Your Next Musical #114—Cinderella (Rodgers and Hammerstein)

What a year 2021 was, with a not-so-smooth transition of power in the US, the pandemic and climate change still persisting, and movements forcing us to reconsider our differences and privileges. Now 2022 is underway, starting about as well as a year can under these circumstances, and we still have hope that things will get better because, as the musical featured here states, impossible things are happening every day. It took a while, considering this musical has three different versions available, but here it is…your next musical could be…Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

See the source image

Authors: There are three versions, all with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Richard Rodgers. The 1997 edition is adapted for the stage by Tom Briggs from the teleplay by Robert L. Freedman. The 2013 Broadway edition has a new book by Douglas Carter Beane based on Hammerstein’s original. All are based on the fairy tale of the same name, particularly the Charles Perrault adaptation.

History: The success of NBC’s 1955 Peter Pan telecast led the network to commission Rodgers and Hammerstein to write an original family-friendly musical for television. The duo decided to adapt Cinderella, but ended up signing with CBS when they found that network had signed Julie Andrews. The 1957 telecast drew in a then-record audience of over 107 million viewers and got a stage adaptation first performed in London in 1958. In 1997 Disney produced a made-for-TV movie remake that also was adapted for the stage as the “Enchanted” edition. Cinderella finally came to Broadway in 2013, receiving mixed reviews, garnering nine Tony nominations including Best Revival of a Musical and one win for its costumes, and ran 769 performances.

Synopsis: You probably know the story: nice girl, mean stepmother and stepsisters, the prince gives a ball, fairy godmother, glass slippers, happily ever you know the rest. The 2013 Broadway edition expands the plot so that the prince’s parents are dead and the Lord Chancellor is manipulating the prince into fleecing the peasants while one of the stepsisters sides with Cinderella and has a relationship with a revolutionary.

Cast Size: Depends on the version. The original and 1997 editions each require six female and three male principals, the Broadway version requires five female and four male. The chorus should be at least seven male and seven female for the original and Broadway versions, six of each for the 1997 version.

My Personal Take: We love the score from Cinderella because it’s beautiful, and perhaps it’s beautiful because we love it. It’s the R&H music that’s the show’s strongest feature, and the story has shown staying power, taking an old fairy tale and making it suitable for sophisticated theatregoers by fleshing out the characters and giving Cinderella the arc of gaining her confidence so she’s not entirely passive. However, the story in the original and 1997 versions is a bit slight, so it’s clear why Douglas Carter Beane had to expand on it for Broadway. Yet the new version seems a bit too much, often indulging in anachronism, not as much as Disney but still unnecessary, and the subplot of the corrupt regent does feel tacked-on. Still, any version of Cinderella holds its own with the rest of the R&H stage repertoire, maybe not as much as the big five but certainly enough to be the belle of your ball.

Put On This Musical If: You want a familiar story with masterful old-fashioned showtunes, and have a fairy godmother of a costume designer whose work should be featured.

Things to Consider: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s involvement should be emphasized, otherwise it’s difficult to get people interested in what is essentially an old fairy tale. And the show demands stage effects, such as actually turning the pumpkin into a coach or Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful gown. This needs to happen right before the audience, just ducking offstage and coming out in a new dress will not suffice.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: The original, 1997 and Broadway versions, plus a youth version of the original.

Licensing Rights: Concord Theatricals

Next time, with a new year in a turbulent era comes a musical about changing times…Ragtime.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

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Ranting and Ranking #2—The 2018-2019 Broadway Musicals

Now that I’ve seen every new Broadway musical of the 2018-2019 season, and it’s the first time I’ve done so for an entire Broadway season (perhaps the only other season is 1994-1995, which only had Smokey Joe’s Café and Sunset Boulevard, and I’ve only seen the revival of the latter), it is time that I rank all eleven members of the class. As you can expect, some rank higher than others, and some were just rank.

11) Gettin’ the Band Back Together

You want a completely original musical based on improv that centers around a contest and allows the audience to participate? Go see Spelling Bee. You want to see middle-aged men trying to recover their pride by putting on a show? Go to The Full Monty. I’ve said a lot about this show before, but it bears repeating that this show had no business on Broadway. The story is trite, the music is forgettable, the humor is stale and childish, the characters are underwritten especially the women are little more than love interests, and having producer Ken “the way to success is paying me a few C-notes a month” Davenport take the stage before each performance to excite the audience only reeked of desperation. There, I’ve said enough about this appalling dump heap of a show, let’s move on.

