The most obvious epiphany on the planet.

This post ain’t gonna get picked up and go viral, that’s for sure.

Because it’s as obvious as who’s going to win the Tony Award for Best Musical this year.

But sometimes what is so obvious gets taken for granted . . . and therefore it isn’t given the focus it needs.

So it begs repeating.

I was walking down 44th Street the other day, and took a look up at the famed The Phantom of the Opera mask adorning the Majestic Theatre marquee, where it has been for over 25 years.  My mind immediately went back in time to the first time I saw The Phantom of the Operain 1988, and I thought about the falling chandelier, the special effects, and getting swept up in the overall staging of the production.

And then, for some reason, I imagined what the very first script of Phantom looked like when ALW and his collaborators finished it.  I’m sure it didn’t describe the moving bridges that the Phantom and Christine use to descend into the depths of the Phantom’s lair . . . or the simple pas de deux-like staging of “The Music of the Night” . . . or any of what makes Phantom the musical that it is.

It was about then that a bus drove by with a Lion King ad on it.  Huh, I thought.  Was the thrilling Act I opener with that incredible puppetry what the Writers had in mind when that first draft of that musical was done?  Or what about Mufasa’s dramatic death?

Then I saw a poster of Chicago.  Heck, that show didn’t even really work the first time around, and yet here the revival has been running for a few decades and shows no sign of slowing down.  Did that script have the minimalist staging with the band onstage?

The answer of course, is that none of these scripts had any of what made the shows what they are, and more importantly, made them so memorable.

Plays and musicals were not meant to be read.  They were meant to be seen.  And if you want your show to be seen by the most amount of people possible, then you better have a strong Director with a strong vision of how your story is going to be told.

I’d even argue that a Director is as important as an Author . . . especially of a musical (which is why their royalties are usually equal to or more than any of the individual Authors on a musical).

Now please don’t think I’m undermining the work of our great Writers out there . . . their work is the foundation on which the production is built.  The greatest staging in the world wouldn’t keep Phantom going without that “majestic” score.

My point is that we need to give even more credit to our Directors.  After all, they get handed a black and white, flat script . . . and have to turn it into a full color, 3D, pop-up book.

That’s why choosing the right Director may be the most important decision an Author and a Producer make.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Frank says:

    This is why a writer should try and give great stage/scene directions at the start of each scene and throughout the script. While a director can, and should, deviate from these when necessary to improve the work, I think a lot of writers ignore this part of the writing process. Focusing most of their efforts on the characters and their interactions more so then the staging.

    I’ve read many a script that left most, if not everything, up to the imagination of the reader. You cannot assume the reader will understand your vision for a play unless you lead them down the whole path.

  • Barry Sanders says:

    Thank you can. It is valuable information !

  • Janet Gramza says:

    Almost thought you were going to mention the designers & technicians who create all those wonderful effects … #USITT, your backstage community!

  • Rick says:

    Well….I am so impressed with your insights. What a great epiphany!!…Mine and Norlans’ musical is not only written and authored by a great director, Norlan, ….but it has exactly what you are talking about and sharing in the article…Great timing for my musical!!…Thanks Ken!!

  • Steven Conners says:

    Good blog. You’ve done it again. Hit the nail on the head. Collaboration! Collaboration! Collaboration! Can’t build a great show without it. Collaboration!!! Keep up the good work, Ken. —sjc

  • Norlan says:

    Ken, being both a writer and a director, I couldn’t agree with you more. In the musical genre, I look at the Director as an equal third in the creative triad, which consists of the creator of the book and lyrics, the creator of the music, and the creator of the staging innovations. All three of these are instrumental in the overall creative process, each one of which can make or break the show. All have to be equally potent in the creative contribution to the production for it to be completely successful; whereas, if any one of these areas should fall short, then you are left with a flawed production that will not survive the scrutiny of the sophisticated theatre-goer. I loved your comment on the fact that scripts are not for reading only, as the full potency of the show cannot be realized in word alone. Only with a great script, memorable music, and captivating staging can a production be fully appreciated and successful. Of course all the other visual elements of set, costumes, lighting, props and effects, along with the individual talents of singing and dancing and acting, can bring the brilliance of staging and choreography to fulfillment, and all come together in making the creative process complete. Thus, if the vehicle of the writing can provide the nutrients for all these elements to blossom, then the show can become a creative festival which audiences will celebrate and embrace. Thanks Ken for your continued insights and inspiration.

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