Pretty Little Picture

Even when Stephen Sondheim writes a lightweight comedy, there's buried treasure everywhere you look.

It's been fun to dive into the Sondheim's score for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Nearly all the songs in the score foreshadow the even more confident Sondheim still to come, with as much musicplay as wordplay.

He places “wrong note” dissonances all over the score, in “Love I Hear,” “Free,” “Pretty Little Picture,” and other songs, as well as in Miles Gloriosus’ trumpet fanfare. All these “wrong notes” tell us that this world is off balance; things are amiss and need fixing, that Pseudolus’ schemes are all lies, secrets, manipulations, and misdirections, and they can only end in chaos.

And nearly all the songs are ironic.

“Love I Hear” deconstructs the musical comedy love song, by Hero singing not to his love or to himself in an R&H “interior monologue,” but explicitly singing to the audience, even asking their forgiveness. It also subtly tells us that Hero is a virgin; all he knows about sex is hearsay. And the song does one other thing, by satirizing that staple of rock and roll, the “I’m so in love, I’m sick” song, like “Great Balls of Fire.”

Sondheim fully rejects the Rodgers and Hammerstein model at the end of the song:
Forgive me if I shout…
Forgive me if I crow…
I’ve only just found out,
And well, I thought you ought to know.

"You" is the audience! This is almost a traditional “I Want” song, in which the protagonist literally tells us what they want. But this one breaks most of the rules – well, the mid-century Rodgers & Hammerstein rules, anyway – by acknowledging that he just literally told us, the audience, what he wants. In an R&H show, the characters still tell us this stuff, but the writers, actors, directors – and audiences – pretend the characters don’t know they’re telling us this stuff, that they’re just thinking out loud or something, and the song is an “interior monologue.” Nonsense.

Here, Sondheim has pulled aside the curtain. Not only is the Fourth Wall gone, but the first two songs both use direct address to the audience. Sondheim is setting the rules for the evening.

And setting the tone. Irony abounds throughout Sondheim's score.

In “Free,” Pseudolus fantasizes about buying women and other slaves, even as he seeks his own freedom from slavery. In “The House of Marcus Lycus,” the women are commodities, and yet it appears that any of them could kick Pseudolus’ ass. And though in the 21st century we well might find this scene uncomfortably sexist, its underlying irony – that Pseudolus doesn’t really intend to buy a courtesan; he just wants to find the girl Hero loves – gives it a funnier and less troubling vibe.

In “Lovely,” a love song to superficiality, the two young lovers, Hero and Philia, are quite serious, but we hear this content as cringe-worthy. Philia has been raised to be beautiful, and nothing else. In her world, beauty isn’t an attribute; it’s a job. This is an upside-down love song, in which the lovers sing only about her appearance, subtly satirizing all the Love-At-First-Sight songs in traditional musical comedies. Even though the characters are aware of one level, the audience is aware of both levels. And the song will return in Act II to be hilariously deconstructed even more.

And even in the relatively straightforward song, “Pretty Little Picture,” we in the audience know that Pseudolus is acting entirely out of self-interest, and the dream he paints is just another manipulation. In “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” the accumulating singers are talking about cleaning duties, but we know they’re really talking about sex.

And of course, the song "I'm Calm” is anything but.

Sondheim reprises “Lovely” in Act II, and though most mid-century songwriters would feel obligated to write new lyrics for this repeat of a song, Sondheim found a smarter and funnier tack, not to change the lyric at all, but instead drastically change the circumstance and the players. Here, instead of young lovers, now Pseudolus is trying to convince Hysterium to dress in drag and portray the “dead” Philia. And halfway through this reprise, Hysterium suddenly feels beautiful for the first time in his life, and he begins to sing about his own loveliness. It’s an unexpectedly sweet, if wacky, moment.

Significantly, Hysterium’s name ends with a neuter suffix (-um), which subtly brands him as neither male nor female. This starts as a running gag in Act I, but it pays off as a significant plot point late in this show.

Throughout the show, the irony of the songs demonstrates the mad confusion and chaos of love. In “That’ll Show Him,” a passionate beguine, Philia plans her revenge against Miles Gloriosus by vowing to have sex with him, but only while thinking of Hero. In the bluesy torch song, “That Dirty Old Man,” Domina complains about how awful her husband is, and how desperately she wants him. Both songs are funny, but also poignant. We feel for these women in a way we don’t expect in such a wild farce. It’s Sondheim adding psychology and nuance to Plautus.

I really love this show and I'm so glad we finally get a chance to work on it. We open next week! Come see us!

Long Live the Musical!

To buy your tickets for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, click here.

To buy your New Line season tickets for next season, click here.

To donate to New Line Theatre, click here.

To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheimclick here.

