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Musical Theater Lecture 8

The Last 25 Years of Musical Theater
by

Jessica López-Barkl

on 1 January 2016

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Transcript of Musical Theater Lecture 8

Musical Theater Lecture 8
A through-composed musical with book and lyrics by Tony Kushner and score by Jeanine Tesori that combines spirituals, blues, Motown, classical music, and Jewish klezmer and folk music.

Premiered in 2003 on Broadway.

Through-composed means that the musicians continuously keep playing, as opposed to having a collection of songs interrupted by recitative pieces and dialogue.

Set in 1963 in Lake Charles, LA, it follows the story of a maid of a Jewish household.
Caroline or Change

Music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray.

Premiered in 2002.

The eleven o’clock number was given to a black member of the cast, as opposed to the lead.
They also did not do a reprise of a song at the Finale but added another.
Hairspray

Book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty. Includes marches, cakewalks, gospel, and ragtime…mostly sung-through.

Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the story of three groups in the US in the early 20th Century; African-Americans; upper-class surburbanites; and Eastern European immigrants.

Premiered in 1998
Ragtime

Jonathan Larson’s landmark rock opera, like Puccini’s nineteenth-century opera La Bohéme, on which it is based, has as its subject death at an early age.

In one of the dramatic coincidences of theater, its 35-year-old creator died of an aortic aneuryism only weeks before Rent opened Off Broadway in 1996.

HIV and AIDS are the topics of this rock-musical.

New styles of music entered the Broadway stage: electric rock, salsa, Motown, bebop and reggae.
Rent

A musical with a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel. Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, the story is set in the 1950s and revolves around Margaret Johnson, a wealthy Southern woman and her emotionally stalled daughter, Clara, who spend a summer together in Italy. When Clara falls in love with a young Italian man, Margaret is forced to reconsider not only Clara’s future, but her own deep seated hopes and regrets as well.

This musical broke the 21st Century tradition of pop music on Broadway and moved into a Neo-romantic classical music and opera arena.

It is also possibly the only bilingual Broadway musical.
The Light in the Piazza

Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman.

Based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a parallel novel of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Premiered in 2003.

Wicked

A musical adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1968 film of the same name, with lyrics written by Brooks and music composed by Brooks and arranged by Glen Kelly and Doug Besterman.

Opened on Broadway in 2001.

Susan Stroman and director choreographer took over the direction after her husband, Mike Ockrent, the original director, died in 1999.
The Producers

A musical based on the 1994 Disney animated film of the same name. Music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice along with the musical score created by Hans Zimmer with choral arrangements by Lebo M. Directed by Julie Taymor.

The musical features actors in animal costumes as well as giant, hollow puppets.

Premiered on Broadway in 1997.

It is the highest grossing musical of all time.
The Lion King

All ages. All cultures. All nationalities.
Something for everybody.

Today’s Audiences

The Lion King, Rent, The Producers, Wicked,
and much more...

The Last 25 Years

Aida
From buzzfeed.com
Book: Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Tim Rice
In this musical based on the Giuseppe Verdi opera, Radames, who is next in line to become Pharaoh, falls for a captured Nubian slave named Aida, who is secretly a princess. Their forbidden love is complicated by Radames' intended bride Amneris and Aida's true identity, culminating in a tragic ending to their affair.

It's hard to imagine that AIDA was once intended to be adapted as a Disney film - the elements are still there, but it's a heavy depressing love story. In addition to its undeniable power, AIDA is significant for the way it blurs the lines between musical and opera.
American Idiot
From buzzfeed.com
Book: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Music: Green Day
Lyrics: Billie Joe Armstrong
Johnny, Will, and Tunny are three disaffected youths living in Jingletown, USA. While Johnny and Tunny escape to the city, Will is forced to stay behind with his pregnant girlfriend Heather. The city offers new thrills, but Johnny falls into drug abuse and Tunny is recruited and enlists in the army.

There were rock musicals before AMERICAN IDIOT, but few were as effective at capturing the raw energy that infuses the show. Although the music isn't original, it's transformed in its theatrical context. Like the album on which it's based AMERICAN IDIOT feels like a time capsule of Bush-era rage and ennui.
Spring Awakening
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Steven Sater
Music: Duncan Sheik
Lyrics: Steven Sater
Based on the 1891 German play of the same name, SPRING AWAKENING, follows the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers. Melchior and Wendla find themselves drawn to one another, unsure of what to do with their attraction, while their friend Moritz struggles with confusing desires and depression.