10) Pretty Woman

Pretty middling. Nothing stood out or justified its being a stage musical. If GTBBT hadn’t been such a mess this would have been dead last, but barely competent isn’t enough for most theatregoers.

9) King Kong

Another generic score and sloppy story. The only thing the show really had going for it was the animatronic gorilla. But there’s more to a great musical than puppets. After all, Little Shop, Avenue Q and The Lion King had puppets yet also had meaningful stories and memorable songs. Without that, King Kong became less a musical than a theme part attraction.

8) The Cher Show

Yes it had Bob Mackie’s terrific costumes and Stephanie J. Block’s powerhouse performance, but that wasn’t enough to elevate a run-of-the-mill jukebox bio-musical.

7) Beetlejuice

It’s ironic that this show’s composer/lyricist (who also wrote the lyrics for the aforementioned King Kong) is named Eddie Perfect, considering how both shows are chock-full of imperfect rhymes. Plus, while I get why they used “Day-o” and “Jump In The Line” couldn’t they have used original songs? It’s still a fun show full of dark humor, with a life-affirming message underneath, but Our Town already covered that, and without all the gross-outs.

6) Be More Chill

Given its cult status and sold-out Off-Broadway run I expected this show to do better. Perhaps the show failed to attract an audience outside of teenagers. My biggest critique is that the protagonist was too whiny and selfish and didn’t do much to merit our sympathy. I suppose the same can be said of Evan Hansen, but he already staked that territory. At least it gave Joe Iconis a well-earned spot on the Broadway map.

5) Tootsie

A humorous book and witty lyrics as one can expect from David Yazbeck, plus a great leading performance from Santino Fontana, however it’s not much more than a star vehicle, plus it’s easy to see why the show came off as transantagonistic, which does not fly these days.

4) Ain’t Too Proud

As a jukebox show it’s better than most, following the Jersey Boys mold (hence the Forbidden Broadway spoof “Ain’t Too Proud‘s a Jersey Clone”) but doesn’t have the same flow as that other show. Yet Ain’t Too Proud can certainly be proud of its stylized choreography, and how its racial elements resonated in the wake of BLM. Too bad COVID closed this show prematurely.

3) Head Over Heels

Of the season’s three jukebox musicals, it’s certainly the most interesting one, as instead of the standard bio it combines the music of The Go-Gos with the 16th-century prose poem, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. An esoteric combination but it does work rather well, also it helps that it’s pro-LGBTQ (the show had the first trans woman to originate a Broadway role), which is why this show deserved a longer run, at least until Tonys time, where it could have gotten some nods.

2) The Prom

Unlike GTBBT, this is an entirely original musical done right, with old-fashioned tunes and a heartfelt book with an important message. Aside from my two nitpicks about the lack of focus on the same-sex couple supposedly at the center and one all-too-cheesy attempt at denouncing religious bigotry this show could have been the best musical most any other season and I’m disappointed that it didn’t have a longer run, or a few Tonys like it deserved. And that leaves…

1) Hadestown

It was a tough call choosing between this and The Prom, but this show is superior artistically. The folk score, with its Dixieland influence, is certainly impressive, supplementing a refreshing take on an ancient myth. It definitely deserved the acclaim it’s received.

Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to do a similar ranking with the 2021-2022 musicals (I would have done so for 2019-2020 but I haven’t caught Jagged Little Pill, which I suppose is for the best with all the controversy). And that list will join my other rankings listed here.

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The Mamma Mia! Fallacy

Those who have read my blog would know, or could at least infer, that I am of the opinion that Gettin’ the Band Back Together is the worst Broadway musical in recent years. Juvenile, unprofessional, tacky, even sexist and borderline racist, with few if any redeeming factors, and laden with gimmicks that amount to little more than polishing excrement (since when does a musical need a pre-show?) it was rightly panned and ignored come award season except for the occasional booby prize. So when I find a glowing review, one question comes to mind: how much did Ken Davenport pay you? Of course there are those who actually liked it, as in this piece whose heading includes “To hate it is to hate joy.”