Man in His Madness

Some people call the Rodgers and Hammerstein era of the Broadway musical, "The Golden Age," usually defined by the opening of Oklahoma! (1943) through to the opening of Fiddler on the Roof (1964). But as you know if you read my blog, I don't think it was a Golden Age. It was just the R&H years.

Early on in the creation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, bookwriter Burt Shevelove had to help composer Stephen Sondheim let go of those conventions.

Sondheim struggled with un-learning all Oscar Hammerstein had taught him. Sondheim said, “Next to Merrily We Roll Along, it was the hardest score I ever had to write.” The Rodgers & Hammerstein model dictated that every theatre song must advance plot or characterization, and that “serious” musicals adhere to the faux naturalistic Fourth Wall, pretending the audience is not there and the action is not taking place on a stage – requiring the audience to “suspend their disbelief,” or in other words, to pretend the actors aren’t pretending.

Let's be honest. It’s a silly conceit.

Rodgers & Hammerstein made the big and surprisingly obvious mistake of trying to make musical theatre naturalistic. Though the R&H shows were mostly realistic (i.e., dealing with real world issues, rather than fantasy), they were never naturalistic (i.e., seeming natural, seeming like reality rather than a performance). Musicals can’t be naturalistic since people in the real world don’t spontaneously break into song – that peculiar convention is a storytelling language, not reality.

Previous to Oscar and Dick, musicals didn’t try to “fool” the audience into believing the story was real. There was no Fourth Wall. The characters often confided in the audience. The legendary “suspension of disbelief” didn’t apply – everyone involved knew that the audience knew that this was a performance, that actors were telling them a story. But Sondheim had been taught – and believed in – Oscar’s model.

Shevelove said to Sondheim, “There’s a whole other way to write songs, the way the Greeks did it and the Romans did it, and the way Shakespeare did it, which is to savor the moment.” Instead of a theatre song functioning as a little one-act play, as Oscar advocated, a song could also take one idea and play with it, play with language, play with meaning. That’s what Cole Porter and Irving Berlin did, in large part. And it’s also how songs were used in Roman comedies like Pseudolus and The Haunted House.

Alongside his other artistic iconoclasm, Sondheim came to realize that Oscar’s other core belief, that songs should erupt only when the emotions get too big for words, also doesn’t always make sense.

Larry Gelbart wrote in his introduction to the published Forum script, “Broadway, in its development of musical comedy, had improved the quality of the former at the expense of a good deal of the latter.” Sondheim wrote in his collection of lyrics, Finishing the Hat, that:
I don’t think that farces can be translated into musicals without damage – at least, not good musicals. The tighter the plotting the better the farce, but the better the farce, the more the songs interrupt the flow and pace. Farces are express trains: musicals are locals. Savoring moments can be effective while a farce is gathering steam, but deadly once the train gets going. That’s why the songs in Forum are bunched together in the first half of the first act, where there is more exposition than action, and then become scarcer and scarcer, until eventually in the last twenty minutes before the finale, there are no songs at all.

Forum was an early Sondheim experiment in what forms the musical theatre could explore. Like Company a decade later, the songs could be removed from Forum without missing any plot elements. Usually that would be considered bad (or at least ineffective) writing. The whole point of musical theatre is to tell stories through songs, right?

Yes, but what that meant was changing as Sondheim experimented in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

By design, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, was populated by stock characters, types so old they were already clichés when Shakespeare played with them. As Peter Smith writes in his introduction to the collection Plautus: Three Comedies, “For the most part the Hellenistic stage was peopled with down-to-earth types, many of whom were given a memorable dramatic individuality. It was a comic society of courtesans, pimps, and lovers, of soldiers, slaves, and parasites – a cosmopolitan demimonde.”

Smith later writes, “We see characters motivated by youthful love, senile lust, selfless loyalty, selfish greed, affection, fear, modesty, vanity. Although farce abounds, it is super-imposed on plays of basically sound construction and good characterizations, and it is balanced by a sparkling gift of wit. If one quality above all others that can be taken as Plautus’ hallmark, it is his delight in language, manifested in constant puns, word coinages, alliteration, and assonance. Although the diction is colloquial, the comic idiom is enriched by countless rhetorical figures and is disciplined by Plautus’ demanding verse forms. His rhythmical sense made him highly skillful in versification; in the cantica or lyric portions of his comedies, Plautus develops complex and sophisticated metrical patterns. His is an obtrusive style, seldom muted or subtle in its effect, but the undisguised verbal exuberance has been a strong feature in his perennial appeal.”

By the way, the cantica were meant to be sung, as solos, duets, and trios. Before Plautus, these lyric sections were not songs; after Plautus they were. He invented musical comedy.