There's a reason SPRING AWAKENING launched the careers of Jonathan Groff and Lea Michelle, among others. It's an amazing showcase for young talent, allowing its actors to get lost in roles that feel as relevant now as they were at the turn of the century. The phenomenal rock score also grounds it in the present.
Next To Normal
From Buzzfeed.com
Book: Brian Yorkey
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
Diana is a mother struggling with bipolar disorder and depression, as evidenced by hallucinations of her long-dead son Gabe. Over the course of NEXT TO NORMAL, she seeks treatment to help her survive, while her husband Dan and daughter Natalie struggle for some semblance of normalcy in their lives.

No musical before NEXT TO NORMAL had depicted mental illness with more accuracy and sympathy. This is a powerhouse of a show - anchored by incredible performances led by the brave, unflinching Alice Ripley - that leaves a lasting impression on everyone who sees it.
Billy Elliot
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Lee Hall
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Lee Hall
As in the 2000 film, Billy Elliot finds himself more drawn to ballet than to wrestling - against his father's wishes. But Billy finds solace in dance and lessons from Mrs. Wilkinson, even as the world around him is in turmoil. The musical takes place during the UK coal miners' strike that lasted from 1984 to 1985.

Cute kids aren't always what you want to see front and center in a musical, but the tremendous dancing by the young actors of BILLY ELLIOT transcends any doubts even the most curmudgeonly audience members might have. And the show's concerns about masculinity, which should be dated, are still contentious.
Legally Blonde
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Heather Hach
Music and lyrics: Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin
Based on the 2001 film of the same name, LEGALLY BLONDE, follows Elle Woods, a sorority girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend Warner and ends up following him to Harvard Law School to win him back. She turns out to be adept at the law and ends up defending a woman falsely accused of murder.

It may not be the deepest musical, but LEGALLY BLONDE - like Elle Woods - deserves credit for what it does well. The show is just fun, a pitch-perfect adaptation of the similarly delightful film, and it was the ideal showcase for the bubbly talents of Laura Bell Bundy.
The Last 25 Years
Memphis
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Joe DiPietro
Music: David Bryan
Lyrics: Joe DiPietro and David Bryan
MEMPHIS is inspired by the story of Dewey Phillips, who was one of the first white DJs to play black music in the '50s. Here, Dewey is reimagined as Huey, who enters the world of underground black clubs in Memphis because he loves the music, and ends up falling for Felicia, against societal conventions.

While MEMPHIS isn't the first musical to cover similar subject matter, it still offers a different and important take on the relationship between racial segregation and rock 'n' roll. What makes the show especially effective is that the music, while recalling the era, is all original to the musical.
Once
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Edna Walsh
Music and lyrics: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
A stage adaptation of the 2006 musical film, ONCE, is about an unnamed man and woman who form a musical partnership and fall in love over a few days in Dublin. Sadly, Guy, an unsuccessful busker, and Girl, a Czech immigrant, are both involved with other lovers, and their belief affair goes unconsummated.

Today's Broadway loves musical adaptation of films, but ONCE stands out from the rest. It's a hauntingly bittersweet show made all the more memorable by its intimate staging, including the stage doubling as a bar during intermission. Like the film, its power lies in being an untraditional love story.
In the Heights
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Quiara Alegría Hudes
Music and lyrics: Lin-Manual Miranda
In the Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, Usnavi, the owner of a small bodega, narrates the events happening around him. The cast of characters include matriarch Abuela Claudia, Usnavi's love interest Vanessa, recent Stanford drop-out Nina, and gringo Benny.

Before IN THE HEIGHTS, musical theater hadn't dived into the Dominican-American cultural experience. This is a story about people who don't often see themselves represented on stage (or on film and TV, for that matter), and the music - rap and salsa - is long overdue for a Broadway presence.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Rachel Sheinkin
Music and lyrics: William Finn
The title says it all, really - a group of kids participate in the 25th annual Putnam County spelling bee. But despite being young (and exceedingly nerdy, for the most part), these children have complicated feelings and a rich internal life that plays out as they are eliminated, one by one, from the competition.

