It’s time for another “Saturday List” and today I thought I would share some musical theatre related things that get me excited. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
1. The Return of the Live TV Musical
Last year, the live TV musical made a comeback with The Sound of Music – Live!, which did great business ratings wise, caused a great deal of debate between musical theatre fans and ultimately was a very mixed bag. A wooden central performance by Carrie Underwood as Maria Rainer and treacly direction by Rob Ashford were two of the weakest aspects of the production, while some of the production’s strongest moments were delivered by supporting players Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess, Laura Benanti as Elsa Schrader and Christian Borle as Max Detweiler. The biggest problem, however, was that the whole thing just felt plotted out within an inch of its life and there was no sense of the spontaneous joy that a musical like The Sound of Music should have. Nonetheless, thanks to its good ratings, we now have live TV productions of Peter Pan, Grease and The Music Man to which we can look forward. I was so enamoured by the whole I idea, that I wrote an article for BroadwayWorld South Africa suggesting that the local South African television channels take up the gauntlet of producing live TV musicals of some of the landmark South African shows – a great way to smarten up the dismal local television industry.
2. New Movie Musicals
Movie musicals tend to be something of a hit and miss affair. Chicago? Hit. Nine? Miss. All right, there are those that fall somewhere in the middle too, like Dreamgirls and Hairspray. But I’m always excited when a new movie musical makes it all the way from initial rumours to the big screen and things are looking great at the moment, with Into the Woods, Lucky Stiff and The Last Five Years all on their way. I can’t wait to see a trailer for The Last Five Years, but as we all know Into the Woods and Lucky Stiff both have trailers out at the moment. Lucky Stiff looks like it might be a bit of a muddle and Into the Woods looks fantastic. I suppose we won’t really know until they’re released, but it’s so much fun to speculate!
3. Michael John LaChiusa
Ever since I first discovered the work of Michael John LaChiusa, when a good friend introduced me to Marie Christine, I fell in love with the complexity, intelligence and heart that LaChiusa combines to create his brilliant contemporary works of musical theatre. One of the key voices in the genre today, he has created a diverse range of musicals, including the atmospheric Hello Again, the unsettling Bernarda Alba and a masterpiece in The Wild Party. Besides his work in the theatre, he also has no qualms within the field of peer review, which really is the way forward for serious criticism in the arts, and published the controversial article “The Great Grey Way” in Opera News, an excellent response to the state of mainstream musical theatre at the start of the 21st century. Whichever way you look at it, LaChiusa is an inspiration.
4. Pasek and Paul
I discovered the work of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul when I performed in the South African premiere of their breakthrough piece, Edges. What I really loved about that piece was its combination of pop and musical theatre idioms in a way that really honoured the tradition of musical theatre while maintaining a completely contemporary sensibility. The pair has gone on to create the Tony-nominated musical, A Christmas Story, which honestly seemed like it was dead in the water to me until they were brought on board and created a fantastic score for the piece; an adaptation of James and the Giant Peach, with which I’ve yet to familiarise myself; and one of my favourite recent musical theatre scores for the show Dogfight, which features a book by Peter Duchan. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next!
5. Falling Down the YouTube Rabbit Hole
I’ve had to be really careful not to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole while working on this column. Musical theatre fans will all know what I mean: the YouTube rabbit hole is a great way of discovering new musical theatre pieces, finding once-off performances by musical theatre stars that just blow you away (Angela Lansbury doing “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the Oscars, anyone?) and rediscovering performances you had forgotten. One of my most recent favourite finds, when I was pushed into the rabbit hole by Anna Kendrick, was this tribute to Shirley MacLaine.
6. Falling down an iTunes Rabbit Hole
Another great rabbit hole one that you fall into when you just let your iTunes run in the background. While it helps you to revisit some of your favourite favourites, it also reminds you of things you might not specifically seek out for a listen. One of my exciting finds this week as something I had not listened to in ages, a song I had forgotten that I completely love: “One White Dress” from A Family Affair.
7. Finding my Own Musical Theatre Voice
Perhaps this one is a little indulgent, but this year has very much been about finding my own musical theatre voice, after a bit of a break in writing and composing for the musical theatre stage. I was able to collaborate with Roland Perold on a piece called You Bet Your Life that premiered at the National Arts Festival this year and rediscovered a lot about who I was as an artist in the process. Although there are plans for continuing to develop You Bet Your Life, I’m also busy editing my 2008 musical adaptation of The Snow Queen so that it can be released for further licensed productions, first in a version for intermediate phase school pupils, with family theatre and foundation phase versions to follow. On we go…
So what musical theatre related things make you excited? Looking forward to hearing what your favourite things are, either in the comment box below, on Twitter, on Facebook or anywhere else this piece ends up being shared.