So much of that quote from Smith could be describing Sondheim. Or Shakespeare. Forum is often dismissed as simple farce, but it’s so much more than that. What’s different here are the songs. Adding musical comedy songs changes those stock characters into real people, because the songs in a musical explore emotions and psychology and hidden motivations that just don’t exist in stock characters. Now these ancient clichés become complicated by these new inner lives. Domina seems to be a predictable stock character until she sings “That Dirty Old Man,” after which suddenly we know her. She’s in a crappy marriage but she still loves her husband. She’s no longer a stock character. Pseudolus seems like a stock character until he sings “Free,” and we find out he’s got dreams, plans for a future. And we can’t help but fall in love with Philia when she sings “That’ll Show Him.”

The songs in Forum are pauses in the action, reflections, rather than moving the action forward; but the score is deceptively unified. Almost every song plays with ideas of restraint and release, another common Plautus theme, and that theme emerges throughout the show, in terms of slavery, but also sexual impulse, marriage, parenting, contracts, danger, sorrow.

As Smith writes about Plautus’s theatre, “Many conventions can be explained by the tendency to adopt a thoroughly self-conscious attitude toward dramatic performance. The illusion of reality is not the ultimate goal in a theatre that relishes interaction between actor and audience, a theatre where glorious comic effects can be achieved by a deliberate violation of the supposedly invisible Fourth Wall.”

Forum is a complete rejection of the Rodgers & Hammerstein model, even though (because?) Oscar Hammerstein had been Sondheim’s mentor. By eliminating the (arguably ridiculous) Fourth Wall and speaking/singing directly to the audience, the eventual opening number, “Comedy Tonight” opened the era of the Concept Musical, shows in which the central idea is as important (or more important) than the plot. Just a few years later, Jerome Robbins would open Fiddler on the Roof with the very conceptual song, “Tradition.”

Nothing that's formal, nothing that's normal...

Long Live the Musical!

To buy your tickets for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, click here.

To buy your New Line season tickets for next season, click here.

To donate to New Line Theatre, click here.

To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheimclick here.

My Daughter a Eunuch?

Stephen Sondheim's early meta-musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is largely based on three plays by the Roman playwright Plautus, but also steals some details from two other of his plays. And then the musical mashes it all together with the comic conventions of American vaudeville. And all the while, the show continually acknowledges itself and refers to itself and to the audience.

Which is completely in tune with Plautus, by the way.

Plautus wrote about 130 plays but we have only twenty of them surviving today. He was the first professional playwright, the first to make his living from writing plays; and like Shakespeare, Molière, and many others after him, his plays were intentionally commercial, meant for the masses, for all social classes.

And he was very successful commercially. Most of his plays included songs, and in many ways, Plautus was writing an early prototypal form of American musical comedy. We can tell he was learning how to use songs in these plays as he wrote them -- the later the play, the more songs it contains.

Translator and writer Erich Segal says, “Not since Aristophanes had an audience heard such vivacious verbal abandon. What a language Plautus’ characters speak! Unlike the simple, forthright (good old Roman) style championed by his conservative contemporary Cato, the dialogue is purple, but not blue; it is racy, but not dirty. Plautus is repetitive, mock-elegant, mock-heroic, mock-everything. He invents all sorts of delicious new words.” Just like Shakespeare.

Scholar Eric Handley says, “Plautus likes his colors strong, his staging more obvious, his comedy more comic.” Scholar George Duckworth says, “Plautus never uses one phrase if three or six will be more effective.” Plautus also loved playing with meta jokes, a theatrical self-consciousness, in which the actors would refer to themselves as actors and the play as a play. In his play Poenulus, one of the actors says to another, “Be brief, the audience is thirsty!”

The Greeks invented comedy, first as the crazy, naughty, supernatural comedies of Aristophanes and his peers; then later it evolved into something edging closer to what we now think of as old-school musical comedy. Plautus often used Greek comedies as source material, but he loaded on the sight gags, puns, double-entendres, mistaken identities, malapropisms, etc. He translated Greek oration into Latin song. His plays were frequently about sacred “Roman values” being subverted, violated, overthrown.

All of this also describes A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Roman comedies, like those of Plautus, were always set in front of one, two, or three houses; Forum plays out in front of three. Any of these three doors onstage could portray the home of a citizen, a courtesan, or a temple.

Theatre performances were held in various locations around Athens, including the Palatine, the most important of the Seven Hills of Rome, in the forum, or as part of the funeral rites for an aristocrat.

While the early Greek dramas had only three actors on stage, by the time Plautus was writing Roman comedies, they were using casts of ten or more, and scenes involving four or five characters at once, in addition to others onstage.

