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 1812, Wicked, 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 Faith. That’s not to say that the success or failure of a show is necessarily tied to its goodness or badness.
Lord 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.
Cabaret 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.
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 Coriolanus. This 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.
News 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.
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:
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)
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!
Broadway’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.
Broadway.com 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!
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.
When a musical using the Spice Girls songs was first rumored, the child in me perked his ears up and got pretty excited. The cynic in me said “What’s the story? How theatrical are these songs? Where’s the heart, the narrative?” to which my inner child responded by plugging his ears and singing “Wannabe” at the top of his lungs. Well, the musical has finally arrived in the form of Viva Forever! in London’s West End, so how are the hopes of my inner child and concerns of my inner cynic met?
With Evita currently running on Broadway for the first time since the original production closed its doors in 1983, the role of Eva Peron is once again on New Yorkers’ minds. The role is indelibly linked (perhaps to a fault) with Patti LuPone.
When I say “to a fault” I don’t mean to imply that there was anything wrong with Patti’s performance. I didn’t see it, considering the production shuttered before I was born and she had vacated the role even before then. What I mean is that any actress playing this role, especially on Broadway, is going to be judged against how much she does or doesn’t live up to what people remember or think they remember about Patti’s legendary, star-making turn in the role.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of Evita’s current leading lady, Elena Roger.
As I mentioned before, Elena is leading this revival on Broadway after already doing so on the West End where she received immense praise from critics and audiences for her portrayal of Eva Peron. Since opening the Broadway production, however, things have been quite different. I didn’t follow much press regarding the revival once it opened so I was shocked when Tony and Drama Desk nominations came out and Elena was passed over for both. After that surprise I went on to learn that Elena’s Broadway performance has received a fairly negative response from critics and audiences. On a message board I frequent two users who’ve seen the show commented that her performance was disappointing, one of whom saw her in the London production and loved her but said that her performance now lacks the subtlety and charm it did in London.
Why did this happen? My thoughts are that it may be due to Patti’s lasting influence on Evita on Broadway. Perhaps the revival’s director, Michael Grandage (or even Elena herself) was aware of the almost oppressive imprint left by Patti and tried to pump up her performance in response. From what I understand based on word of mouth and the Original Broadway Cast Recording, Patti’s Eva was brassy almost to the point of being crass, with a spitfire personality. Once I remember reading an opinion from someone who compared her performance to Elaine Paige’s in the original West End production as the role having been “Wicked Witched-up” by going from Paige’s comparatively subtle role to Patti’s ambitious take.
Of course this is only a thought. The real reason for the change (if it was indeed a conscious change, which may or may not even be the case) could be something else entirely, but I do think it’s interesting to wonder about.
^Footage from the West End where this production played in 2006 and found success with audiences and critics alike.
I think this is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best show and score and depending on your personal views on Webber this is either saying a lot or not much at all, but regardless I am so happy to see it being revived. As I mentioned, this revival played in London’s West End back in 2006 to very good reviews and I’m thrilled that it’s coming to Broadway with Elena Roger back in the title role.
She’s fantastic. I’ve only read positive reviews of her performance, and she’s one of the only (or perhaps even the only) Argentinean actresses to play Eva which is spectacular. I love Michael Cerveris; he played Sweeney in the 2006 revival of Sweeney Todd and scared the crap out of me. Ricky Martin, I can’t say I was ever a fan or that I know much about him but I’ve heard good things regarding his turn as Marius in Les Miserables back in the day, so I’ve got an open mind.
I’ve got to say though; I’m really torn about seeing the show. As much as I want to see Elena and know she’s a powerhouse, one of my favorite actresses, Christina DeCicco, is the alternate for the role and to finally get to see her on Broadway and in this glorious role…I don’t know if I can resist it. Eva is such an incredible part to play and I would just love to see Christina sink her teeth into the role.
Whether I end up seeing Elena or Christina (hopefully both, that’d be ideal) I know that I’ll be making my way to NYC sometime soon to see this show. I really think this score is phenomenal. It’s grand, moving, and lively and really Andrew Lloyd Webber is at his best when he’s doing rock music. The only score of his that I’ve heard and find as interesting as Evita‘s is that of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Even The Phantom of the Opera, his greatest hit, has been called a rock opera masquerading as a classical musical and his most recent flop Love Never Dies received little praise for anything, but the one rock-out number tended to be looked on favorably in most reviews.
Before I go off on an ALW tangent (or worse, one about LND) I’ll wrap this up. This revival looks great. It’s one of my favorite scores for a musical and the principle cast looks to be brilliant in this production.