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.


Confessions of A Broadway Nerd

How do you pick a Broadway show when you’re a Broadway nerd?

When faced with the choice of what to see, it’s like standing at an endless buffet of tantalizing dishes.  So many choices come into play: Who’s in the cast?  If I get the chance to see the original cast, isn’t that the show I should pick?  Should I go for the one that has an actor I really like?  Should I go for the one that will have the best music?  Will a show be too cheesy?  Who cares what the show is if Matthew Broderick is in it?

This is a peek into what my brain is like right now whilst my other tab shows a list of current shows on Broadway.

Add Geek on top of Broadway obsessed and you’ll understand why I’m toying with the idea of seeing Spider-man Turn Off the Dark.  Another painful choice in the mix is Newsies.  I’ve been harping for years that the classic Disney movie musical needed a stage adaptation, so it seems a necessity that I view this show.  Audra McDonald in Porgy and Bess?  I could cry having to choose between her honey-rich voice and my nerdy TV buddy Jim Parsons in Harvey.  (Harvey is not a musical though which is a definite black mark against it.)

I was plunged into chaos when I spied Nice Work If You Can Get It, a new musical review of Gershwin music set in the 20’s starring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara.  Gershwin music is the golden standard for me-the roots of my passion for Broadway tunes.  And the Matthew Broderick!!!!!  He is the quintessential leading man to see live!  He can sing, dance and act and has a distinguished career to back it up.  Come on.  How can I pass up Ferris Bueller?  I have also been a fan of Kelli O’Hara’s sweet and strong voice since the revival of South Pacific and would love to see her on stage.

Another leading choice is Anything Goes.  Joel Grey, a living Broadway legend, is still performing which would make the show worth it even though Sutton Foster is gone.  The dancing and singing in this show are, I’m sure, phenomenal.  This is the revival of the decade!

Thankfully, there are some cash-grasping jokes that make my choice easy.  Bring it On the Musical? Enough said.  Prince of Broadway:  a musical retelling of the highlights of Harold Prince’s career.  I’m sorry, I just nodded off, what was I saying?

I’m have a love-hate relationship with movies-turned-musicals.  Some seem natural like Newsies and Mary Poppins.  I’ve heard music from Sister Act and it’s great because it’s a reworking of the movie songs in addition to some musically strong new numbers.  Other movie-turned-musicals just make me shake my head like Ghost, Once and the aforementioned Bring It On.   If the movie wasn’t a musical to begin with, what makes producers think “hey, if we sing the pop songs in it and get some staging together, we could make a buck”?  Once is a bit grey for me.  I wonder at the idea that just because it was a film musical it has to be on stage.  I guess it works both ways since Hollywood, equally at a loss for originality, often pulls from the Broadway stage these days.  Just look at the heavily marketed Rock of Ages which opened this weekend.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of books turned musicals on the list this season.  Children’s books are where it’s at as evidenced by Peter and the Star Catcher, Rebecca and Matilda.  And for those wondering why I left War Horse off the movie-turned-musical list, it was a book then a musical then a movie.

Looking at a listing of Broadway shows is daunting.  It seems to me that as the years go by, Broadway stuffs more shows into its small smattering of streets than is probably good for it.  I’m worried that this glut of shows has left audiences less discerning than the Broadway of the past, which is why producers create more for the masses and less for the musically sophisticated.  That’s why we see stunningly good shows like Les Mis or Wicked few and far between.  I know whatever I choose will not be a masterwork that will live on in theater history for ages.  Still, I like a good musical fling.  I realize that I’m looking more at my choices of who’s singing at this point.  I’m a bit star struck by some of the cast lists.  Writing this has helped me narrow my list but still, impossible choices must be made.