He used several stock character types, many of them subversive and chaos-causing, and we see them all in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: the greedy pimp (Marcus Lycus), bitchy wives (Domina), silly old codgers (Erronius), senile Romeos (Senex), and the clever slave and “agent of chaos” (Pseudolus). So many of Plautus’ plays inspired later works. Miles Gloriosus foreshadows Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Plautus’ comedy The Brothers Menaechman is an obvious source for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors as well as the musicals The Boys from Syracuse and The Bomb-itty of Errors. Plautus’ play The Pot of Gold is a source for Molière’s comedy The Miser.

Sondheim said, “Plautus was the first person to domesticize comedy. All comedy, Aristophanes, for instance, was about gods and goddesses. Nobody had ever written about husbands and wives, daughters and maids. Plautus is responsible for the situation comedy.”

It's so much fun working (indirectly) on Plautus and on Sondheim at the same time. The more we run the show, the more everything falls into place, the funnier and funnier it gets.

And of course, Sondheim and his collaborators can't help but throw in some subtle but sharp satire underneath the wild plot.

I've had a blast living in this silly but smart world, and I can't wait to share it with our audiences. As is often the case, I think the fierce up-close-ness of our theatre will make everything feel even crazier and wilder.

The adventure continues. Next week is Hell Week!

Long Live the Musical! 

To buy your tickets for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, click here.

To buy your New Line season tickets for next season, click here.

To donate to New Line Theatre, click here.

To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheimclick here.

Brek-kek-kek, Koax, Koax!

When I decided back in 2020 to write a new analysis book, tackling all of Stephen Sondheim's shows, it didn't occur to me at first that I'd have to learn a lot more about the opening of Japan to the West, about Roman comedy and Greek comedy, the "midnight sun," Ziegfeld, and so much more. And I didn't think a new writing project would lead me to producing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at long last (ticket info here).

I had studied and written in my earlier books about several of Sondheim's shows, but there were quite a few that I hadn't really studied at all. The idea seemed like a fun adventure, and one I should take. The end result of this mammoth undertaking is He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheim; and in a way, it's as much for me as it is for my readers.

One of the things that struck me as I dove into each show, was how smart all his choices were, how informed they were, how right they were. The Frogs is one prime example, one of those shows that proves Sondheim's Cardinal Rule: Content Dictates Form.

Here's an excerpt about The Frogs from He Never Did Anything Twice.

When Nathan Lane rewrote The Frogs and turned it into a musical comedy in 2004, he didn't understand that, as interesting as it may be, it’s not a musical in any conventional sense; it’s ritual. Like Hair, The Frogs is not meant to be experienced the same way as Company or Sweeney Todd. Aristophanes’ original production was part of the theatre competition at the Lenaia, one of the annual Festivals of Dionysus in Athens, a religious ritual.

When Sondheim wrote songs for the show, he didn’t write conventional songs. Her wrote lengthy ritual numbers that don’t conform to the conventions of theatre songs, in terms of structure, language, length, or purpose. All six songs in the original are named for corresponding songs in Aristophanes’ theatre:
Prologus (“Invocation and Instructions to the Audience”)
Parodos (“The Frogs”)
Hymnos (“Evoe!”)
Parabasis (“It’s Only a Play”)
Paean (“Evoe for the Dead”)
Exodos (“The Sound of Poets”)

In “The Sound of Poets” (expanded for the revival) we have to wonder if we hear Sondheim’s own voice:
Bring the sound of poets
In a blaze of words to a heedless earth.
Bring the taste of wisdom
In a feast of words to a hungry earth.
Bring a sense of purpose,
Bring the taste of words,
Bring the sound of wit,
Bring the feel of passion,
Bring the glow of thought
To the darkening earth.

There are also two short pieces beyond these, including a choral “Invocation to the Muses,” and the Frogs’ “Traveling Music.” Sondheim’s now famous setting of Shakespeare’s existential, “Fear No More,” is how Shakespeare wins the contest or agon, the Greek word for struggle, conflict, or debate. Sondheim also wrote the Paean, “Evoe for The Dead,” after the first production, comically beginning with “They do an awful lot of dancing, The Dead.”

The Prologus is a prologue, setting up the rules and topic for the evening. The Parados (parade) is the grand entrance of the chorus (in this case, the Frogs), and it’s the first time the chorus sings; and it’s often a climactic moment in terms of action. Will the chorus (the Frogs) help or hinder our heroes? The crazy nonsense syllables (“brek-kek-kek, koax, koax”) come straight from Aristophanes; but Sondheim’s frogs also cheekily quote bits of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Ol’ Man River,” “Get Happy,” and the Yale fight song. The Hymnos is a hymn that both worships and praises one of the gods, here a tribute to Dionysus. The word “Evoe” is a Roman borrow of the Greek word that’s an exclamation of frenzied joy at the Festival of Bacchus (the Roman parallel to Dionysus).

