If you are a musical theater writer, or want to be one, this blog’s for you.

The BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, one of the very few training programs for emerging musical theater writers, is looking for a new crop of students.

And did I mention that it’s free?

The famed program, which has churned out the likes of Ahrens & Flaherty (Ragtime and so much more), Jeff Marx & Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), to name a few, just announced that it is accepting applications now for its 2010-2011 first year composer-lyricist class.

But you know what’s great about the progam?

It’s not the fact that it’s free, or that you get Tony Award-winning guest lecturers, or that it looks great on a resume.

The best part about BMI is that it’s like school.  You have homework. You have teachers.  And you have deadlines.

How many times have you sat at home and turned on the TV when you knew you should have been writing (or producing or exercising, for that matter)?  Now think back to when you were in school, college and/or graduate school.  Sure, there were still distractions, but somehow, you felt more compelled to finish your work, right?

Even the best self-motivators out there could use a little school in their life.

They’d be lucky to get a little BMI in their life.

For more info, including an application, click here.  (For librettists, check back later in the year – the librettist program looks for new peeps in the Spring)

And if you’re not near NYC and can’t make it to BMI, start your own version in your hometown.

Sure, Maury Yeston may not be available to you, but anyone and a deadline is better than no one and another game of Wii tennis.

Give yourself a preview-prepping workshop.

Previews can be one of the most stressful periods of a writer’s life. Regardless of whether or not you think critical response is important to your show, the countdown to Opening life can feel like a ticking time bomb.

All the elements of the show you’ve worked on for years are finally realized for the first time.  Sets, costumes, lights, special effects, actors, etc.  It has all come together.

Except for that scene and song in the second act.

Writers are constantly called on to rewrite lines, scenes, songs, etc. during previews.  I’ve seen entire musicals restructured, endings changed, intermissions excised, a song cut, the same song added back, and so on.

Stressful, right?

Unless you’ve practiced.

There are lots of writing workshops and classes out there, and if you’re a writer I recommend taking one that forces you to present material every 1-2 weeks in order to keep yourself on a schedule.

But does that prepare you for previews?

Nope.

In addition to the above, I strongly recommend writers give themselves (or each other, if you can find some goal-oriented friends out there) a Preview Preparation Speed Writing Workshop.

Here’s how it works:

Imagine you’re in previews of a new musical playing The Palace.  The love song between your hero and heroine isn’t working and Hal Prince, who you’ve luckily snagged to direct, isn’t happy.  He marches up the aisle and says, “That scene and song has to go.  And I need something new by dinner.”

Dinner is four hours away.

Go.

Shows can take years to actually get to the first preview.  And all that time can be for nothing if you can’t write during previews.

Learn now.

The Tony Awards beat me to this blog.

The theme of this year’s Tony Awards opening number was the current overwhelming number of songs on Broadway stages from the popular musical canon.

Well, dangit, that’s what I was going to say!

But it’s more than just this year’s crop.  While leaving American Idiot a few weeks ago, I walked through Times Square and looked at all the marquees.  Connections to popular music are all over the Great White Way in one way or another.

Let’s look at all the book musicals (in alpha order) currently playing on Broadway and connect the popular dots:

A Little Night Music

Stephen Sondheim is not considered a “popular” composer, but ALNM features his only major pop hit “Send In The Clowns,” of the over 800 songs he has written.  It won a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’ in 1976.

American Idiot

Composed by punk-rock super-group, Green Day, the album of the same title also won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album.’

Billy Elliot

Composed by rock superstar (and sometimes Rush Limbaugh supporter), Elton John, who has more Grammys than a retirement home.

Chicago

What do I have to say about this composing team?  How about this:  two words repeated.  “New York, New York.”  That popular enough for you?

Come Fly Away

Speaking of NY, NY, Come Fly Away is all pop tunes sung by pop legend, Frankie S.

Everyday Rapture

This bio musical uses pop tunes to tell some of its story.

Fela!

Fela Kuti’s tunes may not have been featured on morning radio in this country, but in his homeland, his pioneering sounds were all the popular rage.

Hair

The astrological tune, “The Age of Aquarius,” held the #1 spot on the charts for 6 weeks and is listed as the 57th Greatest Song of All Time according to Billboard.

In The Heights

I got nothing on this one, except for the obvious influence of pop music of the time on the score.  So far, that’s 8 out of 9 with a direct connection to the pop world.

Jersey Boys

A bio-musical about one of the most popular guy-groups ever, who sold more than 175 million records.

La Cage aux Folles

Not only did “I Am What I Am” rank on the charts, but Herman had a hit with “Hello Dolly” in 1964 when the Louis Armstrong recording knocked The Beatles out of the #1 spot!

Mamma Mia!

The gold-record standard of the jukebox musical still has ’em dancing in the aisles and grossed almost $800 million last week, almost 9 years after its opening.

Mary Poppins

The Sherman Bros have should get an award for having so many awards. Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, and more.  Their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious songs have been sung by the masses for years.

Memphis

David Bryan, the composer of Memphis is the keyboard player for a little known band called Bon Jovi.

Million Dollar Quartet

Some of the greatest classic rock tunes, and classic rock characters, are featured in this jukey musical.

Next to Normal

Outside of his musical theater work, Composer Tom Kitt is the founder of The Tom Kitt band, and his work on American Idiot led him to be hired by Green Day to provide arrangements for their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown.

Promises, Promises

Promises Composer Burt Bacharach has written 70 Top 40 hits in his lifetime, including “I Say A Little Prayer For You” and “A House Is Not A Home” which were both integrated into this revival.

