Thursday, March 03, 2005

Ragdoll, Indeed.

Ugh. Posted by Hello (theatrical press release on-line clearinghouse) is reporting that the next big musical destined for the Great White Way will be Jersey Boys, featuring the song catalog of The Four Seasons.

I enjoyed Mama Mia!.
I hear All Shook Up is enjoyable.
I understand We Will Rock You is a nice diversion from the craps table.
I liked the number from Good Vibrations on the Macy's Thanksgiving parade.

But now this is getting ridiculous. I don't mean to sound like the old fogies that always use to decry the big, British musicals and yearn for the days when a couple of snappy-peppy Jerry Herman tunes wrapped around a plot as thin as Kate Moss could run on Broadway for three years, but COME ON! Can't anyone write an ORIGINAL musical anymore?

I think the genesis of this phenomenon was George M! back in the late 60's. It was a musical based ont he life of George M. Cohan using his catalog of songs as the score. It was cute, it was original, it worked. But this latest trend is incredibly disturbing.

I was taught that the modern musical was born in 1947 when the curtain rose on a corn field and the lone voice of a cowby could be heard from the wings singing "There's a bright golden haze on the meadow.." Oklahoma! was the first Broadway musical to use the music, lyrics and dance to advance the story and character development of the play.

Until that time, a "musical play" would consist of scenes broken up by songs. Take away the songs and the story would make perfect sense. The revolutionary aspect of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals was that no longer could you take a hodge podge of songs and put them on stage with a cute little story and have it all make sense. Take away "Soliloquy" from Carousel and the show means nothing. Remove "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific and there is no message.

The modern musical, as an art form, requires the complete integration of music, lyric, dance, scenery, lighting, direction and sound design. It is and always will be the most collaborative art form in Western Culture.

But now, to be a successful Broadway show, it seems you need to negotiate a great royalty deal with a catalog owner and stitch together a plot around music that was never written to advance the story it is now planted in.

I can't wait for the moment when the Frankie Valli breaks up with his girlfriend... she starts to weep... the music starts... and Frankie sings "Big Girls Don't Cry".

Now THAT'S theatre.


red-in-new-york said...

The problem with these productions is their quality, not the concept. Mamma, Mia! is a huge hit with only the most paper-thin book. But it holds up well enough and the ABBA songs are done very well. Their huge following doesn't hurt. Good Vibrations should have been easy, but they blew the book.

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