The Parabasis is a song during which all of the actors leave the stage and the chorus is left to talk (sing) directly to the audience. The chorus may partially or completely abandons its dramatic role, to step forward and engage the audience on a topic completely irrelevant to the subject of the play. In Sondheim’s Frogs, this song is the chorus’ political indictment of the apathy of the audience, ironically (not) comforting them with “Besides, it’s only a play.”
It doesn’t really matter.
Don’t worry, relax.
What can one person do?
After all, you’re only human.
And it’s all been said before,
And you’ve got enough to think about.
It’s only a play.
. . .
Let the leaders raise your voices for you.
Let the critics make your choices for you.
Somewhere somebody rejoices for you:
The dead.
And a leader’s useful to curse,
And the state of things could be worse.
And besides,
It’s only a play.

Following that, the Paean is a prayer for thanksgiving, in this case to The Dead. The Exodus is the last song, in which the chorus passes on a lesson or moral to the audience, before exiting. This is no musical comedy.

Mel Gussow at The New York Times reviewed the $35,000 production at Yale, writing, “As a theatrical event, the Yale Repertory Theater production of The Frogs is spectacular. It opened last night, in, of all places, the Yale swimming pool, which looks like an Olympic ocean next to the Yale Rep’s usual churchmouse of a home. On and off pool, there is a cast of 86, including a 21-actor frog chorus. In some of the steeply inclined seats – 1,600 of them are reserved for the audience – sit members of the Yale University Band. In ambition, this cross‐century collaboration between Aristophanes and Burt Shevelove is breathtaking. Not satisfied merely to do to the Greeks what he did to the Romans (in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Mr. Shevelove has created an extravaganza that might stir the shades of [producers] Billy Rose and Mike Todd.”

In addition to the actors, swimmers, and musicians, there were also thirty-five people working “backstage.” To approximate an authentic sound, Tunick orchestrated the score for just woodwinds, harp and percussion, to parallel the original accompaniment of flute, lyre, and Greek percussion instruments.

I doubt that New Line would ever produce The Frogs (and I'm not sure if we even could get rights to the original version), but it sure is interesting! And it sure is fun sharing what I've learned. In this age of mashup, it's huge fun working on Forum and its mashup of Plautus, vaudeville, and musical comedy. It might well be that fun producing The Frogs. I'm just not sure it would be all that much fun for a lot of the people sitting and watching it...

Then again, I've learned to never say never.

Long Live the Musical!

Johnny Appleweed, Dracula, and Jill Conner Browne Walk Into a Bar...

This may be the wildest, weirdest, most varied season of musicals New Line Theatre has produced in more than three decades of producing wild and weird musical theatre. These three shows could not be more different from each other, and yet, all three shows are about The Other, The Outsider. And more sublimi­nally, all three are about the Culture Wars too.

Programming a season for a theatre company is really hard work, even after thirty-one years of doing it. There are so many considerations, so many pressures and cross-pressures; and right now, as we continue to slog through the still lingering effects of the pandemic on the performing arts, money (sales, grants, donations, etc.) is even more a consideration than usual. Usually, money is a factor, but not a big one.

We constantly talk about shows we'd like to do, and some of them seem perfect for the moment, but then the moment passes and we find ourselves in a new moment. But over months of talking, the right shows seem to settle into their slots. Sometimes that happens as early as December, even though we won't announce it for months. Sometimes it happens a week before we announce.

The coming 2023-2024 season will be New Line's thirty-second season, can you believe it? Doing the shit we do? For this season, the three shows that eventually settled into our three slots all came to us in different ways, so it's a good example of how we stumble toward a season each year.

And BTW, you can order season tickets right now -- just click here!

Our fall show will be a brand new musical, in a new calendar slot for us, and in a new theatre for us! It's a show I wrote, now re-titled Jesus & Johnny Appleweed's Holy Rollin' Family Christmas. I started writing it in fall 2021. It started with just a title, Reefer Madness Christmas, which I later learned I can't use (long story!), but it was still a potent catalyst for my crazy, subversive ideas. We'll be doing the show at the Grandel Theatre, in late November and early December.

I had been thinking for a long time about two ideas for musical writing projects; one was a sequel to my 2006 show Johnny Appleweed (OMG, so many ideas for that!), and the other idea was a show about men like my father and Mad Men's Don Draper, men who felt comfortable and in control during the conforming 1950s, but baffled, lost, out of control, and hostile during the cultural and political revolutions of the 1960s and 70s. (As I've written several times before, our politics are still stuck in an epic battle between the conservative 1950s and the progressive 1960s.)

So as the idea worked itself around in my head -- I call this stage of my process the percolating -- certain details started to emerge that stuck with me. I decided it would be set on Christmas Eve 1959, right at the turning point of the 1960s. It's a good symbolic date, but it also syncs up my story with Grease, set during the 1958-59 school years. There's an excellent book about the huge changes and events of just that one year, 1959.

