I wrote a letter to singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman in the mid-90s. It was on early in my career and I was looking for popular artists who might have an idea for a musical. And her 1988 hit, “Fast Car”, told me two things . . .
1 – She had a gift for melody.
2 – She wrote story songs.
Broadway wasn’t cool then, so my inquiry hit a wall (also known as a manager who couldn’t see that one day Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Sara Bareilles, Sting, and more would have shows on Broadway).
Tracy had another hit song, that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, as I’m crotch deep in the development of six new musicals. The song? “Talkin’ About A Revolution.”
The biggest hit that Broadway has ever seen and may ever see is about a revolution: The American Revolution (If you don’t know the show I’m talking about, then you should get out more . . . or just read this blog more.)
One of the other biggest hits that Broadway and the world has ever seen is also about a revolution: The French Revolution.
And there’s another musical that’s coming back to Broadway in 2021 (in a very buzzy all-female version directed by Diane Paulus) that’s also set in Revolutionary times.
What makes revolutions such good settings for shows?
Revolutions are started by groups of the super passionate people who are willing to put their lives on the line (literally) to achieve their goal of rewriting history.
Can the stakes be any higher?
Like medical dramas or legal eagle shows on TV, revolutions just make a writer’s job a little easier, since the setting already has the baked-in requirements of a successful musical (passionate heroes and high stakes).
Am I suggesting you find an actual revolution to write about or produce?
No. (Although it wouldn’t hurt – I still think there’s a good Civil War story to be told on a stage.)
What I am suggesting is that you find the revolution IN your story.
Doesn’t Billy Elliot start a revolution inside his household and in his town when he wants to dance?
Belle’s relationship with the Beast has the townspeople picking up arms against her new furry friend.
And the shows that I’m working on . . . Joy (a single mom who starts a revolution when she fights to get herself on QVC to sell her own invention, after it failed with someone else, and changes the face of retail for herself and for women worldwide), Harry Belafonte (a singer who used his popularity to work with MLK, JFK, RFK, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malcolm X, Mandela, and more and fight for equality in this country and the world), Ma Vie En Rose (an 8-year-old child born a boy, who is a girl, and fights against his family and community who deny who he really is), and Harmony (about a singing group fighting starting a revolution against a revolution), etc.
When you are looking for shows to adapt for the stage, find a revolution, and your job will be that much easier.
Oh, and Tracy, if you’re reading this, the offer still stands. You’ve got a musical in you. I know it.
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If you want to hear what several Tony Award-winning writers look for when they adapt stories for the stage, click here.