Always a New Musical

It seems that there is always a new musical.

That is, it seems that there is always a new musical based off of some existing property, where the source is often a non-musical entity. I am a lover of theatre from a young age, taking in my first professional theatre shows as a child of seven years. I’ve been seeing Broadway shows since the single digits, and yet, I find myself pulled in two different directions by musical theatre. There are some shows that I’m unreasonably fond of, like In the Heights, Tim Rice’s Aida, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812Wicked, The Scotsboro Boys, and Spring Awakening. In fact, there’s a good list of the best recent musicals over on Buzzfeed (I deem it good because it includes almost all my favorites).

But there is many a musical that is just bad because it attempts to cover a weak or hackneyed story with music and spectacle. Now, certainly this is doable; it’s possible to include enough high notes and bright lights to distract most audience members from the fact that your show is garbage. Musical theatre however, really requires more, not less. An emphasis on spectacle over content can really be the death of a show, like Spider-Man, where other musicals that are just plain bad, like Leap of FaithThat’s not to say that the success or failure of a show is necessarily tied to its goodness or badness.

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Theatre Thursdays: MC Andrew Lloyd Webber

Jellicle Songs for Jellicle CatsLord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running hit musical Cats will return to the West End this December, more than a decade after its original run ended. Between tours, community theatres, regional productions, and student performances, the show is perennially performed, so you may be asking yourself, “Why should I spend the extra money to see this mounting?” Thankfully for you, the good Lord has an answer ready: the Rum Tum Tugger raps now!

Yes, Lloyd Webber will be re-writing the fan-favorite song “The Rum Tum Tugger” into a rap in order to fit his new vision of the Rum Tum Tugger being “a contemporary street cat”, according to this article. The column also reports that another song, “Growltiger’s Last Stand”, will be re-written as well, because it, along with “The Rum Tum Tugger”, never satisfied Lloyd Webber.

Now here’s what’s giving me a headache over this news: first, the last thing that needed improving in this show was the music; second, the shallow, gimmicky feel of the news; and third, Lloyd Webber’s claim that T.S. Eliot invented rap as a justification for the change.

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Theatre Thursdays: Life is a Cabaret, and Cabaret is Life

cabaret_logoCabaret is returning to Broadway next month for its ninth major production in one of the two greatest holy cities of theatre: New York and London. That’s right, nine times. Let’s count the ways: Broadway opening in 1966, West End opening in 1968, London 1986 revival, Broadway 1987 revival, London 1993 revival, Broadway 1998 revival, London 2006 revival, London 2012 revival, and the upcoming Broadway 2014 revival (not to mention a 1972 film adaptation). Whew! That’s not an accomplishment many musicals can claim. What is it about this show that makes it so enduring? What makes it a force that keeps popping up again and again, demanding to be seen and heard? Let’s take a closer look.

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Theatre Thursdays: Coriolanus

Tom Hiddleston Homepage

Imagine, if you will, the following: Tom Hiddleston killing it. Hard, right? Not simply being pretty good, or reasonably impressive, but really killing it. And not just killing it, but killing everyone. Hiddles has taken his bit back to London’s West End, where he is currently starring in a production of Shakespeare’s CoriolanusThis underrated revenge tragedy follows a battle-hardened Roman general who, betrayed for his tyrannical leanings, moves to take revenge on the city itself. The production, running at London’s Donmar Warehouse (which is technically in the West End) until February 8, has been widely lauded.

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Theatre Thursdays: A Potter play is on the way!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneNews surfaced a week or two ago about a new play in the works all about our favorite little wizard, Harry Potter. The play will focus on Harry’s early life, before he gets his Hogwarts letter, and aims to premiere on London’s West End sometime in 2015. Though J.K. Rowling will not pen the script herself, reports state that she will co-produce the piece and work with the playwright.

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Theatre Thursdays: Top Ten Musical Adaptations

With so many movies being made into musicals I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of what I consider to be the best musicals made from an existing source material, be it book, movie, or other medium. Before continuing on to the list, I’ll tell you my criteria:

  1. I have to have actually seen the musical in question and read/watched its source. This cuts out a lot of musicals, so if your personal favorite isn’t here, that may be the reason. (Sorry, Les Mis, I just don’t have the time for that brick)
  2. The musical has to be an interpretation of the work, not the exact same words from the original regurgitated on stage *coughcoughTheLionKingcoughcough*

That’s pretty much it. It was still a bit challenging to fill out the list, though, as some shows I wanted to include I hadn’t yet seen or read the movies/books on which they were based. On with the countdown!

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Theatre Thursdays: Matilda the Musical

Matilda the Musical LogoBroadway’s latest London import is the musical version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and I have to say I am really excited for it. I’ve never read Matilda but I always loved the movie. Athough I know this is based on the novel, it doesn’t seem radically different from the film, which follows a young girl named Matilda who has emotionally abusive parents and attends a school with an emotionally and physically abusive headmistress known as The Trunchbull. Through this adversity Matilda develops telekinetic powers which she uses to fight back against her tormentors. has begun a video series about the making of the show and in the first episode the librettist pretty much outlines what I find so appealing about the show:

This idea that children don’t necessarily know more than adults, but have stronger convictions to what they believe is right and wrong is so true and so important. It’s easy to see this story as a bunch of bratty kids throwing a tantrum, or as a cliched “Bless the poor children” tale of under-appreciated youth, but instead the creative team seems to be coming at this story from the point of view of the children themselves. Doing this helps the work to feel more honest because so often when kids are written by adults they are written the way adults view childhood and usually come out exceedingly cute, bratty, intelligent, or ignorant. It’s hard to find writers who really capture that childhood isn’t so innocent and sweet or cruel and spoiled as adults remember.

I’m currently obsessed with the song “Revolting Children” which really captures this theme well:

I find the song clever in its use of the word “revolting” which The Trunchbull always uses to describe the children at her school by taking it from the adjective meaning “disgusting” and using it instead as the verb as in “being in the state of revolt” while the kids decide to stand up to their headmistress. The kids aren’t having a fit or simply complaining; they’re empowering themselves and taking back their dignity from someone who mistreated them.

Never again will I be bullied!

Never again will I doubt it when

my mummy says I’m a miracle!

Never again!

I find these lyrics beautiful and powerful because no one should be bullied or doubt that they have intrinsic worth and dignity. If the rest of the show supports this theme as well as this one number does I have a feeling it will quickly become one of my favorites.

The Broadway production is currently in previews with an opening date set for April 11 and tickets are starting as low as $37! If you’re in the city I’d say it’s probably worth a try for such a low price because barring lotto/student rush, you’re not usually going to find tickets that cheap for any show, especially one with the kind of name recognition this one carries. If I get a chance to see it I’ll certainly post a review here with a more informed opinion but right now I’m loving what I’ve seen thus far.