Friday, October 31, 2014

The Fly

At one point in Act II, Mr. Okulitch, his skin now covered in hideous scales, is suspended by wires. He enters his studio upside down, crawling along a ceiling crossbeam and then slithering head-first down a metal column, singing all the while. This is something voice students are not prepared for in conservatory training. ~ New York Times.

Just about any subject is ripe for opera. The film world and lyric stage have been influencing and stealing from each other since the days of silents. Brundlefly is no less reasonable a character for musical amplification than Rigoletto. ~ L.A. Times

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thrill Me

The story is familiar, the script and lyrics are not especially innovative, but somehow "Thrill Me," Stephen Dolginoff's pocket musical about the Leopold and Loeb murder case, lands like a well-placed punch, arresting and a bit breathtaking... every time Mr. Kreeger and Mr. Bauer blend their voices in close harmony, it's a reminder that evil often looks and sounds beautiful. ~ New York Times.

Here, Loeb is the self-loving one, and it's not always clear why his pal doesn't rumble him as a prat from the off. We have to take Leopold's sexual obsession on trust.  ~ The Guardian

''Roxie Hart a mother? That's like making Leopold and Loeb  Scoutmasters!" ~ Velma Kelly, Chicago.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Turn of the Screw

Are the ghosts of randy servants possessing the children to tryst with each other?
Are the children simply rebelling against their strict upbringing?
Is the boy's infatuation with the male servant a sign of possession or merely budding homosexuality?
Is the Governesses' infatuation with the master causing her to see ghostly men everywhere she turns?

One of my favorite ghost stories has been adapted and interpreted in many ways. Putting the ghosts on stage, and letting them sing, is a rsik. You reduce the ambiguity of the story. The opera still has great fun playing with who exactly can and can't see them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Visit

The macabre and the misty-eyed vie uneasily for supremacy in “The Visit,” a musical adaptation of Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt’s 1956 tragicomedy about vengeance and venality... Claire is a kind of female Sweeney Todd. Her heart was singed by betrayal in her youth; now she is bent remorselessly on brutal revenge. But as reconceived here, she wavers between sentimental musical interludes and glinty-eyed commitment to retribution. ~  Charles Isherwood, New York Times.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sweeney Todd

100th Comic! That's 300 panels of musicals!

My favorite horror musical manages to surprise on a first viewing and provide new discoveries on repeated viewings. We're very fortunate that the controversial film is not the only record as Lansbury, LuPone and Thompson have all had their stage productions broadcast.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


"I can't. I'm in tech."

I'll be taking a break this week, returning on Monday, 10/27, with my 100th comic! (That's 300 panels of musicals!)

I've got some more horror musicals in my sites as we head towards Halloween, and then I'll be looking for my next topic. Are there any particular musicals or composers you'd like to see on the blog? Mention them in the comments!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark

Julie Taymor wrote a meta-theatrical libretto in which four comic book fans debate the connections between modern super-heroes and Greek myths. The mythical Arachne creates Spiderman and his foes, toys with their fates… and sings a song about shoes.

After a skyrocketing budget, an extended preview period, defiant critics, backstage battles, onstage accidents, casting changes and a lawsuit the new writers scaled down the ambitions. The revised Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark followed the arc of the 2002 film. Spiderman gains his powers, pines for Mary Jane, and defeats the Green Goblin.

Would the more ambitious libretto hold up in a concert staging, without the burden of expensive sets and dangerous stunts? Did the Greek myth/Comic hero parallel have potential? Now that it is tied up in legal red tape we may never know. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman! v.2

Where the 1966 Superman was kin to Adam West the 2010 Dallas revisal aimed for Christopher Reeve. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa attempted to flesh out the Clark/Lois romance and introduce more characters from the lore. In a diplomatic interview he explains that DC Comics did not approve and he was asked to make his characters legally distinct from their comic counterparts.  “So Lex (Luthor) went back to being Max Menken….”

Reviews were mixed suggesting that the modern sensibilities of the new book didn't always gibe with the retro score and the villains again stole focus from Lois and Clark.