Rock of Ages

Mamma Mia but with 80s tunes.

South Pacific

How many covers of songs can a composer/lyricist have?  R&H’s tunes were all over the place in their day, and are still used in pop culture today.

The Addams Family

Like In the Heights, there’s no real strong connection to the pop world here.  That makes 18 out of 20 with direct connections to the pop music world.

The Lion King

Another one by Sir Elton.

The Phantom of The Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber is like a modern day R&H when it comes to his theater songs becoming standards.  Streisand, Manilow, and Mathis are just a few of the folks that have covered and scored hits with “Memory” alone.

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein was successful in the popular idiom in another way . . . the classic way.  He grabbed a couple of handfuls of Grammys in his day, including one for Lifetime Achievement.  He wrote for the movies, for shows, for choruses, and more.  His stuff was everywhere.

Wicked

What Andrew Lloyd Webber is to the UK is what Stephen Schwartz is to America.  He is our most popular successful composer, with Grammys and Academy Awards and more, oh my.  “Day by Day” was a Top 40 hit, and he has even written songs for Five For Fighting.

There you have it.  24 musicals on Broadway and 22 of them with direct connections to the world of popular music.  Some looser than others, I’ll admit. And some are chicken-egg questions (Did their pop success come from the theater work or vice-versa?).

But my point is not that you need to be a successful pop artist to be a successful Broadway composer.  In many of the cases above, the Broadway success came first.

What I am saying is that the overwhelming lack of degrees of separation between successful Broadway composers and the world of pop music suggest that there may be a characteristic that binds the two.

And that characteristic is melody.

So if you’re a composer looking to get a show up on Broadway, you might want to make sure your songs have some similar characteristics to what’s on the radio.  I can’t tell you how many demos I listen to (or stop listening to) where the composers seem to be after some sort of intelligentsia award, instead of just writing a song that people might enjoy hearing in their car, or while cleaning their room, or while they are finishing a blog at 2:08 AM (Lady Gag
a is on in the background on my Sirius radio).

I’m not saying that theater songs have to be Britney-like trite or super-simplistic (God knows Green Day isn’t trite, and Elton’s stuff is some of the richest musical and lyrical material you’ll ever listen to).

But they’ve all got melody and hooks and songs that people like to sing along to.

And that will put you at the top of charts and the Tony Awards.

When should I invite Producers to see my show?

According to dictionary.com, the definition of ‘Show’ is “to cause or allow to be seen” which is why it’s only natural that if you’ve been developing a show, you want people to see it.

But if you’ve got a new play, a new musical or a new disturbing performance art piece that would be banned in 16 countries, you’ll eventually need to ask yourself, “When do I invite producers to see my show?”

That’s exactly what Tim, a young, up-and-coming Producer from out West asked me last weekend via email.

It was one of those questions that I was irritated that I got.

Why?  Because frankly, I should have answered this on the blog a long time ago! I shouldn’t have had to wait to get prodded by Tim.

Ok, putting my Catholic guilt aside for a sec . . . here’s what I told him:

Knowing when to invite Producers, partners, investors, potential creative partners, etc. to a reading is tricky.  You don’t want to invite people too early, because it’ll be hard to get them back if the reading flops, no matter how much work you do on the piece.  You can’t wait too long to invite them, because the best way to raise money, attract partners, etc. is by showing off a sample of your product.

So how do you know?

Let me ask you this . . . How do you know when you’re going to take a boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet your parents?

The feeling is the same.

You wouldn’t bring anyone home if you didn’t think there was at least the slight possibility of something serious developing, right?  Sure, you might be nervous that your parents might not like your new significant other, but you wouldn’t put you (or your Other) through that stress unless that person and that relationship were important enough to you, and unless you felt it could move forward.

It’s the same for shows.

Do not invite people to your show, if their approval may determine your show’s future, until you’re confident in what you’re presenting.  Because, unfortunately, Parents and Producers are similar.  They judge a lot based on first impressions and initial instincts.

Which means, you may not get a second shot at impressing them.

So unless you plan on eloping, you’re better off waiting until you feel good about what you’re doing, or if you can’t judge for yourself, ask an objective third party for their thoughts on your show before you invite the world.

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Get Your Show Off The Ground Seminar – It’s baaaaaack!

It seems like just last week it was a freezing cold Saturday in January, when a group of 20 uberly-passionate producers, writers, directors, and more joined me for the first Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar.

We had a blast discussing everything from music rights to how to raise money to how to market with no money.

And most importantly, everyone walked away with specifically personalized action items to help launch their great ideas.

Since it went so well, we’ve decided to do it again!

The next Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar will take place on Saturday, June 19th, from 10a-6p in New York City.

I’ve timed this seminar so that all of you with shows in the Fringe, NYMF, Midtown International, etc. can meet with me (and many of your peers) to troubleshoot some of your specific festival-related issues before you get too deep into production.

And remember, I guarantee you’ll be in a better position with your show after the seminar than before.

To learn more about the seminar and its structure, and see what past participants had to say, click here.

To reserve your spot, click here.

Important note:  In order to ensure that everyone gets a solid amount of individual attention at the seminar, I have to limit attendance to only 20 people.  Many of the slots for this seminar went to folks on the waiting list for the last seminar, so I encourage you to reserve quickly, as the seminar will sell out.

See you at the seminar!

Get your show off the ground today!  Click here to reserve your spot now.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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