SPELLING BEE is that perfect blend of humor and heart. It never feels too serious or silly, and most of the time, it's just a lot of fun. But with music and lyrics by William Finn, who broke hearts with FALSETTOS, there are moments of genuine pathos. "The I Love You Song" may be the most beautiful he's ever written.
Urinetown
From Buzzfeed.com:
Music: Mark Hollmann
Lyrics: Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis
In the dark world of URINETOWN, a 20-year drought has made private toilets a thing of the past. Now all bathrooms are public and controlled by a megacorporation, which forces people to pay for the privilege of peeing. Charismatic Bobby Strong leads his fellow citizens in a revolution - with mixed results.

Part of what makes URINETOWN such a funny show is how unexpected it is. The musical repeatedly subverts expectations to darkly comedic effect, parodying far more serious works like LES MISERABLES and reminding audiences that not all musical comedy has a happy ending.
The Color Purple
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Marsha Norman
Music and lyrics: Brenda Rusell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray
Based on the novel of the same name by Alice Walker, THE COLOR PURPLE, follows sisters Celie and Nettie over the course of four decades in rural Georgia at the first half of the 20th century. Forcefully separated and kept apart, Celie and Nettie struggle to reunite and survive their circumstances.

As when the novel THE COLOR PURPLE was released in 1982, the themes of the musical remain timeless. The shocking depictions of racism and sexism perpetuated against the subjugated sisters are harrowing but necessary, and the overall experience is aided by a gorgeous score that made LaChanze a star.
Passing Strange
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Stew
Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Lyrics: Stew
The unnamed Youth, a black man from South Central Los Angeles, rebels against his mother and his religious upbringing. He embarks on a journey to find "the real," traveling across Europe and exploring different genres of music, including rock, jazz, gospel, and punk, in order to find himself.

Like other great rock musicals, the thrill of PASSING STRANGE is that its creator Stew had no theatrical background. The result is something truly original, informed not by other musicals but by Stew's background as a rock 'n' roll performer. This is a rare reflection of a thoroughly unique new voice.
The Book of Mormon
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Robert Lopez, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker
Music and lyrics: Robert Lopez, Matt Stone and Trey Parker
Two Mormon missionaries, charismatic Elder Price and hapless Elder Cunningham, are sent to a remote village in norther Uganda. They try to share the message of Mormonism, but are shocked by the realities they encounter - war, famine, and AIDS - so Elder Cunningham gets creative (makes shit up).

Much as Mel Brooks turned out to be the unlikely candidate to reinvigorate musical comedy, SOUTH PARK creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker shocked Broadway with a musical that's irreverent, offensive, and just plain great. It's not always PC, but its heart is in the right place - and more to the point, it's hilarious.
Fela!
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Music and lyrics: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
In the '70s, Fela Kuti was an influential performer and composer in Nigeria. The musical is based on real events, when government soldiers were assigned to end Fela's public performances at the Shrine nightclub. Fela becomes involved with opposition, balancing his quest for fame and his desire for civil rights.

Calling FELA! a jukebox musical feels misleading - yes, the music here comes from the show's subject, Fela Kuti. But the appeal of FELA! is in its breathless, colorful performances - so intensely physical that two actors played the eponymous musician and alternated performances.
Bat Boy: The Musical
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music and lyrics: Laurence O'Keefe
In a cave many miles to the south lives a boy born with fangs in his mouth. After being discovered, Bat Boy moves in with the Parker family, where he is soon civilized and falls in love with Shelly. But as deaths pile up in Hope Falls, the townspeople turn against Bat Boy - now Edgar - leading to a tragic conclusion.

It's safe to say BAT BOY is the great musical inspired by a character from the Weekly World News. There is plenty of weirdness on display in this show - including a bizarre sequence in which the King of the Forest leads all the animals in copulation - but it's also sharp and sweet, with an addictive score.
The Scottsboro Boys
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: David Thompson
Music and lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb
Using the framework of a minstrel show, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, is based on the trial of nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape. The infamous trial was a miscarriage of justice, with the young men condemned to life in prison for a crime they didn't commit. The show is designed as a "musical social critique."

