Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Seven Basic Plots of 2018

I recently matched last season's musicals with Chris Booker's "Seven Basic Plots." I thought I'd do the same for the scheduled musicals of the coming season and a few still in development.

Overcoming the Monster - Protagonist must defeat an antagonistic force to save themselves and/or their homeland.

  • Spongebob Squarepants vs. the volcano.
  • Beetlejuice. Ghosts vs. the living.
  • The Devil Wars Prada? This could also be a rebirth or rags to riches journey of the young heroine. Rebirth's a common theme next year as we'll soon see.

Rags to Riches - Protagonist achieves success only to lose it and grow as a person.

  • Mean Girls maybe?

The Quest - Protagonist and companions travel towards a place or object. They overcome obstacles on the way.

  • Spongebob's journey to the volcano.

Voyage and Return - The protagonist travels to a strange land, overcomes adversity, and returns home changed.

  • The Band's Visit which tells of an Egyptian band giving a concert in Israel.
  • Frozen as Anna and Elsa leave and return to Arrandale.
  • Hadestown

Comedy - A messier definition than the others. Protagonist overcomes adverse circumstances that grow increasingly complex till a "clarifying event" resolves it.

  • No immediate candidates. Maybe Beetlejuice again?

Tragedy - The protagonist is brought down by a fatal flaw.

  • The revival of Once on This Island. 
  • Beaches
  • King Kong the Musical. Twas critics killed the beast.

Rebirth - An important event forces the protagonist to change their ways and become a better person.

  • The revival of Carousel could be seen as a tragedy or a story of rebirth.
  • The revival of My Fair Lady sees the rebirth of both Henry and Eliza. 
  • Gettin' the Band Back Together. Playbill sums it up as a "new musical about an investment banker who loses his job and decides to restart his life by reorganizing his high school rock band." There've been a lot of band themed shows lately. 
  • The jukebox musical Escape to Margaritaville focuses on a slacker protagonist and the sensible woman who changes him. (Those who hate jukebox musicals are free to classify this as a tragedy).
  • 13 Going on 30. We've done the body swap film adaptation with Big the musical and Freaky Friday the musical. Didn't see those? Well here's 13 Going on 30!
  • 17 Again. But wait. There's another body swap film with a number in the title that we can adapt. This time it's an adult who wants to be a teen! But only if he's a teen who looks like a 22 yr old Zac Efron. 
  • The Bodyguard. 

Shows I couldn't fit.

  • The Hal Prince revue The Prince of Broadway. 
  • Archie the Musical. No word on what the plot will be. Maybe a sexy murder mystery like Riverdale! Or the zombie filled horror of Afterlife with Archie! Nah. It'll probably stick to the love triangle. Maybe something about their band. Bands are big next season.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Why doesn't Candide work on stage? Some said Lillian Hellman's grim book clashed with Bernstein's bouncy score. However the score has it's share of pathos and Wheeler's jokey new book robs the characters of depth. The 90 minute version does not earn it's meditative ending and the extended opera house version can be a chore to sit through. Perhaps it's simply that Voltaire's philosophical novella doesn't belong in a literal setting.

The Broadway premiere ran 73 performances but two revivals outran it and opera companies have made it a staple. While the title role is a cipher the supporting roles provide showcases for divas and clowns. Cundegonde's "Glitter and Be Gay" deserves all the praise it musters and the Old Lady frequently walks away with the show.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Gay Life

Barbara Cook spent the first decade of her career playing ingenues in musical comedies. The Music Man was her biggest hit but even "flops" like Candide and She Loves Me gave her signature songs like "Glitter and Be Gay" and "Vanilla Ice Cream." Today I look at one of her real flops; The Gay Life. 

We start with a set of one act plays about a rouge named Anatole and his many mistresses. In adapting them to a musical a through line was needed. That would be Liesl the young woman who loves him from afar. Like Bobby in Company she observes all his adventures. Like Sandy in Grease she wins him by asserting her own sexuality. The role could have been a cipher or a joke. Instead Barbara Cook made her the beating heart of the show.

Italian film star Walter Chiari couldn't really sing. The mistresses and the sidekick get the comedy numbers but those are mostly uninspired. The good stuff goes to Barbara Cook and her tracks on the cast album are spellbinding.

"Our leading man couldn't act, dance, sing or speak English, which was a handicap." ~ Howard Dietz

"When the show was published for the first time in 1986, it was retitled, for perhaps obvious reasons, The High Life." ~ Kevin Mandelbaum

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Galavant never clicked with me. The humor felt too broad and the characters too unpleasant. Ratings never competed with Smash at its best or Glee at its worst. Still it lasted two seasons and the folks who stuck with it adored it.

Some favorite songs include:

A New Season which has a nice Muppet Movie vibe to it.
Kylie Minogue singing Off With His Shirt
The falling out of hatred duet Maybe You're Not the Worst Thing Ever.
The challenge duet I Don't Like You
and the bouncy title song, How Long Can This Go On Galavant!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


"Fade in on a girl with a hunger for fame."

Smash suffered from an identity crisis. Theresa Rebeck wanted a drama about the struggles of balancing her personal and creative life. NBC wanted a soap opera about the sex lives of Broadway artists. I wanted a show about the development of a new Broadway musical. It soon became clear that Bombshell, the fictional musical about Marilyn Monroe, was incomprehensible. I gave up on full episodes once Uma Thurman's smoothies became a plot point. I kept watching the songs from Bombshell. Here are some of my favorites:

Let Me Be Your Star
The 20th Century Fox Mambo
Public Relations
They Just Keep Moving the Line
Don't Forget Me

Oh, and I'm Team Ivy all the way.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season Two

I got nervous around the middle of season two. The story was wandering and I wasn't sure what the stakes were. Everything started to feel less... well... crazy. The season finale had to cram in a lot of plot to ramp things up again. Afterwards I listened to several interviews with the series creators. They described Season Two as having a three act structure. Looking back I can see it. I also respect how the characters can have multiple ups and downs without hitting the "reset button" and forgetting what they've already learned.

Favorite songs this season include:

and my number one favorite: The Math of Love Triangles.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season One

"She's so broken insiiide!"

The song that won me over was "Feeling Kinda Naughty" in episode 2. That was the moment I knew this show would be appointment television. Other favorite songs that season include:

A Boy Band Made up of Four Joshes
Settle For Me
I Give Good Parent
I'm the Villain

Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are writing about mental illness in a way I haven't seen in pop culture. The protagonist is coping with an abusive childhood, depression, anxiety and self-loathing in a mix of healthy and incredibly unhealthy ways. She's tried therapy and over-medication. Now she's diving head first into the fantasy of a romantic relationship and destroying everything around her in the process. The show still doesn't have the ratings it deserves but it has won awards and critical acclaim.

The people who love this show reeeally love it. I'm one of them.