Well, dear readers, here is my question for you all: Why is it that everyone and their mother thinks they can write a damn musical? Why is that? With no apparent skills, they just write a musical. And they think their work is amazing, and sometimes they perform it and invite all their nearest and dearest relatives and friends who woo-hoo and clap them on the back and enable them even further. Now, I admire anyone who sets out to do a task and completes it, especially writers. That is to be admired. But it doesn’t mean you’re good, and it doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing, especially if you aren’t even aware of what the craft of a musical is. And let’s face it, some amazing writers have failed miserably, just as they’ve also succeeded admirably. It ain’t easy. It’s NEVER easy. Easy doesn’t come into it. At all. Ever. I’ve been writing musicals for forty-six years. All kinds, all shapes, all sizes. I haven’t had any shows go to Broadway – I’m a very well kept secret, but Nudie Musical has a huge fan base and – it’s a musical. I have learned many things over the years and I continue to learn every time I do a new one. I’m smart enough to know when I see a classic musical to know why it works, what the mechanics are, and why it all lands. I’ve written some real doozies in terms of failing to achieve what I should have achieved. But I never get complacent about anything. I work and work and over the years I’ve come to know how to do certain things. I consider myself a decent composer and a lot more than decent lyricist. I am a decent book writer in terms of a musical’s libretto. I know one thing that defeats a LOT of musical theater writers – I know how to open a show, i.e. how to write an opening number that really not only sets the tone of the show, but does what opening numbers should do. But I don’t care to have my friends and relatives woo-hoo me and BS me because that leads to nothing good.
The Brain From Planet X went through many, many changes from LACC to NYMF to the Chance Theater. It got better and better as we went along, and the changes from our first staged reading to what we opened with at LACC were HUGE. With L.A. Now and Then, we had two private readings and based on those I made tons of changes. We went into rehearsal with a reasonably good structure and show, but then act two refused to work and I did eight versions of it until I finally found the right one. So, why am I going on about this? Because last night I saw what was possibly the worst musical I have ever seen and I’ve seen some bad stuff – from Broadway to workshops to readings. The problems are always the same – no ability to tell a cohesive story, badly placed musical numbers, badly written musical numbers, lousy dialogue, and more importantly bad structure. And frequently the creators of these shows make almost no changes. Why? Because the “critics” in LA all give them raves and they think they’ve done brilliant work. Of course, then the show goes nowhere and they scratch their collective heads and wonder why.
I was invited by a friend to see this one night only presentation of a musical about Marilyn Monroe. The fact that every attempt at a musical about Marilyn Monroe has failed did not deter these people. But I thought it might be interesting to see the unveiling of a new musical. Well, put the veil back on boys, you’re not ready for ANY unveiling, especially one in a 1400 seat theater. I arrived at the Alex Theater and really didn’t understand what I was seeing outside. It was jammed with people – this thing was produced by the writer/director/lyricist (as far as I can tell his first time doing all of those jobs on a musical), but also had Glendale Arts attached, which means maybe that city kicked in some dough or got them the Alex for free. They rehearsed this one night only event for four weeks from what I understand. It was called a preview of a new musical. But when we took our seats (seating was general, which was a huge mistake and caused many problems), we were first treated to speechifying, a Q&A with an author who’s written books about Marilyn Monroe, and then a fifteen minute video with three people who knew her. So, that the HELL was this evening about? If I’m there to see a show, show me the damn show, don’t speechify and do all this other crap. It almost seemed like a benefit. They filled all 1400 seat, but I’m sure that the majority of that was comped.
I could go into great and exact detail about how misguided every step of this show was – from the misbegotten opening (maybe one of the most idiotic openings of a musical ever), to the derivative songs, to a book so unfocused I never knew what was going on, to the hoary old device of having an old person (Marilyn’s chauffer) tell us the story – yes, they wheeled this guy on with a character based on the author we’d met earlier in the evening) to say four lines followed by a slow fade out, then a scene out of nowhere. How to rob a show of its energy and pace – keep going back to this guy for four lines – this ain’t a movie folks. And when the chauffer is more interesting than Marilyn Monroe, well, trouble with a capital T. I would love to tell you that things improved in act two, but I couldn’t endure another act of it and so left at intermission, as did a whole bunch o’ other folks. First off, when you announce that the show starts at seven-thirty, start at seven-thirty. The fact is, the show started at eight-twenty. I thought the first act ran two-and-a-half hours, but it only ran an hour and ten minutes, and that should tell you all you need to know. So, to close: Writing a musical is hard, and no amount of your friends and family hooting and hollering away is going to make your show good. But even this audience’s reaction to most of it was tepid, although you could hear them TRYING to raise a ruckus.
Otherwise, yesterday was an okay day. I was up by ten after eight hours of sleep, did my morning stuff, and then moseyed on over to Pasadena for a lunch meeting with Joanna Erdos who, with me, runs the alumni association for the theater department at LACC, and a new woman from the LACC Foundation. I’m not actually sure what the purpose of the meeting was, but it was pleasant and I had some good eggs benedict and hash browns – total calorie intake 1000. Then I came right home, did some work on the computer, then did a two-and-a-half mile jog, and then I relaxed until it was time to see the show.
Today, I shall be up by nine, jog, then mosey on over to Fullerton to first have lunch at noon and then see our very own Robert Yacko in Hello, Dolly! After that I’ll come home and relax.
Tomorrow, I’ll relax and jog, then be at The Federal for a band rehearsal and sound check, and then I’ll sup and see the show we’ve put together for Michael Sterling’s anniversary. Next week is really busy with Kritzerland rehearsals and ALS stuff, and I’m also trying to finish casting for our anniversary show – I actually only need two gals and we’re cast.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, do a jog, eat lunch, see a show, and relax. Today’s topic of discussion: What are the worst musicals you’ve ever seen? Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, while I reiterate about writing a musical – it ain’t easy.