Thursday, July 30, 2009

Broadway Mathematician Style

It was a surefire hit. Dolly Parton. Allison Janney. Joe Mantello. An adaptation of a well-known movie. It even had a music video for one of the songs.

Oh, wait. I got that wrong. It should be: Elton John. Anne Rice. A title everyone would know.

Shoot! I got it wrong again. Boublil and Schonberg. Irish dance. Irish culture. The producers of Riverdance. Big sets.

Okay, maybe I mean them all. And Phil Collins. And an adaptation of a beloved Disney movie. And Jason Robert Brown. A unique show concept. The music of the Beach Boys. Johnny Cash. Elvis. Christina Applegate. Adaptation of a John Waters movie. A unique cast of four.

The list goes on and on and on. And looking at the list of titles—9 to 5, Lestat, The Pirate Queen, Tarzan, 13, Good Vibrations, Ring of Fire, All Shook Up, Sweet Charity, Cry-Baby, and Glory Days—one thing is clear. Broadway is not a place for cookie-cutter anything. In Hollywood, producers rip things off all the time. If Transformers is a big hit, tap into another popular 80s toy and make G.I. Joe. If The Wedding Crashers is a hit, make Knocked Up and a host of other “adult, R-rated movies.” If Beauty and the Beast is a hit, make Thumbelina, The Swan Princess, and Anastasia. But Hollywood can get away with it; they produce a great deal more movies than plays or musicals ever appear on Broadway. Statistically, they have a better chance of making money off bad ideas.

If a producer is looking for a surefire hit, the only guarantee is to find a show that is truly entertaining (and even that isn’t a guarantee). If Dolly Parton, Allison Janney, and the name 9 to 5 can’t be a hit on genetics alone, then no show can. Each of those flops—and no doubt they were passion projects for some producer—didn’t work, even though they all fit the mould of some other success. You can just see investors (and maybe producers) thinking Cry-Baby would be the next Hairspray, that Good Vibrations and cousins would be the next Mamma Mia, that no one would miss out on Hollywood starlet Christina Applegate in a revival of Sweet Charity.

So, if I was a producer, I would clear away my concerns about a musical being marketable, worries about finding a star name who won’t screw things up too much, trying to find a recognizable title, or trying to find that unique, stand-out-from the crowd Purple Cow concept. Find something that’s strong and make it stronger. Make it entertaining.

To paraphrase Alan Jay Lerner—In the end, all anyone cares about is if it’s good.

the Broadway Mouth
July 30, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Like, Totally Baby Einstein: Broadway Edition

My 3 ½ year-old niece gets carsick. As evidence, she’s gotten sick in my car twice. Recently, I was driving her about two hours from home to a family wedding party. She slept for the first hour, but when she woke up, it was a race against time. My dad and I tried our best to distract her, but when she put her hand up to her mouth, it was a sure sign it was time to stop the car. Three times.

I had a CD of Disney songs in the car, and in an effort to distract her from her pains so we could actually get to the party, I put on her favorite, “Part of Your World” from the movie The Little Mermaid. And when the next song would start, she’s say, “I wanna hear Mermaid again.” I love “Part of Your World” and am, as my dad calls me, the overkill king, but by the end of the trip, even I was a little tired of it.

The next week, I was babysitting my niece on a night when I had a birthday party to go to on a farm about an hour away.

Gulp. I really wanted to walk away that night still loving “Part of Your World.”

I put in my Legally Blonde OBCR. Let me tell you, Legally Blonde soothes the savage stomach. On the way there, she immediately latched onto “Omigod You Guys.” It started with Bruiser barking. She loved barking along with the dog, but after three listens, I could hear her singing along to parts of the song. I skipped ahead to another up-tempo gem, “What You Want,” and because of the repetitive title phrase, even then, she was singing along until she fell asleep.

After the party—a night filled with piglets, goats, a gazillion dogs, and fireworks—we were in the car, ready to head home. She was tired. When she gets tired, she starts to mumble, so I knew she’d be out cold for the ride home. Still, I asked her, “Should we turn on some music?”

She mumbled softly from the backseat, “Bzosmd bdhof “Omigod” dmfn ajdhd.”

And she sang along until she fell asleep. Oh my God, you guys.

the Broadway Mouth
July 23, 2009