I’ve heard the same thing from when someone close to me saw Mamma Mia! on Broadway and had nothing but praise for it. Forget the undeveloped characters and weak plot that only serves to support songs that weren’t meant for musical theatre, it was “just fun” and if you don’t like it, you don’t like fun, right?

This is what I call The Mamma Mia! Fallacy, the idea that if you don’t enjoy a show that’s hailed as fun, you don’t like fun. I chose to name it after Mamma Mia! because, while it’s also silly fluff, I find that title more worthy of recognition. At least that show had a sense of female empowerment and solidarity while GTBBT allowed its women to do little more than look good and fall for schlubby guys. So congratulations Ken Davenport, you managed to make Mamma Mia! look like Sophocles. But I digress.

What makes “to hate it is to hate joy” a fallacy is that it ignores the other possible reasons for disliking a piece of work. Really, unless you’re Oscar the Grouch, who hates joy?

Besides, is being “fun” all that matters when it comes to artistic expression? Of course we need lighthearted fare now and then, but should we reward escapism when major portions of the populace does not have the luxury of escaping?

I’m not putting down those who like such work, I have heard the expression “Don’t Yuck My Yum,” often given to children at the dinner table. But what is that really saying? That you shouldn’t dislike something if others like it, no matter what’s wrong with it? When you go to the theatre you’re not just paying scores of dollars for a ticket, you’re also giving up two hours of your life, and it’s not like you can just change the channel. So if you didn’t get enough bang for your buck, shouldn’t you be allowed to express dissatisfaction? Besides, many people speak highly of Donald Trump, does that make him beyond reproach?

If I should yuck another’s yum (I’m not crazy about that expression) it is not meant to be a personal attack. Often my concern is less about quality than problematic aspects, such as certain messages or depictions of marginalized people (like Peter Pan‘s not so respectful portrayal of Native Americans), which should not simply be excused in the name of entertainment.

To disparage a show like GTBBT is not to hate joy, but to oppose generic music, tired gags that get old quickly, caricatures instead of characters, and shameless egotism. That doesn’t sound like hating joy to me, rather it is the exact opposite, to prefer work done right. If a mediocre job is your idea of joy, well that’s your taste but not mine. And I suppose we can agree to disagree.

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Why Are Autistic People Forced To Accommodate The Neurotypical Culture? Reflections on my experience with accessibility in an apprenticeship theatre program at Williamstown (aka WTF, WTF?)

(originally published December 26, 2021 at The Art of Autism)

In 2009, one of my writing mentors suggested I apply for a scholarship through VSA, which at the time allowed two disabled actors each year to attend the Williamstown Theatre Festival Apprenticeship program. As an actor on the autism spectrum, I decided to give it a shot, and to my amazement I got in, so I spent two months in Williamstown among other young actors taking improv classes and assisting in the prop shop. It was a good experience overall, being able to work on stage plays behind the scenes and even attend them, as well as developing connections with other apprentices and actors.

However, the two things I most remember are not what one might call positive.

One event was Apprentice Night, where apprentices were allowed to stage short plays. I chose a scene from my play Mixed Messages, where a college advisor threatens a student with Asperger’s Syndrome with expulsion. I based it directly on my own experience, as the college I attended, a very left-of-center one where you addressed teachers by their first names, was unaware of autism spectrum disorders. The director and producer, other apprentices in the program, kept saying they wanted the advisor to be more sympathetic, so I rewrote the scene several times, but still they weren’t satisfied. They wanted the advisor to be aware of Asperger’s and want to help, only his hands were tied, so he would be, as they put it, “part of the solution instead of part of the problem.” When I pointed out that what they had in mind wasn’t what I had experienced, they said that was years ago and people were more aware of autism. They had me and the other actor improvise scenes based on this premise and wrote a new script based on these scenes, which I found to be too melodramatic, so they used the scenes verbatim. When I pointed out how there wasn’t any real structure or conflict they said “conflict isn’t necessary, realism is.” As for my concerns that their version had basically made the advisor the hero and the neurodivergent student an “other,” which was not at all what I had in mind, they claimed they wanted to “balance out” the conflict so it would be “more accessible” to neurotypicals. What did they mean by “more accessible,” was there a barbed wire fence keeping NTs out of the theater? NTs have their own perspective, why should I have to diminish mine? So I ended up having to go with a script I hadn’t written or approved.

