Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where Have All The New Musicals Gone?

Elena Roger, if you're going to kick Follies out of the Marquis, you better be spectacular!

I know, I know.  It’s been a while since my last blog entry.  In my defense, I have been busy with work and starting rehearsals for my production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Plus, the winter is traditionally a slow time on Broadway and since the holidays wrecked my bank account, I haven’t been able to afford as many shows as I’d like.

Right now, most industry folk are busily preparing for the spring onslaught of shows, looking ahead to the ever-nearing Tony madness to come.  Unfortunately, I have also looked ahead, and I don’t like what I see.  Hence, the topic of this blog entry: the dismal slate of new musicals on tap for the spring.

I can honestly say the musical I am most excited about this spring is the revival of Evita.  Which wouldn’t be that odd if: a) I didn’t despise almost everything Andrew Lloyd Webber has ever written; and b) I wasn’t such a staunch supporter of new work.  I’m one of the ten people who actually paid to see Lysistrata Jones, for crying out loud!  And I didn’t do it because of glowing word of mouth (everyone warned me it was bad), but because I wanted to see something new.  But even my love of the new can’t override my complete lack of enthusiasm for this spring’s shows.

Part of this is a matter of timing.  Last season was a particularly strong one for new musicals; one of the best in recent memory.  Some were good, some were bad, and a couple were flat out amazing, but almost all of them were *interesting* ideas that were inherently theatrical.  The same cannot be said of these upcoming shows, which means a fourth trip to The Book of Mormon is likely in order.

Exhibit A in “Ill-Advised Ideas” is Ghost: The Musical, a show whose producers are clearly desperate to make into the big hit of the spring.  To which I saw “bleh.”  First of all, I cannot think of a single instance in which a show subtitled The Musical has turned out to be any good.  And not only is Ghost: The Musical based on a film – which like it or not has replaced the book as the go-to source material for Broadway – but it is based on a film that doesn’t lend itself particularly well to musicalization.  And thanks to the copious amount of promotional film available from the London production, it looks like Ghost: The Musical has fallen into all of the traps awaiting a film-to-stage adaptation, including generic music, pretty but bland leads, and an overreliance on high tech scenery in a desperate attempt to replicate film’s ability to quick cut from location to location.  I’m looking forward to it about as much as I’m looking forward to my next dentist visit.

The show that seems to be generating the most industry excitement, at least among the 30 and under set, is the quickie transfer of Disney’s Newsies, also based on the film of the same name.  Now maybe I’m a bad music theatre nerd, but I have never seen said film in its entirety.  I saw about 20 minutes of it in high school with a group of friends who clearly *loved* it, and couldn’t quite discern what all the fuss was about.  I suspect that if I were to watch it from beginning to end, my opinion would coincide more with the critics who panned it upon its release than with my peers who consider it a treasured part of their childhood.  Add in the fact that the show exists solely because it was the most-inquired about Disney property among amateur theatre groups (meaning Disney expects to make a mint from licensing fees), and I become even warier of the show.  The only reason I haven’t completely written it off is that Disney swears Broadway wasn’t originally in the cards, and that popular demand and the encouraging reviews prompted the transfer.

A great deal of positive word of mouth has also accompanied Once (again based on a film).  Like Newsies, it is something of a cult hit among my generation, and its earlier production was well-enough received by critics and the public to prompt the Broadway transfer.  But while the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” is hauntingly beautiful, the thought of two hours of similar singer/songwriter hipster bait makes me vaguely nauseous.  I’m very afraid that outside of an intimate Off-Broadway setting, the entire endeavor will come across as pretentious and more concerned with being “art” than being “entertaining,” which despite what most critics would have you believe are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

Finally, we have three accomplished Tony-nominees returning to Broadway in two dubious sounding vehicles.  Raul Esparza, an interesting actor who has made some dubious career choices, is back in yet another film adaptation, this one based on a 1992 movie I’ve never heard of called Leap of Faith.  Oscar-winner and reliable songsmith Alan Menken is providing the music, although his recent track record (Sister Act, The Little Mermaid) leaves me skittish about the quality of Faith, especially since he will be splitting his focus between it and Newsies.  And golden-voiced Kelli O’Hara returns with Tony-winner Matthew Broderick in the new-ish Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It, which is suspect due to its pseudo-jukebox nature (it is made up of Gershwin trunk songs with a new book).  This is the one I’m stubbornly hoping will turn out amazing, if for no other reason than it will help ease the disappointment that Nice Work effectively precludes any chance of the delightful Crazy for You getting revived in the near future.

Making matters even worse for me personally is the fact that two musicals originally scheduled for the spring that actually looked promising have been postponed until a later date.  The Susan Stroman-helmed adaptation of Big Fish may be based on a movie, but it is a movie with a particularly theatrical premise that would benefit strongly from Stroman’s imaginative staging and inventive choreography.  It was also supposed to star my TV boyfriend Michael C. Hall taking a needed break from slaying serial killers over on Showtime, which made it all the more appealing.  And while I was suspicious of its Germanic origins (Germany, let’s not forget, loves David Hasselhoff as a *singer* and has an inexplicable fascination with Starlight freakin’ Express), I thought Rebecca sounded intriguing.  The gothic-tinged novel(!) it’s based on easily lends itself to musicalization, and as an entirely character-driven piece I think it would adapt to the stage quite well.  Plus, announced star Sierra Borgess has a ridiculously pure soprano that deserves to sing something other than sappy Lloyd Webber ballads.

So while I will likely end up seeing most of these new musicals, I am most looking forward to hearing Elena Roger recklessly belt her way through “Buenos Aries” and “A New Argentina.”  And if I don’t understand a damn word she says, at least I can blame it on the fact that English is not her first language, an excuse unfortunately not applicable to the otherwise divine Patti LuPone J

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