One change that interests me was the use of the song “WeDon’t Matter At All.” In 1966 Lois sang this duet with her disposable love interest Jim Morgan. He sings of peppy nihilism (“We Don’t Matter At All”) and she refutes him (“Oh we matter we do. What’s the matter with you.”) In 2010 the cynical verse goes to the gossip columnist and the rebuttal goes to Clark Kent. This makes him more sympathetic than the Gaston-like boasting of “Doing Good” and “Pow. Bam. Zonk.”

DC Comics may never let this production go to Broadway but Sacasa was soon scooped to save another flailing superhero musical… 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman! v.1

Superheroes and musicals have been an uneasy match. Musicals are often about big characters pursuing big dreams. In a superhero narrative that’s usually the role of the villain. This week we'll look at three super hero musicals. The libretto for It’s Superman keeps Clark and Lois busy with new love interests while three villains drive the plot.

Benton and Newman’s Superman is an Adam Westy / Lil’ Abnery lug with big ego. In today’s era of angsty superheroes it’s interesting to see Superman’s act two angst played for broad laughs.

The writers never came up with anything compelling for Superman to sing. The breakout song, “You’ve Got Possibilities,” goes to a villain’s girlfriend as she tries to seduce Clark Kent. Some have suggested that song should go to Lois, while Lois’ ballad “What I’ve Always Wanted” should go to Clark. The 2010 revisal had other plans. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Damn Yankees

I love Damn Yankees but I’ll admit it’s oddly structured. Who is it about? Joe and Meg are technically the protagonists as their marriage is at stake, but Applegate (The Devil) and Lola drive the plot and get the best songs.  The baseball team gets the dances while their quest to beat the Yankees and win the pennant is kept offstage. The 1994 revisal adjusted this by focusing on “the big game” in the finale.

Gwen Verdon’s Lola was unquestionably the heart and… soul… of the original production. You can play Lola as a comical vamp and get laughs but Verdon did more.  She’d grown tired of the vamp act. Joe’s initial resistance made it fun for her again but his sincerity made her drop the mask. She never forgot that she  was “the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island” wearing a supernatural disguise. It gave the breezy musical comedy some pathos.

Of course modern directors can also play up the homoeroticism. That’s okay too.

Monday, October 13, 2014


If you've any interest in obscure musicals you'll want to read Ken Mandelbaum’s fantastic book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops.

The original production suffered from the conflicting styles of the original artistic team who made it a strange mix of earnestness and camp. Carrie and her mother were staged for Greek Tragedy while the chorus of mean girls were staged for a revival of Grease. The show closed in five performances to jeers, catcalls and snarky reviews.

 "But when was the last time you saw a Broadway song and dance about the slaughtering of a pig? They've got one to open Act II of ''Carrie,'' and no expense has been spared in bringing the audience some of the loudest oinking this side of Old McDonald's Farm." ~ Frank Rich

The writers pulled the show from circulation and retooled it bringing a new Carrie to Off-Broadway in 2012. While that production received mixed responses the show is now available for schools and regional theaters to tackle.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dueling Vampires

Three vampire musicals opened and closed on Broadway in quick succession. Each approached their subjects from a different angle.

In the public domain, no one can hear you scream. ~ NY Times on Dracula.

“We ended up with two shows at war with each other,” says Steinman. “One was sensual and Gothic, the other was camp ‘Rocky Horror.’ I knew the critics would kill us for that.  ~ NY Post on Dance of the Vampires

"Lestat," .... is the third vampire musical to open in the last few years, and it seems unlikely to break the solemn curse that has plagued the genre.... the show admittedly has higher aspirations and (marginally) higher production values than the kitschy "Dance of the Vampires" (2002) and the leaden "Dracula: The Musical" (2004), both major-league flops….

