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

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