When pop composers become musical composers.

Over the past decade or so, Broadway has had a popular music invasion, as artists like Elton John, Paul Simon, U2, The Eurythmics tried their hand at writing the score to a musical.  Some to success, others to not.  And this year, we’ve got Cyndi Lauper and Phish (!) joining the ranks, with Kinky Boots (!!) and Hands on a Hardbody respectively.

As someone who develops musicals, I have to admit, having a successful pop artist on the writing team is an attractive proposition.  They usually have a knack for melody, and come with millions of fans.

So why not take anyone who has a couple gold albums, right?

Well, like anything else that Producers do, it’s important that you don’t make a choice solely for marketing’s sake.  Art has to come first, no matter how tempting it may be.  Because as I said in an article about Spider-Man some months ago, “Writing a three minute song is a lot different than writing a three hour musical.”

Yes, memorable melodies and snappy hooks are an essential part of writing a quality score . . . but musicals tell stories, and musicals develop characters . . . and that’s not as easy as coming up with a catchy chorus and couple of words that stay top o’ mind (Taylor Swift’s “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” comes to mind).

So when I’m in the market for a composer that may come from the popular music world, I look for song writers that tell stories in their songs first and foremost, whether or not they’ve got Grammys on their resume.  And as luck would have it, there are a few Grammy winners that have the knack (Elton, Paul, Billy, Bruce, Cyndi (!) and I always thought Tracy Chapman would write a great story-show).  Find one that can do both, and you could have an artistic and marketing one-two puncheroo.

But go after someone just because their tunes are on iTunes could get you in a lot of Taylor-like trouble, trouble, trouble.

Because just because a composer comes with millions of fans, doesn’t mean those fans will come out for your show.


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