My father insisted I should just go along and not come off as difficult to work with, pointing out how often he, himself a composer, often had to make compromises. Creative differences are one thing—it’s every writer’s pet peeve that you put your heart and soul into your work and some bigshot behind the desk yanks it out. It’s something else to take the experience of a marginalized group and replace it with that of the dominant culture so the audience won’t have to identify with an “other.” Yet my father, being of the “take the best, leave the rest” mindset (like car dealers and political spin doctors) kept saying not to bring it up, only that I had gotten my work presented at Williamstown, as if it hadn’t occurred to him that 1) it was only a minor event and 2) what got shown was not my work.

The performance went well and the audience seemed to like it. After the festival, when I incorporated their changes into next draft my father, the first to read it, read the scene and insisted I change it back. So these bright ideas weren’t so bright after all. When I pointed this out their reply was along the lines of “we were just trying to help, sorry you didn’t like it,” as if they had done nothing wrong.

The second thing I remember was that I had signed up to take a class in Viewpoints. After a few classes I was informed I would not be allowed to attend class anymore because some of the women in the class got the idea that I was hitting on them. I honestly had no idea (and still don’t) as to who had an issue with me or what I did, only that I had to miss out because someone got the wrong impression of me. My mother, a dancer, insisted that it was no big deal because she doesn’t think highly of Viewpoints. Such a stance did not lessen the sting of being excluded without anyone hearing me out. In the twelve years since my time at Williamstown, I have not had the former incident happen again. As for the second, it has happened all of my life, even to this day, and my efforts to be understood have been met with failure.

I do not wish to come across as ungrateful, I know I am fortunate to have been a part of a prestigious summer theatre event. I have other stories from that time period, many happy ones. All I am saying is that as someone on the autism spectrum, I feel as though I was not as well accommodated as I could have been.

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Your Next Musical #113—Elf

Christmas is a-coming, the goose is getting fat, and I’m sure that after Christmas so will a lot of us. Well, let’s ring in the holidays with one of the newer seasonal shows that will make you feel happy all the time, or at least throughout the show. Happiness afterward is not guaranteed. Anyway, your next musical could be…Elf.

Authors: Book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan. Music by Matthew Sklar. Lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Based on the 2003 film of the same name.

History: Opened on Broadway in 2010, got mixed reviews, received no Tony nominations and ran 57 performances. A 2012 Broadway return engagement ran 74 performances.

Synopsis: At the North Pole, happy-go-lucky Buddy is not like other elves—he’s much taller and lousy at making toys. Turns out Buddy’s a human being—an orphan who wandered into Santa’s toy sack as a baby and was raised by elves. When Santa reveals to Buddy that his biological father Walter Hobbs is alive in New York City—and on the naughty list for not believing (as Santa’s sleigh needs Christmas spirit to fly since PETA stopped him from using reindeer)—Buddy goes to the Big Apple. Walter is too preoccupied with his publishing job to care about Christmas and has him sent to Macy’s, where Buddy is mistaken for an employee and sent to work on the Christmas display, where he falls for cynical co-worker Jovie and asks her on a date. Buddy also gets into a fight with the store Santa, calling him a fake, and is sent home.
Walter’s wife Emily and son Michael, who want to spend more time with Walter, take to Buddy, especially after Emily slyly uses a DNA test to prove Buddy is Walter’s son, but Walter is none too pleased, especially when Buddy inadvertently shreds a valuable manuscript. Walter sends Buddy out, leaving him with nowhere to go…and leading him to miss a date with Jovie. When Emily and Michael see Santa outside their window, they realize Buddy was right.
When Walter is pitching stories to his boss, Mr. Greenway, Buddy arrives and gives them his own story. Mr. Greenway is pleased but insists on making changes and having Walter work all day on Christmas, prompting Walter to quit. They find Santa stalled in Central Park, where Buddy calls on everyone in New York to believe and spread Christmas cheer, which allows Santa to fly. He asks Buddy to join him, but Buddy decides to stay in New York with his newfound family.

