Bored with Broadway-A Full Fledged Rant from a Broadway Geek

broadway signMusical theater has officially jumped the shark.  In true Fonzie, last-ditch style, the Great White Way has offered little original material since Sondheim.  The lists continue to bore: rehashed movie musicals, revivals of revivals, musical reviews with a threadbare plot and the latest deluge—non-musical movies turned musical.

Yes, that’s right folks.  In a few short months we’ll be graced with Rocky the musical.  I can’t wait to hear songs like “Yo Adrian” and a wordy version of the Rocky theme song.  “Duh duh duh, I can win, I can beat the boys in every fight I’m in…”

Broadway producers are all too intent on the latest trend in musical material—film.  In a recent USA Today article, lyricist Andrew Lippa claims that audiences want musicals that “traffic in big emotions.”  His latest stage offering is a songful adaptation of Big Fish.  While Fish seems a better palate for musical numbers than Rocky, I can’t help but pine for something original.  At least musicals based on books have a fresh visual representation.  What chance do audiences have to view something new if they’ve already seen it in all its Blu-Ray glory?

Yes, adaptations from film can be fresh and fun.  I must admit that I enjoy Shrek the Musical more than the film.  The characters took on more depth and the gags were cleverer (except the fart jokes that ruin the end of one song).  Big the Musical had some catchy songs.  And which came first: the screen Thoroughly Modern Millie or the stage version?  I must admit I don’t know but I love the stage musical.  The film is awful.  Perhaps this is what it takes—a flop of a film and a clever revamp a la Broadway.  It just seems that lately, all producers are willing to take a risk on is some rehashed movie script.

I don’t get to see a lot of shows.  Traveling companies are expensive and trips to NYC very few and far between.  What I hope for is a great playlist of music I can sample, enjoy and sing.  Lately, what I find instead is wordy, un-lyrical soup that strains the ears and vocal chords.

Two more trends that cast a pall on the lights of Broadway: screen stars filling the spot of stage actors and a plethora of movie musicals turned stage musicals.

Problem the first:  I know girls who have tried or are trying to make it in NYC.  It’s nearly impossible just to get an audition, let alone cast in the tiniest role.  Now, if you peruse the coming soon list for plays, it reads like a summer blockbuster schedule: Daniel Craig, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Weisz, Ethan Hawke, Zachary Quinto.  (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen started on stage so they are on home turf.)  Can stars cross over from one stage to the next? Sure.  The irksome thing here is that most spots are filled by movie stars; leaving poor old Johnny-no-name with as much of a chance to be a stage actor as DC has to beat Marvel at the box office.

Notice, not many have the talent to try the triple threat of taking on a musical.   The roles I speak of are for straight plays.  Well done Dan Radcliff!  Who knew inside that post-Potter boy was a bit of Fred Astaire—just a small bit mind you.  He’s no Matthew Broderick.  Am I a hypocrite?  Broderick went from stage to screen and back again.  What makes him different?  Well, I believe he was cast for his talent and not just for his name as his performances on both sides of the curtain shine.  That’s not to say Ethan Hawke can’t do a smashing Macbeth; but I’m sure Johnny-no-name would have been great too, given the chance.

Don’t start getting preachy about capitalism and the need for star power to draw audiences in this bust of an economy.  I’ve already come to terms with that.  I’ll admit I was tempted to see Harvey starring Jim Parsons.  But does the stage have to go the same way the film world did before people realize that in the end, story, not just casting matters? Originality doesn’t hurt either.

Problem the second: movie musicals turned stage musicals with little difference or disappointing changes.  Disney is the worst at this.  I can say it because I’ve seen it.  Last summer I was a bit dismayed with Newsies.  The live dancing was fantastic.  The female reporter character was horrific.  This was their big change—a spunky girl who sings so brightly you feel like your ears need WD40.  The Little Mermaid was a disaster of Starlight Express proportions.  Their answer to swimming?  Roller skates.  I saw clips on YouTube and was not hooked.  Repeat after me producers:  Just because they sing in a movie doesn’t mean it has to be on stage.

What about movies that have no place being musicals?  Billy Elliot?  The Full Monty?  I’m beginning to think the most original Broadway show in the last two decades is Urinetown (don’t get too grossed out, it’s a social/political/Broadway satire that’s only a little about bathrooms).  I’m sorry, I just can’t get over Rocky.  My musical senses are screaming “Noooooooo!”

My idea of a pleasant surprise was the other show I attended last summer.  Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark was a dark horse in the stage line-up, what with all the horrific accidents that preceded its opening.  I had to laugh.  Comic books turned musicals?  Now we really are getting desperate.  But I heard the score and the fun, edgy, grungy sound.  I saw fresh staging that turned comic book pages into set pieces and turned perspective on its head.   Spidey literally bounced off walls in the catchy song of the same name.  They didn’t try to cast Tobey Maguire and teach him how to sing.

