school students would shy away from being in the show even if they love the movie, but I found this list fascinating considering the lack of the usual suspects—no Camelot, Grease, or King and I. No Annie, Oliver!, or Fiddler on the Roof. Yes, we have no No, No Nanette.

To me the biggest surprise is Thoroughly Modern Millie considering, though it is based on a well-known movie, of the list, it would not have the most instantly recognizable name for students.

I recently finally picked up the updated edition of Let’s Put on a Musical! (more on that later), and it got me thinking about what shows I would want to choose if I were directing a high school musical again (which, to be honest, I would so love to do).

When I left my first teaching job where I was also director, I had been contemplating Mame for the following year. Not only am I big fan of the movie (yeah, I know), but it was a show that highlighted my school’s strengths—actresses—and downplayed its weaknesses—having actors.

So, what shows would be high on my list to direct all these years later?

Bells are Ringing
Jane Eyre
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Side Show
Flower Drum Song

Of course, to appease kids and parents, there would need to be some better-loved titles in there—The Sound of Music, Oliver!, Guys and Dolls—but I probably would have continued the trend I started, picking a well-known musical one year (Hello, Dolly!) and a lesser-known play (Up the Down Staircase), then picking a lesser-known musical the next year (The Pajama Game) and a well-known play (The Diary of Anne Frank, Kesselman revision).

I picked The Pajama Game largely because of the number of female parts, but I also loved getting to do something people hadn’t seen ten times. Attendance was down, but we had a blast putting the show up (and the audience did laugh their butts off). Could you imagine the fun of introducing a whole new audience to Urinetown or The Scarlet Pimpernel?

the Broadway Mouth
September 14, 2008

Okay, so I would never expect a high school to produce No, No, Nanette. It was just a fun sentence to write.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Finale Ultimo: 20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years

All Alone in the Universe (Seussical)
A Change in Me (Beauty and the Beast—added to the show in 1998)
Defying Gravity (Wicked)
Dividing Day (The Light in the Piazza)
Forget About the Boy (Thoroughly Modern Millie)
Freedom’s Child (The Civil War)
I’ll Forget You (The Scarlet Pimpernel—added to the show in 1998 or 1999)
My New Philosophy (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown—written for the 1999 revival)
96,000 (In the Heights)
Not That Kind of Thing (The Wedding Singer)
Ohmigod You Guys (Legally Blonde)
Oklahoma? (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)
Painting Her Portrait (Jane Eyre)
People Like Us (The Wild Party)
Show Off (The Drowsy Chaperone)
This is Not Over Yet (Parade)
Way Back to Paradise (Marie Christine)
Wheels of a Dream (Ragtime)
Written in the Stars (Aida)
You Can’t Stop the Beat (Hairspray)

That’s a pretty impressive list, particularly since I haven’t even heard all the scores from the past ten years. Two significant scores not represented (because I’ll be seeing my first local productions of the shows in the next year and want to wait until then to hear the scores) are Jeanine Tesori’s and Tony Kushner’s work with Caroline, or Change and Scott Frankel and Michael Korie acclaimed work on Grey Gardens.

There are also some top-notch scores that just didn’t fit on the list—Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia’s masterful Sweet Smell of Success, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s hilarious work on Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein’s pleasing songs for Little Women, and, of course, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s very funny score for Urinetown all come to mind.

It’s not uncommon for people to say that the talent of today is no match for the talent of days gone by; however, look at that list. Really look at it. There’s a ton of phenomenal talent represented in those songs, people whose potential to write the next Guys and Dolls, Gypsy, or Mame (or Hairspray, Urinetown, or The Drowsy Chaperone) are just one project away.

As I wrote my analysis for each song, I wondered what I would write for the greatest songs of the golden age—“Lucky Be a Lady,” “Hello, Dolly!,” or “Shall We Dance.” Now those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but I think for as complicated and complex as we try to make it (and “Dividing Day,” “People Like Us,” and “This Is Not Over Yet” are all pretty complex), most of the songs on this list do what the songs of the Golden Age did—have great melodies with strong, character-specific lyrics. Call Hairspray pop all you want, but remember that the melody of “It’s Today” from Mame actually originated in another show with entirely different lyrics. We still consider it a great song from a great score. That doesn’t change because of how it originated. And yet, look how critical people can be about modern shows. Hairspray is all about great melodies, just like the Jerry Herman, Frank Loesser, and Jerry Ross and Richard Adler scores.