Then I decided my story wouldn't be a fake anti-drug story like the Reefer Madness musical; my story would be an openly pro-pot story. So that led me to a midwestern nuclear, sitcom-friendly family, all of whom use pot (secretly) except for the father. But that still wasn't a story; just a funny situation. After lots more percolation, it hit me. One other idea I had toyed with, was a new version of A Christmas Carol. So Act I of my story would be the family's revelations, each to the father's greater horror; and then Act II would be a new, pro-pot, stoner version of A Christmas Carol. But what lesson would the father have to learn?

Soon, I had filled out my scenario. The part of Jacob Marley in Dickens' version became a rock and roll, pot-smoking Jesus, the father's greatest nightmare. For the three ghosts, I eventually settled on three of the craziest visitors I could think of, who could also teach the farther a real lesson. First, we meet the father's dead twin brother Gerald, who was absorbed in the uterus. Next up is an alcoholic and belligerent Sandra Dee. And batting cleanup, the itinerant stoner, the one and only Johnny Appleweed, singing the showstopper, "(Take Out) That Stick Up Your Ass."

I started writing in earnest in October 2021 -- and yes, since I know you're wondering, I wrote it completely under the influence of God's Goofy Green Goodness -- and only in the last couple weeks, have I gotten the script and score in good enough shape to go into rehearsal. There will no doubt be changes as we rehearse too. I think what I love most about it, is that it operates like a John Waters movie -- the "good guy" (the morally straight father) is the antagonist, and the "bad guys" (pot smokers) are the heroes. This time, the character who conforms to conventional social norms is The Other. He is the one who has to learn and change.

The songs include “The Elves Get Stoned,” “Heteronormative,” “Mary Jane and Mary Jane,” “Love Doesn’t Suck,” “Hoo-Hoo of Steel,” “Man in the Gray Flannel Life,” “Don’t Look at Me! I’m Sandra Dee!”, “That Stick Up Your Ass,” “Better Living Through Chemistry,” “Have Another Toke and Have a Merry Christmas,” and other future holiday classics.

To read more about Jesus and Johnny Appleweed's Holy Rollin' Family Christmas, click here.

The second show in our season, Sweet Potato Queens®, is a musical I'd never heard of -- and that doesn't happen all that often! One of our New Line Subscribers, Debra Lueckerath, had seen the show in Los Angeles, and she brought me the program, adamantly urging me to check it out. For a while, that program just sat on my desk, like most things do. But at some point, I picked it up, looked through it, and then Googled "Sweet Potato Queens" and holy shit!

I found the original SPQ website and discovered the amazing Jill Conner Browne. The more I read, the more I listened to and watched clips, I discovered this quirky show was really crazy, really heartfelt, and really New Liney. Just like Jill. Once again, the Others take centerstage. I love that.

So I got the script to read and the piano score to play through and it charmed the shit out of me and made me laugh out loud repeatedly, and yet it also has some very serious, human stuff running underneath the wacky carnival.

The creative team's cred is solid. Broadway veteran Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) wrote the script, and hit country songwriter Sharon Vaughn wrote the lyrics. The music is by pop icon Melissa Manchester, and the songs are really fun to play. It's Southern Rock, dirty blues, gospel, country, funk, soul, swing, waltz, Hawaiian, some lovely Broadway ballads, and something ironically called "Sears Rock." You can imagine what a blast it all is! 

Makes me thankful yet again they made me take piano lessons at age four.

To read more about Sweet Potato Queensclick here.

The third show in our season is yet more proof that commercial success on Broadway is not the same thing as artistic quality. Over the years, New Line has "rescued" several shows that were very badly served by their Broadway productions. The outstanding High Fidelity would be long forgotten by now, if New Line hadn't brought it back to life and proved how good it really is, despite its clumsy and clueless Broadway production. The same is true of Cry-Baby, so badly misdirected in New York; but utterly redeemed by New Line's sold-out, critically acclaimed production.

So many quality musicals are commercial flops in New York but huge successes for New Line, including Bonnie & Clyde, Hands on a Hardbody, Heathers, Bat Boy, Floyd Collins, The Story of My Life, Reefer Madness, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and quite a few more. One of the great joys of our work is that other small regional companies watch us, and once we prove a New York "flop" is really a great show, productions pop up around the country. That delights me.

But I confess that I often forget my own lesson. When we're thinking about choosing musicals for the coming season, I often dismiss the shows that have been big epic flops in New York, even though I know I shouldn't.

That happened to me again with Frank Wildhorn's Dracula.

We produced Wildhorn's Bonnie & Clyde in 2014, and both shows have lyrics by Don Black, who also wrote the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tell Me on a Sunday, which we produced in 2016. And yet, despite my love for vampires and musicals, I had never really paid much attention to Dracula the musical. My bad. 