Cast Size: At least eight male, six female and one boy.

My Personal Take: While Elf may not be one of the all-time holiday favorites, it is certainly an upbeat show with modern sensibilities. Yes it has the old themes of believing in Santa no matter what and choosing family over work, but it does it in a new way, and like in Disney’s Enchanted, which also shows a transplanted innocent winning over a jaded cynic, it acknowledges the attitudes that dampen our holiday cheer while ultimately renewing out faith. Also, it’s nice that Buddy takes well to his stepmother considering one would usually expect otherwise. The book and score are solid, with plenty of jokes and clever lyrics, nothing outstanding but still a good holiday musical that you’ll want to sing out loud for all to hear.

Put On This Musical If: You want a family-friendly show for the holiday season that’s suited for modern times.

Things to Consider: It’s certainly not for those who want a more religious take on Christmas.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: The licensed version and a Junior version.

Licensing Rights: Music Theatre International

Next time, it will be New Year’s Eve, so I’ll finish the year with a family favorite…Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

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Your Next Musical #112—Oliver!

Can you guess the three runners-up for the Best Musical Tony that were adapted into films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture? So far I’ve covered two of them: West Side Story and Chicago. Here’s the other, which lost the Tony in 1963 to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum though it did win Best Score while Sondheim’s debut Broadway score was snubbed—apart from this show, Little Me and Stop the World – I Want to Get Off the fourth Best Score nominee was some show called Bravo Giovanni that’s only remembered for this dubious statistic. Anyway, I suppose this musical is appropriate for the holiday season since it had its first Broadway preview on December 25, 1962. Time to start reviewing the situation. Your next musical could be…Oliver!

Image result for Oliver! broadway musical posters

Authors: Book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. Based on the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

History: Opened on the West End in 1960 where it was a smash hit that ran a then-record 2,618 performances. The 1963 Broadway transfer got good reviews (even though it opened during a newspaper strike, so producer David Merrick bought radio time and gave the show a glowing review), running 774 performances and receiving ten Tony nominations including Best Musical and three wins. A Broadway transfer of a 1983 West End revival (which featured Patti Lupone) only lasted 17 performances but did earn a Best Actor in a Musical Tony nomination for Ron Moody, who played Fagin in the Oscar-winning 1968 film adaptation.

Synopsis: In a 19th-century London workhouse orphan Oliver Twist is thrown out for asking for more gruel. The corrupt overseer, Bumble, sells him as an apprentice to a nasty undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. After Oliver is taunted by another apprentice he escapes and comes across a lad known as The Artful Dodger, who takes him to his guardian Fagin, who actually trains boys to pick pockets. When the Dodger attempts to rob an elderly gentleman, Mr. Brownlow, Oliver ends up taking the fall, but Brownlow takes Oliver in, as the boy reminds him of his long-lost daughter Agnes. Fagin and his thuggish right-hand man Bill Sykes decide to abduct Oliver to keep him from betraying the gang’s activities. Though Sykes’ girlfriend Nancy is sympathetic to Oliver, she goes along with the abusive Sykes. Bumble acquires a locket that belonged to Oliver’s late mother, and brings it to Brownlow, who has been looking for Oliver. Borwnlow recognizes the picture in the locket as that of Agnes, meaning Oliver is his grandson. Nancy visits Brownlow, promising to bring Oliver to him at London Bridge. There, Sykes beats Nancy to death, but is soon taken down as Oliver is reunited with his grandfather and Fagin decides it is time to reform.

Cast Size: At least six men, five women, and a chorus of children including at least six boys and one teenage girl.

My Personal Take: As I’ve said before, adapting a lengthy novel for a stage musical usually results in a lot left out and Oliver! is no exception. Yet even as a distilled version of the Dickens original it remains a compelling tale of poverty and crime, as well as hope. Of course, a major change is the portrayal of Fagin, whose original depiction has been deemed a negative portrayal of Jews (even though Fagin’s Judaism is only informed, with the mention of the occasional slur), and we know that wouldn’t play well in New York, so here he becomes more sympathetic, even willing to change his ways, if only briefly. In fact, Fagin and Nancy are the most dynamic characters in the show, even more than the title character, who is largely passive. The score is enjoyable, with many memorable songs, though quite a few unclean rhymes. But even if Oliver! isn’t one of the greatest musicals of all time, at least on this side of the Atlantic, there are plenty of theatregoers who will buy.