"Lestat" brings to mind a fancy-dress version of "The Boys in the Band," Mart Crowley's landmark play about the miseries of being gay. Here again is a set of expensively attired men who, when they aren't on the prowl for a luscious new conquest, lament the all-consuming urges that have turned them into outcasts. ~ NY Times on Lestat

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jekyll and Hyde

Jekyll and Hyde, like 80's slasher movies, eases you in by killing off a string of unsympathetic characters (The Board of Governors) before putting the leading ladies (Spunky fiancee and heart-of-gold prostitute)  in danger.

Being in the chorus of Jekyll and Hyde is rather thankless. The Governors lost their comic song "Bitch Bitch Bitch" in early drafts, the Act Two opener "Murder Murder" is nobody's favorite and most of your efforts go into the FIVE renditions of the song "Facade."

There's a face that we wear
In the cold light of day -
It's society's mask,
It's society's way,
And the truth is
That it's all a facade!

Get it! We're all Jekyll and Hyde! You don't see it? Don't worry, we'll sing it again!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dueling Frankenstein's

While there are few horror musicals there are many musicals based on horror properties. You can change your monster to a clown or a hunk. It makes it easier to write a song for him, but doesn't guarantee a successful show.

NY Times on Young Frankenstein
No, it is not nearly as good as “The Producers,” Mr. Brooks’s previous Broadway musical. No, it is not as much fun as the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, also called “Young Frankenstein,” on which it is based….
Despite its fidelity to the film’s script, “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein” (to use its sprawling official title) feels less like a sustained book musical than an overblown burlesque revue, right down to its giggly smuttiness.

NY Times on Frankenstein a New Musical
For all their talk of fidelity to the original text, the show’s authors have departed radically from it in this piece of casting. … With hairless pecs and buzz cut, this Creature would probably be a man magnet on a Saturday night in Chelsea.

Village Voice on a third Frankenstein
While the first act follows the novel somewhat faithfully (excepting some scenes of haunting), the second contains some great departures, including a comic number the Creature (Timothy Warmen) sings to his unsuccessfully resurrected mate and a scene in which the Creature rapes Elizabeth (Cadden Jones) before throttling her. Perhaps rape scenes ought not be set to music at all, but if they are, they certainly should not include the repeated lyric "Forgive the intrusion."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dueling Phantoms

Yeston and Kopit wrote their version first. Webber's was produced first. Yeston and Kopit released their rights to regional theaters first allowing it to be produced around the country.

The Phantom of the Opera was originally a horror story, though both musicals emphasize the tragic romance. When the Phantom's do begin their killing sprees the tones are inconsistent, often promoting as many giggles as gasps.

There was something unwholesome and pathetic about the 1925 Phantom, who scuttled like a rat in the undercellars of the Paris Opera and nourished a hopeless love for Christine. The modern Phantom is more like a perverse Batman with a really neat cave. ~ Roger Ebert on the 2004 Webber Film.

What transpires from this point to the end of the show is a frustrating mix of comedy, spectacle, sentimentality, revelation and suspense, with great highs and great lows. ~ L.A. Times on Yeston and Kopit's Phantom. 

I've written about Webber's sequel here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dueling Wild Party's

The Wild Party is more existential dread than horror themed, but it has something in common with the other horror musicals I'll be looking at this week. Public domain source material and two competing musical versions.

New York Times on Lippa:
Mr. Lippa's score, dexterously orchestrated by Michael Gibson, has a jittery, wandering quality, conscientiously shifting styles and tempos as if in search of a lost chord. ... Mr. Lippa's book and lyrics have expanded the focus of March's notoriously cool-blooded poem to depict a quest not just for novel sensation but for that funny thing called love.

New York Times on LaChiusa:
This latest version, the work of Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe, is big on letting its characters suffer, loudly and aggressively, in the spotlight. The suffering is embodied by talented stars like Mandy Patinkin, Toni Collette and the legendary Eartha Kitt.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Let's kick October off with some horror musicals! Anthony Rapp, Pasha Pellosie and Eric Michael Krop star in the short musical film Grind now screening on The songs are catchy and the mystery is skillfully unveiled.

Not to be confused with Ben Vereen's Grind.