The subject matter is undeniably important, and the unique format reflects musical theater's ability to be subversive with social commentary. This was also one of the last collaborations between Kander and Ebb before the latter's death. Alas, despite earning 12 Tony Award nominations, it failed to win any.
Fun Home
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Lisa Kron
Music: Jeanine Tesoria
Lyrics: Lisa Kron
Based on Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic novel, FUN HOME, explores Alison's relationship with her father Bruce over the years. Presented in non-linear format, the show covers Alison's discovery of her sexuality and coming out, as well as her father's hidden sexuality and eventual suicide.

Like the graphic novel on which it's based, FUN HOME, is a heartbreaking musical. Even those who have criticized elements of the show acknowledge its impressive emotional core and the effect it has had on audiences. It was a highly personal story for Bechdel to share, and that intimacy remains.
More Musicals from the Last 25 Years
Tick, Tick...Boom!
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Jonathan Larson and David Auburn
Music and lyrics: Jonathan Larson
In this autobiographical musical first conceived as a one-man show, Jon approaches his 30th birthday with anxiety over his failure to succeed as a composer. Meanwhile, he struggles with commitment to his girlfriend Susan, who wants a more stable life, and Jon's best friend Michael learns that he's HIV positive.

While not the instant classic that RENT was, Jonathan Larson's other major work is a far more personal look at the struggles that led him to write the iconic 1994 musical. The knowledge that Larson died before he could see the extent of his success adds another level of melancholy to TICK, TICK...BOOM!
Newsies
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Harvey Fierstein
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Jack Feldman
Based on the 1992 Disney film - and the true events that inspired it - NEWSIES is about the titular young men, largely orphaned and homeless, who hock newspapers on the street. When the price of papers is raised 10 cents by the greedy Joseph Pulitzer, Jack inspires his fellow newsies to protest.

Say what you will about the Disney musical - NEWSIES shows what Disney gets right. The inspiring story and infectious music is as delightful here as it was in the original film, appealing to young audience members and the young at heart, like any good Disney production should.
The Full Monty
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Terrence McNally
Music and lyrics: David Yazbek
THE FULL MONTY is inspired by the 1997 film but Americanized - here, unemployed steelworkers in Buffalo decide to make money by performing in a strip act. Because they're not as in shape as teh Chippendales dancers their wives love, they decide to distinguish themselves by ending with full nudity.

It's hard to believe that a musical about out-of-work (and out-of-shape) steelworkers who decide to become strippers would be as stirring and poignant as THE FULL MONTY is. That's not to take away from the fun of the show, which is a given, but the real surprise is the gorgeous, emotionally honest score.
The Last Five Years
From Buzzfeed.com:
Book: Jason Robert Brown
Music and lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a love story told backward and forward - the show documents the five-year relationship between novelist Jamie Wellerstein and actress Cathy Hyatt. Cathy's story is told in reverse, beginning at the end of the marriage, while Jamie's story is told chronologically, when the two meet.

Few composers can tell a love story like Jason Robert Brown. THE LAST FIVE YEARS feels intensely personal, because it was inspired by Brown's real-life marriage to Theresa O'Neill. Despite the non-linear style, it's a simple show that lets the score do the work.
Matilda
From Newyork.com:
This show is a no-brainer for young girls. Inspired by Roald Dahl's classic book, MATILDA, takes audiences inside the vivid mind of a girl in a difficult situation. She rebels in her own way - by creating an alternate world, something to which younger children can easily relate. Four different young actresses alternate in the title role (collectively, they won the Tony), so young ladies will likely be dreaming of making it to Broadway themselves. Not to mention, the musical is known for its astonishing stagecraft and toe-thumping songs.
Kinky Boots
From the Official Site:
Inspired by true events, KINKY BOOTS, tells the story of Charlie Price, who inherits his father's shoe factory. Looking to save the family business, Charlie turns to a fabulously fashionable new friend - cabaret star Lola - who gives him an outrageous idea that could change both their destinies.
More Musical from the Last 25 Years
Hamilton
From Broadway.com: Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the stage as the unlikely founding father determined to make his mark on the new nation as hungry and ambitious as he is. From bastard orphan to Washington's right hand man, rebel to war hero, a loving husband caught in the country's first sex scandal, to the Treasury head who made an untrusting world believe in the American economy.
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