Put On This Musical If: You have a lot of young boys who can do English accents and you want an alternative to Newsies.

Things to Consider: Oliver! is not meant to be played as a lighthearted comedy, despite the many funny moments, and the horrific parts should not be toned down. Currently licensing rights are only available in the US and Canada.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: The 2009 West End version and a Junior version.

Licensing Rights: Music Theatre International

Next Friday it will be the night before Christmas, and I’ve got a show for the occasion…Elf.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

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Biases in School Shootings—It’s Not All Black And White

Recently I came across this article about the press coverage surrounding a recent alleged school shooter, where articles about him show a younger version of him praying. The article pointed out the inherent racial double standards the image entails. Most school shooters are white and male, yet the media humanizes them, painting them as victims, either of mental illness or bullying, as if to excuse them. Yet whenever a black teen is killed by the police, the press shows the victim engaged in antisocial behavior such as smoking or using drugs, making it seem as though they brought it on themselves. Also, the terminology is biased, as whites who commit mass shootings are commonly referred to as “gunmen” or “shooters” while nonwhites are deemed “killers” or “terrorists.”

Yet the article raises two issues. First, the fact that school shooters are described as “mentally ill” as if that would somehow exonerate them. Why should mental illness be equated with murder? Such only further stigmatizes mental illness and exacerbates systematic prejudice. When much was said about the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook shooting having Asperger’s Syndrome, as a spectrumite I feared that those like me would be grouped in with the likes of these evildoers.

Second, using prayer as a shorthand for goodness indicates religious privilege. If someone praying is supposed to make them sympathetic, does it mean they’re unsympathetic if they don’t pray? Even as nontheists grow in numbers in the US they are still marginalized and stigmatized, as there are those who actually think atheists go around sacrificing babies all day. After all, the article shows that being religious doesn’t necessarily prevent one from becoming a murderer.

I know it may seem churlish to complain ableism and religious privilege about while ignoring racism. It’s true that nonbelievers are not the ones killed by the police or paid less for the same job. I do not wish to ignore the inherent racism in this country that persists to this day. I only wish to point out the other biases involved, those that do not garner as much attention.

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Your Next Musical #111—The Marvelous Wonderettes

If you went to high school in the 1950s, well it might not have been all like Grease or even Zombie Prom but in between sock hops and atomic drills you might have come across a songleader squad. For those who don’t know what that is, they’re like cheerleading squads except they lead singing instead of cheering. That’s pretty much it, except that unlike cheerleaders songleaders have pretty much faded from view. So this installment will focus on a musical commemorating that lost art. Your next musical could be…The Marvelous Wonderettes.

Authors: Book by Roger Bean.

History: Opened Off-Broadway in 2008, got good reviews and ran 545 performances. A 2016 Off-Broadway revival did well too, lasting 567 performances.

Synopsis: Springfield High Senior Prom 1958. The Marvelous Wonderettes, an amateurish songleader squad consisting of teen queen Cindy Lou, overachiever Missy, tomboyish Betty Jean and bubbly Suzy, fills in as entertainment. Cindy Lou usurps Betty Jean’s performance, intensifying the rift between them as it is revealed that Cindy Lou has stolen Betty Jean’s boyfriend Johnny. Meanwhile Missy reveals her crush on their teacher Mr. Lee (an audience member) and Suzy becomes prom queen, much to Cindy Lou’s chagrin.
Ten years later, at the reunion, Suzy is pregnant and having issues with her now husband Ritchie (who runs the lights), Missy is dating Mr. Lee who has been taking too long to propose, and Betty Jean is now married to Johnny who is still cheating on her but when Cindy Lou offers comfort Betty Jean is reluctant to forgive her. Cindy Lou reveals her own failed attempt to break into show business and how her relationship to the class rebel ended with his premature passing, leading to reconciliation. The girls then buoy Suzy to demand Ritchie respect her, and she reconnects with him as the show ends.

