How Can Musical Theatre Be Saved?

It’s like clockwork.  Every 3-4 years, in the midst of a weaker season, reporters in our biz start ringing the death knell for musical theater.

Leave it to the optimistic and smarty Scotty Brown from NY Magazine to not let us stew in the muck, however.  In a terrifically fun and insightful article that ran last week, Scott interviewed a whole bunch of producers and writers from Robyn Goodman to Andrew Lippa to Maury Yeston and asked them . . . “How Can Musical Theatre Be Saved?”

Click here to read their answers.

My favorite response, btw, was from Scott Rudin, who said, “There are a lot of stories that do not need to be musicalized.”

I’ve always believed that so much of a show’s success begins with the seed of an idea, before a word is written.

If the seed is bad, no amount of fertilizer will help it grow.

Thanks for the terrific article, Scott.  And if you have an idea on how musical theatre can be saved, comment below!


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  • Douglas Hicton says:

    I guess I’ll stop writing that musical adaptation of “The Bad Seed”, then.

    Seriously, though, there’s nothing wrong with musical theatre that couldn’t be cured by a little originality for a change.

  • Austin Peay says:

    Too many musicals are written on the fly. Don’t just start with a good idea, start with an interesting, intriguing one. Hire a playwright to bring vision to the idea. Bring the writer, composer and lyricist together to discuss that interesting, intriguing idea. The playwright should then write a complete story with a clearly identifiable beginning, middle and end with well drawn characters. Then bring in the lyricist and composer to access and enhance the the lyric qualities of the written work by writing songs that meaningfully further and qualify the story line with simplicity and clarity. Throughout the creative process the target audience should be kept in mind even to the point of using focus groups to evaluate the piece as it reaches the various stages of development. That is to say before the expense of workshopping the entire piece. An audience must have a story they can relate to, characters they care about and songs they can go out singing. Collaboration of this nature can easily be destroyed by ego.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    I agree with Scott Rudin about how long it takes to get a musical on Broadway. it’s insane! When I create a TV show, it’s usually three months from pitch to pilot. I had a friend involved with Leap Of Faith who said they had been workshopping it for five years.I remember being at a TRU event where the writer of Memphis said it was seven years to get to Broadway. It only took nine years from JFK’s speech until we got to the moon. I just finished a very big musical and I’m scared it might not hit Broadway until I’m in nursing home… Just move faster!!

  • David says:

    Sure- as long as we learn from the masters, but we still don’t listen! The book is EVERYTHING. This is why ONCE is surprisingly, and sadly succeeding. The book is good, but NONE of the songs illuminate character, nor do they advance the plot. Lots of self pity ballads sung by the boy (a cipher) and a girl (a pain in the ass.) Minor characters add NOTHING to this colossal bore. I think it would have made a better off broadway play with five performance songs, with a cast of two and one piano and guitar. Broadway gets soooooo greedy.

  • For musical theatre to continue to flourish and grow as an art form it needs to break out of its “musical theatre” bubble and step into the new century. Look at how musical theatre use to be–on the hit parade! It was cool. It was exciting. It was an integral part of pop culture. What they say about it being niche right now is spot on–it is. Musically it is, for the most part, the same “Broadway” sounds being reproduced over and over, often at 2nd rate. A general non-theatre audience (I think of my parents, friends, co-workers, ect.) cringe when they hear “showtunes.” I think we need to start listening to what sounds are in vogue now and tap into them. Don’t disregard the past, but don’t stay trapped in it. With shows like Glee and Smash, audiences are being primed for musical theatre. But like these shows, we need to tap into the cross-over of pop culture, music and fashion.