Until one of our actors, Cole Gutmann, brought it up during our run of Nine. Luckily for me and New Line, Cole pestered me till I promised to listen to it. And then I did. And I loved it. And I read the script and played through the score, and I loved it.

The show is unusually faithful to the novel in most ways, but the stage story departs from the source in one important way. In Wildhorn's Dracula, the one who's usually seen as The Other, Dracula himself, is the protagonist, the lover! The elements of horror and thriller are present, but the story is of a tragic, impossible (star-crossed?) love. It's the only way to make this story work well as a musical, an inherently emotional storytelling form. Like Sondheim did with Sweeney Todd, Wildhorn uses music in Dracula to create suspense, ambiguity, subtext, tension, momentum. Though there is dialogue, the music rarely stops, much like a film score.

Normally in the story, Mina is torn between her love for Jonathan and the psychic power Dracula holds over her. But in this retelling, Mina is torn between her love for Jonathan and her love for Dracula. It raises the stakes considerably and brings the story into a more emotional and more sexual realm. Horror is always about a violation of the human body; here that violation becomes something else, something more ambiguous, something more complex. Dracula doesn't just want Mina; he loves her.

Now, that's a vampire of a different color. Actually, it's more in line with Gary Oldman's Dracula, now that I think about it.

I love horror. I've read dozens of horror novels, seen hundreds of horror movies, and I've written some horror too. I wrote Gilbert & Sullivan's The Zombies of Penzance, which New Line debuted in 2018, and I've also written a collection of "weird fiction" called Night of the Living Show Tunes. In fact, I've already got enough other ideas for a couple more collections like that one. New Line produced a musical­ized Night of the Living Dead in 2013. And back in the mid-1990s, I wrote a gay vampire musical called In the Blood, which New Line produced, and then later I novelized it, as an artistic experiment.

So I was positively giddy to discover that even though Dracula was a commercial flop in New York, it's a terrific, deeply emotional piece of musical theatre! Wildhorn is known for the operatic scale of his music, even though his musical language is pop, rock, country, and jazz. That's exactly the scale this story needs. One of the secret powers of horror, whether on the page, on the stage, or on the screen, is that the stakes can't possibly be any higher, literally life or death, and that's incredibly dramatic and compelling. Notice how many TV series are about doctors and police -- it's all life and death.

To read more about Dracula, click here.

And just so you don't have to scroll back up to find it, for season tickets, just click here. (Aren't I considerate?) And if you don't want to order online, you can print out the order form here, and mail it in with a check.

For info on auditions for next season, on June 12 and 19, click here.

And meanwhile, while we've been closing one show, getting ready to start rehearsals for another, and settling, organizing, and announcing all our season info... I've also been working on a new book, which I have finished just in time to start rehearsals for Forum. It's the second book in what will eventually be a four-book series, The ABCs of Acting in Musicals. Check it out!

An artsy's work is never done. Thank Zeus!

I can't wait to share all this amazing theatre with our audiences! 

Long Live the Musical!

It's Harder To Be the Bard.

I am lost.

I'm having a crisis of faith. I've long believed that the theatre is my church, in a very real and serious sense. That makes me a priest, in its fundamental meaning. And I'm having a crisis of faith.

I don't understand how and why we got here. All my life I've had this core belief in humanity, that people are all basically good, that in the long term we always head in the right direction and we take care of each other. But how can I believe that anymore? Half our country voted for the most corrupt, most vulgar, most destructive person in our political history. A third of our country still thinks only he can fix it. Millions of Americans made the pandemic so much worse and so much lengthier because they chose to be irrationally selfish, and then re-branded selfishness as freedom.

How can I hang on to a fundamentally positive, optimistic view of humanity today? And by extension, how can I believe that art could ever make a dent in that ferocious fear and hatred? Yoda was right about the Dark Side. I just never thought we'd see it play out in real time in America.

Something I can't define has really changed in me. I see the world so very differently now than I used to. I can see so much that I could not see before, and some of it really unpleasant. Maybe it's the whole primordial stew of the pandemic and all its repercussions, the baffling, erratic behavior of some previously rational people during and after the pandemic, the financial stress that the still lingering effects of Covid have placed on me personally and on New Line.

It's also likely about me turning 59 this month, and New Line turning 30 last year.

One of the things I see really clearly now is the way people interact with each other in this post-pandemic world. It's like I put on the sunglasses in that sci-fi movie They Live and I can finally see all the aliens. So what have I noticed? One thing is that everybody right now seems either consciously, deliberately in service of their fellow humans; OR they seem defiantly committed to Every Man for Himself

I'm not being melodramatic (at least, I don't think I am). Along with all the additional complexity and maddening nuance in our world, there seems to be also this new, even brighter line between those of us who feel some deep down obligation to do something right now, to help, to heal; and those of us who are still belting out their "I Want" song in a spotlight down-center.