As you head to Broadway or try to listen for a new sampling of Tony fodder on iTunes, don’t expect anything spectacular.  If you already missed artsy classics like Little Miss Sunshine and Kinky Boots adorned with the musical treatment don’t worry, The Bridges of Madison County and Magic Mike are headed your way.

Other Titles Coming Too Soon to Musical Theater:

Diner– Six high school friends reunite; based on a film with music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow.

Prince of Broadway-A Broadway musical about a Broadway musical producer (Harold Prince).  Sounds titillating doesn’t it?

Ever After-Based on the film starring Drew Barrymore.

Bullets Over Broadway-A musical adaptation of the Woody Allen film.

If/Then-Finally, something original!  The plot is really complicated and not easy to summarize so Google it.

Allegiance—A New American Musical-Another tale of fresh origins about a Japanese family interred during WWII.

Revival of Les Mis-‘nuff said.

AladdinAnother Disney grab for theater cash.  I love Aladdin!  But I don’t have to see it on stage.

Bruce Lee: Journey to the West-A musical that is sure to be a smash after Rocky paves the way.

NERDS://A Musical Software SatireNow Steve Jobs and Bill Gates get the musical treatment.  The title is clever though.

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Never Trust a Label: 5 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Must Reads in the “Young Adult” or “Children’s” Section

Don’t pay attention to where you find good books in the library or book store.  If it’s interesting to you, pick it up.  I say this because I read a lot of what is labeled “young adult” or “children’s” fiction.  It irks me to no end that in most cases (unless you’re Orson Scott Card), if you write a child or teen protagonist, the publishing world insists you must have written a book for younger readers.  Most young adult books are as well written or better than so called “adult” fiction.  They deliver an intriguing story with just the right amount of edginess.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude: I’ve read Game of Thrones, but I usually prefer something a little less gray shaded.  Over the years I’ve found a few novels that I would consider a must read for any fan of the sci-fi/fantasy genre.  And yes, they are in that not-so-tame-as-you’d-think place called the “young adult” or possibly even (gasp) the “children’s” section.

1. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

The first in a trilogy set in an alternate dimension called Wonderland, Wars tells a Steampunk-esque tale of Alyss, the royal princess and her fight to regain control of the world from her evil aunt Redd.  Beddor takes the tropes of Wonderland and turns them on their head with characters like Hatter Madigan, a bodyguard with a weaponized top hat, The Cat a killer assassin and the lonely young author named Lewis whom Alyss meets in an interdimensional journey to Victorian England.  Book two is called Seeing Redd and book three is Arch Enemy.

2. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Another trilogy frontrunner, Airborn is a refreshing alternative history adventure.  We follow the journey of Matt Cruse, a young Airship deckhand, a Steampunk Indiana Jones who is riding the Aurora, Titanic of the airways.  This fateful voyage is unassuming fun, a pirate romp through the high skies with just enough saucy heroine Kate de Vries to keep things a bit romantic.   If you have any kind of soft spot for dirigibles, this is a story for you.  Book two is called Skybreaker and three is Starclimber, both equally as entertaining.

3. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, translated by Ralph Manheim

If you’ve seen the movie it doesn’t matter.  You don’t know this story until you’ve read it.  Translated from German, the book behind the cult 80’s classic is the book that made me want to be a writer.  Ende creates a more imagined and complex fantasy world rich with creatures and places that seem to exist.  This is because his descriptive writing is tantalizing and his imagination, boundless.  In the book we follow Bastian, an insecure lad who finds his way into a story where he becomes a hero.  Only, it doesn’t end there.  In fact, his journey into Fantastica (not the Fantasia of the movie) has just begun and so the reader enters a world like no other where deserts grow into forests at night and The Nothing is destroying everything.  I chose this book by its cover and I’m not sorry I did.

4. Brave Story by Miyuke Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith

There seems to be a connection between richly imagined worlds and other languages; this time, from a Japanese wordsmith.  I liked this book because it reminded me of The Neverending Story but was its own richly complicated and sumptuously imagined universe.  It was made into an anime but I always prefer the source material.

When Wataru finds himself inexplicably sucked into another world called Vision, he wants to make a better life.  Let’s face it, his life at home in Japan sucks.  His mother has attempted suicide after his father leaves them and for Wataru, life has become meaningless.  But, if he completes his journey through Vision, Wataru may have the chance to change his fate.

5. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I could recommend almost everything by Diana Wynne Jones and you would thank me.  However, the apex of her quirky hand is found in this novel, which is why Hayao Miyazaki had great source material for his anime take on it.  Howl’s Moving Castle is charming.  Jones writes with such a refreshing voice and creates a seamless fantasy world replete with loveable fire demons and mystic portals to places readers will find familiar.  The complex and engaging plot has led me to read this novel several times and never be bored.  I’m about due for another trip through Jones’s strange and wonderful world.

Have any recommendations for a must read?  Comment below.