    We need to look at what is popular today–agree with it or not. I don’t think writers/directors/producers can ignore what is thriving in pop culture. What kind of music is exciting? What is the lastest fashion? What TV shows and films are people watching? What do people want to see? Every other medium cross markets (fashion, music, tv, film) with each other, but musical theatre seems to only stay in its own realm. If it doesn’t break out of its precious bubble, it will slowly become more and more obsolete. Our old generation will be dying off and if we want to create the next generation of musical theatre goers we need to make work that will speak to them, not alienate them. We need to create work that will excite them. We need to speak to them in a way that is contemporary, relatable and fresh. I firmly believe that the future of musical theatre is one in which we create work that is responsive to what is happening in the rest of the world today, that is accessible to audiences who may not be traditional theatre goers and thinks outside of itself to be relevant.

  • How to save the music:

  • Take children to see musicals.

  • Richard Seff says:

    One major problem for most musical theatre lovers over 40 is that the thrill is gone since the introduction of microphone enhancement began. There is no doubt a touch of it helps make lyrics clearer. But more than a touch distorts all voices, particularly those of women, who now sound sadly alike because of what the console tale does to their upper registers, and the now required roof blasting final note, saving the vibrato for last, begging for the woo-woos and the screaming and yelling. Frankly, it isn’t theatre any more, it’s a rock concert. The Met hasn’t succumbed, the classical venues have resisted, Broadway MUST accommodate the vast majority of those who can afford to buy tickets, by offering them judicious use of sound enhancement. PORGY AND BESS did it, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT blasted the two overtures (one entr’acte)taking away the joys of the trumpet solos and other brilliant jazz players.
    I could go on — but reducing or removing huge consoles with non-theatre people poking at them would be a major first step for all my colleagues who have cut way back on musicals, checking first always to see who is sound designer, and checking his or her credentials. I know young folks like loud, but they are not the major $145 buyers — their parents are,and I know maybe a hundred of those who agree with me. Every one of these theatres used to have musicals, sans any mics at all — I know that was then, this is now, but that was also when shows sold out for months after opening, often to tepid reviews.. Except for MORMON (which is well designed for sound), none of the others (PORGY,ONCE, JCSUPERSTAR, BONNIE AND CLYDE, NICE WORK, etc.) are.
    Help! Richard Seff, I believe in musicsl theatre. Take a lesson from the Golden Age, give us back a sound that is LIVE.

  • Scott Miller says:

    Like the others, you confuse musical theatre the art form with commercial theatre in New York. The two are not the same. They were in the 30s, 40, and 50s, but not anymore, not in decades. Though Broadway may have its struggles and stumbles, the art form itself has never been more vigorous, more adventurous, and more sophisticated. We’re in the midst of a real Golden Age of the art form, which is already looking a lot more interesting than the last “Golden Age.” But if you only look at New York, you’ll miss much of the wonderful work being created…

  • Lester says:

    “If the seed is bad, no amount of fertilizer will help it grow.

    “Fertilizer” is lovely euphemism.

  • Mark Burrows says:

    I agree with Michael D. – it’s a matter of speed to production. The more writers are exposed to audiences (who would tell them what’s wrong with their show – just sit in the back and listen to them react) the more adept they get at fixing their material. There’s a big difference between learning how to craft a book in a classroom and learning how to fix it in front of paying customers.

    And it doesn’t take a broadway audience. You can learn it in front of an audience in Peoria, too. The guys who worked in vaudeville did.

  • George Michael(India) says:

    I welcome you all to India and see what is a real Musical Theatre ! I am going to upload my Musical of Our Lord’s Passion soon in YouTube with hand drawn water colour pictures which both the Holy Lyrics and the pictures all have been obtained copyrights in India .Please enjoy this new evangelization and share it with the world .Last year (2010)’The Oberammergau Musical Passion Play attracted 500,000 audiences for some 105 performance over throwing language and cultural boundaries .Halleluiah !I hope my brother , the celebrity of Broadway ( Mind , I’m not greasing him )will call me one day to establish my Musical Passion Play Of Our Lord in his sweet base New York .The time is nearing for our Bollywood which is going to take over Your Hollywood !All the Hollywood producers will change their bases to India ! Any bets !God Bless !

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