So . . . I’d love to hear what other songs you think should have made the list. What do you think are the most amazing Broadway songs from the past ten years? Remember that you can always leave comments below without registering.

the Broadway Mouth
September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Ohmigod You Guys”

It does everything an opening number should do. And it’s infectious too.

The key to “Ohmigod You Guys,” the number by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin that opens Legally Blonde, is both a catchy, fun melody and the unceasing and snappy rhymes, particularly the plethora of words that go with guys—prize, qualifies, accessorize, economize, lies, eyes, et al. It’s simply energetic and tremendous fun. That is, energetic and tremendous that also works to effectively establish the tone of the show as well as introduce the main character (as well as the mindset of her friends).

I haven’t yet seen Legally Blonde (it’s coming on tour this season), but because of “Ohmigod You Guys,” I’m very excited to hear the rest of the score. Broadway is replete with opening numbers that function to exactly what “Ohmigod You Guys” does—and O’Keefe and Benjamin have presented us with one in a show that has captured the hearts of millions of teenagers across the country.

Go, Elle!

the Broadway Mouth
September 9, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Painting Her Portrait”

I don’t know if there is a more beautiful Broadway score than Paul Gordon’s work on Jane Eyre. The music is like a well-tended garden, a mountain landscape, or a north woods forest—a never-ending vista of beauty.

It’s no secret that Jane Eyre, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and additional lyrics by John Caird, is my favorite musical. Months before I ever thought about seeing the show, I was first captured by the OBCR and its sheer beauty, which was closely followed by my attraction to its story.

“Painting Her Portrait” is one highlight is a show filled with riches. In the song, poor ugly Jane Eyre torments herself with the thought of the ravishing Blanche Ingram who seems to have her claws deeply implanted into Rochester’s heart. Jane knows that she has nothing that the Victorian world deems worthy in a woman—beauty, wealth, breeding, or even a superior education. Lacking all, she knows she has no hope of ever having a life with the one man who has ever shown her genuine kindness, whose personality fits with hers.

As Jane paints her own portrait, the song is woven with a haunting melody that underscores Jane’s tormenting lyrics. Jane’s observation of Blanche’s portrait, however, is orchestrated with delicate strings and fragile beauty, all of which is quickly shoved aside when Jane begins to vehemently reprimand herself at the end of the song, the pace of the music speeding up, the fragile beauty meeting the haunting melody, building to Jane’s hurling of the lyrics back at herself with anger and frustration, singing, “Don’t even dare anymore to compare/ Say a prayer for your sorry soul, / Jane!” It’s those final lines that hit home Jane’s agony, the internal rhyming of the words dare, compare, and prayer sending the lyrics hurling back at herself in an unrelenting pace.

There’s other great beauty in the score of Jane Eyre that is worth noting, such as “Forgiveness,” “The Graveyard,” “Secret Soul,” “Sirens,” “In the Light of the Virgin Morning,” and “Brave Enough for Love,” to name a few.

On a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, I noticed that the OBCR of Jane Eyre has recently dropped down to $11.99, which is a real deal for any great Broadway score, let alone one as satisfying as Jane Eyre.

the Broadway Mouth
September 7, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway teaser

Here's a teaser (of sorts) for the Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway screenings. There's not a lot of meat there, but just hearing the song makes me excited to see it.

On the Twentieth Century CD Suggestion

I don’t like those clumsy, old-style 2-Disc CD cases, the ones where it is twice as big as a regular CD case. It’s particularly annoying when there’s only one CD in the case, such as is the situation with the OBCR of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and On the Twentieth Century (and probably with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as well as the second Rosalind Russell Wonderful Town recording and, I’m sure, a few others).

It would be my guess that manufacturers use those larger cases because it is a challenge to fit thick, multi-language linear booklets into the normal single-disc case.

But there is hope! For each of my single-disc double-CD case OBCRs, I have found that the booklet, though it is larger, will still fit into a single-disc CD case. It’s easy to use the back of the original double-CD case in a single-disc case because they are the same size. The front cover of the two CD cases are different; however, the thicker booklets easily fit into the cover slot.

For the On the Twentieth Century CD, if you use a fully clear plastic CD case, the white backing of the back cover perfectly compliments the crispy white artwork of the cover. I was thrilled when I saw this because my new but aged-looking CD, once in a new case, looked like a release for a brand new show.

the Broadway Mouth
September 2, 2009