Cast Size: Four young women who can each play ages 18 and 28.

My Personal Take: What keeps The Marvelous Wonderettes from becoming just another jukebox show is, like many great musicals, the contrast between the first act and the second. In this case, the role of women in the 1950s, when they were supposed to go along with the boys, is juxtaposed with the 1960s, when times are a-changin’ and women start standing up for themselves. More importantly, it shows the universal theme of youthful dreams versus adult realities. Of course, the show is easy to compare to Forever Plaid, being a jukebox revue by a small group that starts out as kitsch yet ultimately endears, but the proto-feminist themes make it stand out. Overall, the show isn’t exactly a marvel or a wonder, but it’s a fun night for all.

Put On This Musical If: You want a small scale show for fans of golden oldies and have four young ladies to showcase.

Things to Consider: This show was originally done for a venue that had limited backstage, so the performers have to be on stage practically the whole time. Also they should be okay with audience participation.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: There are three sequels, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns, which focuses on their graduation and Missy’s marriage to Mr. Lee; Winter Wonderettes, which takes place at Christmas in 1968; and The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On, which shows them in 1969 and 1978. The original also has a one-act version, The Marvelous Wonderettes ’58, focusing solely on the first act, as does the sequel, Caps and Gowns ’58. There a Glee Club Edition for large casts consisting of the first acts of the first two musicals in the franchise, and the third installment has a Springfield High edition, to be done on the set of the school play so it can be performed in repertory.

Licensing Rights: Stage Rights

Next time, how about some Charles Dickens this time of year? No, not A Christmas Carol, there are too many versions from which to choose. How about…Oliver!? That’s a good one, isn’t it?

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

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Your Next Musical #110—Passion

Remember in my Beauty and the Beast page when I pointed out how it’s always the men who get to be beasts while women have to be beauties? Well the show for which that Disney production lost the Best Musical Tony actually reversed the gender dynamic, only it wasn’t what you would call a fairy tale. Also it was the last new Broadway musical with an original score by the late Stephen Sondheim, which is why I chose to cover it this week, in honor of perhaps the greatest Broadway composer of the latter half of the 20th century. Your next musical could be…Passion.

See the source image

Authors: Book by James Lapine. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Based on the 1981 Italian film Passione d’amore (Passion of Love) and its 1869 source novel Fosca by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti.

History: Opened on Broadway in 1994 to mixed reviews, as the audiences would admire its ambition even though they didn’t take well to the strong displays of emotion. As it was a rather slim Broadway season the musical received ten Tony nominations and won four, including Best Musical (its only real competition at the Tonys was Beauty and the Beast, and no self-respecting Tony voter would choose a theme park attraction over Sondheim), yet only ran 280 performances, fewer than any other Best Musical Tony winner to date. (For the record, as of now 128 out of all 187 Best Musical losers have run longer, and there were twenty-three years since the nominees were announced in 1956—1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1980, 1982, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2018 and 2019—in which all of the Best Musical nominees ran longer.)

Synopsis: Italy 1863, during time of unification. Handsome army captain Giorgio is carrying on a passionate affair with Clara as he is transferred to an outpost where the Colonel’s sickly and dowdy cousin Fosca falls hard for him, but he doesn’t feel love as much as pity for her. Fosca confronts Giorgio about his rejection, where he admits that Clara is already married. Just as Giorgio gets away from Fosca he finds she is dying and the outpost’s doctor orders him to stay with Fosca, whose single-minded pursuit of him ends up haunting him to the point he feels obligated to stay with her. He ultimately breaks off with Clara, who is unwilling to leave her husband and son, and realizes how much Fosca is devoted to him, but the Colonel disapproves of their relationship and challenges Giorgio to a duel. Giorgio and Fosca consummate their relationship before the duel, which Giorgio wins only to have a nervous breakdown. After a long recovery he finds Fosca has died, shortly after his love gave her the will to live.

Cast Size: At least ten male and four female.

