Well, dear readers, why is it I dislike so many of today’s musicals (and the musicals of the last decade)? Now THAT is an opening salvo, oh, yes, that is an opening salvo. I saw what I felt was a particularly bad new musical yesterday and I began to ponder this very question even as I watched the show. There are some easy answers and not easy answers, and of course these are just MY feeling – me, myself, and I – or as I like to call us, We Three. Part of the problem are the scores, which are filled with people singing AT you, singing statements, singing anthemic things that don’t really seem to come from the characters at all. In classic musicals you don’t find this at all. But this has become a thing, a trend, and not a good one. Then there seems to be a way of writing music these days that makes everything sound exactly the same, chords with open fourths and fifths with the same chord progressions. People like this stuff, which I don’t understand. For me, it’s a bore, predictable, and just not to my liking.
Then there are the books, which are filled with self-referential “jokes” about musicals – this happens over and over again. Or the books are filled with teen angst, something else I do not give a flying Wallenda about, but the kiddies identify with this stuff and LOVE it. But even the musicals that people find unique, stuff like Come From Away, even that music doesn’t interest me, although I certainly can understand it might be a moving show without having a great score. The musical Once confounded me. I just don’t get the love, frankly. This new musical I saw yesterday is yet another in the very, VERY long line of musicals made from movies, some popular, some not. This particular movie was never great – it had a little sweetness to it and I enjoyed it for what it was back in the day, but did it need to be a musical? Not really. And yet, very deep pockets are involved – I’m told it cost a huge amount of money to do it and it’s in a theater that doesn’t even seat 99. It has also gotten rave reviews from the LA critics that have seen it. This, too, baffles me, but that’s the way it is here. Yes, the dough bought them a lot of production value, but at the core you still have a musical in which there isn’t really a character you root for – you might root for a situation, but the characters are simply not drawn well enough to care about them. The lead character never really drives the action or the show, and that’s a bit of a problem. The songs all sounded the same, and act two is almost one reprise after another. Add to that the wild tonal shifts – one minute we’re watching something heartfelt and the next we’re suddenly watching a cartoonish villain and we’re having farce. Of course, lots of friends, family, and people involved are there woo-hooing their heads off. But I’m not trying to pick on this show alone, it just happens to be the one I saw yesterday and which set off these here ponderings. The other day, I saw the end of act one number of Tootsie and it was dreadful. Dreadfully staged, dreadfully written. And so it goes. I remember having auditions for Hit Song, The Musical and several men came in singing a song that was so typical of what they write today. It transpired that it was “the” song of the moment from Dear Evan Hansen, Waving Through a Window. I haven’t seen the show, but this song actually kept me away from it.
You look at a show like Gypsy, where the book, music, and lyrics all work together in perfect harmony to tell a story with interesting and dimensional characters. You look at Jerome Robbins’ work and you don’t see back flips and steps with no meaning – everything is in service of the storytelling, everything illuminates the storytelling. I can’t stand most of the choreography I see today – a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Robbins, Gower Champion – these people understood what choreography for the stage is all about. I could name the names of the most egregious practitioners of the now musical, but why bother? I always walk into a theater to love whatever I’m there to see, whether play or musical. The love part happens more with plays than musicals. But there are times when I go see a musical that’s highly lauded, and I just sit there thinking, “Why do people LIKE this?” I understand why I like and respond to Gypsy, to West Side Story, to Carousel, and even to Li’l Abner and Bells Are Ringing. I’m also a craft person and when I hear a score, as I did yesterday, where the lyrics contain hundreds of near rhymes, I just want to throttle everyone. It is so lazy to write that way for the theater. I miss seeing shows that really pushed envelopes and were bold and daring and those musicals were not written to pander to teenagers, but the movie business has taken over Broadway and that’s what it’s become. If Company opened cold today would it succeed? I don’t think it would get out of the workshop phase, frankly? I don’t think South Pacific would get out of the workshop phase today. End of rant.
Yesterday, I was hoping to get a lot of sleep and yet I ended up only getting six hours. I have to get a good night’s beauty sleep and it best be today. I was up at seven-thirty and got back into bed at nine and slept until eleven. Once up, I answered e-mails, showered, and moseyed on over to Doug Haverty’s and he drove us to the theater. I did see several people I know, and that’s always fun.
After the show, Doug and I went to a nearby Eyetalian jernt and we shared a pepperoni pizza, we each had a small dinner salad, and a piece of garlic bread. We each had three pieces of the pizza, which was pretty good, and Doug took the rest home to his ever-lovin’ Dorathy. He drove us back, and I went directly home.
Once home, I listened to the last of the Hindemith, and moved on to a three-disc set of the symphonies of a composer named Ture Rangstrom, who Sibelius thought was head and shoulders above other Swedish composers. That recommendation was enough for me, and as I write these here notes I’m listening to the last movement of his final symphony, the fourth, and this guy is fantastic. All four symphonies are just great, and the few filler pieces are also terrific. I’m going to have to see what other music is available – other orchestral pieces or concertos. And then it was time to write these here notes.
Today, of course, is Memorial Day. I will hopefully arise after a good night’s beauty sleep, I’ll do some work on the computer, and then we have our first Kritzerland rehearsal, which I’m really looking forward to. Directly after the rehearsal, I have a dinner meeting – not exactly sure where that will occur, but I’m looking forward to it, too.
The rest of the week is meetings and meals, our second Kritzerland rehearsal, our stumble-through, and then sound check and show.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, sleep in, do work, have a rehearsal, and have a dinner meeting. Today’s topic of discussion: What do you think of today’s musicals and their scores? Give examples of which you like and which you don’t. Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, hoping I didn’t ruffle any feathers with the opinions of me, myself, and I – we three.