My Personal Take: Passion takes a certain kind of audience to fully appreciate it, being an epistolary musical (one told mostly in the form of letters) without much action and characters to whom it’s hard to identify. If Beauty and the Beast showed a monster who becomes more human, Passion takes on a different trajectory, where Fosca plies her illness to gain sympathy and goes as far as to stalk Giorgio (it’s not like we could excuse a male for doing what Fosca does). Yet its strength is one of Sondheim’s most daring scores (how could Sondheim by anything other than daring?) that eschews the usual wordplay for emotion, steeped in 19th-century Romanticism with echoes of Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George. In Sondheim on Sondheim Stephen described how he added “Loving You” to get us to sympathize with Fosca by showing she truly loves Giorgio, otherwise why would he fall for someone so unappealing and deranged? And we too come to identify with her too. If we are repelled by the lead characters, it’s only because we identify too closely with them. So for truly sophisticated audiences Passion will give them plenty about which to be passionate.

Put On This Musical If: You want to do an underdone chamber piece with a strong lead for an unconventional leading lady.

Things to Consider: There’s not a lot of dancing but there are strong vocal demands, not to mention the acting challenges for both leads, as Fosca must come off as sympathetic despite being basically a stalker and Giorgio must not appear too spineless. Also one scene in the original Broadway production, where Fosca followed Giorgio to the train, came off as unintentionally humorous, do not aim for laughs.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: The original 1994 Broadway version.

Licensing Rights: Music Theatre International

Next time, perhaps I should a more lighthearted show…The Marvelous Wonderettes.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

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Your Next Musical #109—[title of show]

One of the first musicals I saw since the theaters reopened was one that was to be held outdoors. However, the night I arrived, it was postponed due to a thunderstorm and everyone was kept inside. But if the pandemic couldn’t stop us neither would the rain. So the show went on indoors, with a few necessary changes and safety precautions but still a great performance worth attending. That show is the subject of this post, a humorous ode to musical theatre and the process of creation. Your next musical could be…[title of show].

See the source image

Authors: Book by Hunter Bell. Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen.

History: Premiered at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival and was later developed for a successful Off-Broadway run in 2006. A 2008 Broadway transfer didn’t do as well, receiving one Tony nomination which it lost, and running 102 performances.

Synopsis: Jeff and Hunter, two struggling New York City writers, have three weeks to come up with an entry for the inaugural New York Musical Theatre Festival, so they decide to do an original musical…about two guys writing an original musical, with the help of their friends Heidi and Susan (based on the original actors in the show). As Jeff and Hunter fantasize about success they deal with self-doubt. They complete the show, submit it, then celebrate as the show becomes a hit. Months after the run Hunter decides to do a webseries based on the show to boost their popularity so that the show comes to Broadway. It works, but creative differences nearly tear the group apart. Eventually everyone agrees to keep the unassuming show as it is—not everyone will like it, but those involved in its creation will.

Cast Size: Two male, two female, and one onstage pianist of any gender.

My Personal Take: The concept of a musical about its own creation is neither entirely new or entirely clever, but [title of show] goes beyond that. Aside from a humorous book and score (standouts include the “I’m Just a Bill” takeoff “An Original Musical” and “Die Vampire Die”) it shows what happens when success gets in the way of creativity and threatens friendships. It’s a nice touch that Jeff and Hunter’s homosexuality is treated matter-of-factly. Of course it isn’t for those who prefer flashy, splashy musicals, plus there is a lot of “inside baseball” that might go over the heads of those who aren’t theatre geeks. Yet as one of its numbers states, [title of show] would rather be “nine people’s favorite thing” than one hundred people’s ninth-favorite thing. And those who can appreciate a quirky little show will definitely be among those privileged few, perhaps more than nine but who’s counting?

Put On This Musical If: You want to do a small-scale show for real musical lovers, well that’s been featured before but this is less about the musicals themselves than the art form in general, plus it has more gay appeal.

Things to Consider: There’s plenty of foul language, also some uncomfortable ethnic stereotyping. Make sure the Playbills used in the show actually resemble the shows they’re supposed to be from. The original version had major Broadway stars in recorded cameos, but mercifully this is optional.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: A clean version (talk about Air Freshener Vampire).

Licensing Rights: Concord Theatricals

Next time, with the recent loss of a true Broadway legend I thought it best to do his last Broadway musical, not counting the revues…Passion.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

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