Some of our media is more focused than ever on informing and explaining these times we're living in, and the implications of all that's happening to and around us. BUT some of our media is still focused on clicks and ads, and that kind of cynicism reverberates down through society. What do we do when half the country is afraid -- and that fear is based on devilishly well-tuned lies? What do we do when half the media realizes they can make big bucks off that fear?

I want to believe those of us in the profession of storytelling have the biggest obligation of all today.  I want to believe that what we do still can help. After all, every human culture is created, defined, and remembered by its stories. Stories are the only way we have to truly understand ourselves, each other, and the world around us. But to quote Uncle Steve, "Careful -- no one is alone." Our world has been flooded recently by false stories, more than ever before, which have every bit as much persuasive power as true stories.

Certain forces in American politics learned decades ago how to cynically manipulate the fear that has enveloped tens of millions of Americans, and they have reached their cynical stride today. These false storytellers use all the same devices and tools of the true storytellers. But while the true storytellers enrich and enlighten their audiences -- to serve them -- the false storytellers reassure their audiences that all their darkest fears are actually true, every nightmare becoming reality, in order to profit from them. The forces of the Dark Side know full well the human tendency toward confirmation bias -- accepting only that which confirms your own beliefs -- and they exploit our weakness fully.

There are so many examples of this cynical manipulation, but maybe the most obvious and most deadly were the manufactured controversies over wearing masks and over vaccinations during the pandemic. It was like no one had been taught The Golden Rule in kindergarten or Sunday School. It was like The Golden Rule was for suckers. Selfishness and willful ignorance were redefined as patriotic. And the false storytellers made fat handfuls of profit off the fear and anger and cruelty.

The true storytellers kept telling their true stories, but suddenly they found themselves in a storytelling hall of mirrors, where false stories were trumpeted as true, and true stories were indicted as false -- and only money and volume got to decide which was which. We were reminded repeatedly that people believe what they hear first, what they hear most, what goes unrefuted, and what comes from a trusted source.

Notably, they don't necessarily believe what is true.

Just like it was a century ago when there were tons of newspapers, pulling exactly the same cynical crap, we Americans have to learn all over again how to tell the difference between what's true and what's not, especially when what's true often isn't what we'd prefer.

I'm lost right now.

I chose long ago that my life was going to be about serving my fellow humans as a storyteller; and I long ago accepted the inherent price to pay, that I'd never make much money that way. When I was a little kid, I told everybody I wanted to be an actor, but I didn't have the vocabulary for what I really felt. I wanted to be a storyteller. I was called to it. It was always inside me. It's what I am. I tell stories with music. I guess I also tell stories about stories with music.

I'm not saying storytellers are better or more important than any other vocation. People are called to medicine or to teaching or food or building, in the same way I was called to storytelling. It took me a good chunk of my life to fully understand, though, that storytelling is as vital to human survival as medicine, teaching, food, and building.

So now I'm lost.

I already said that, didn't I?

Half our country would turn down a glass of water in the middle of the desert if someone of the other political party were offering it, and their hatred is based on belief in lies. How can I tell them a story, or I guess more to the point, how can I get them to listen to a story? And if storytelling isn't enough anymore, what do the storytellers do?

You can lead a horse to water but you can't put his head in bed with your enemy.

See what I did there? I put a whole weird story inside your head, and maybe I invoked The Godfather and/or Animal House. And why do so many of us know those two movies, all these years later, including people who weren't yet born when the films were released? Because humans need stories. We constantly consume stories. We can't live without stories. And the good stories, the ones that are important, the ones that touch us, the ones that teach us, that enlighten us, those are the ones that stay with us.

I do understand why my entire industry had to be shut down when the pandemic struck. Everything I do is built around people gathering in public places. But it's just that now I can see more clearly than ever that we as a culture don't value our storytellers much. We don't take care of them. We insist "the market" -- in other words, money -- must decide success or failure. Just like an auto parts store.

In case you weren't sure, storytellers are not auto parts stores.

Storytelling should no more be subjected to the amorality and immorality of capitalism, than healthcare or education or fire departments should be. There should never be a profit margin for providing something essential to human existence, well-being, and happiness. Call me a Commie Pinko, but that seems about as obvious to me as the tiny claw marks on my arm from my cat Macheath.

Do we really have to wait till the 23rd century to learn all the things Star Trek laid out for us more than fifty years ago? An end to racism, sexism, war, poverty, hatred, the flourishing of knowledge and science and connection.

Do we have to stand helpless when the false storytellers spout off about Jewish space lasers again? Do we have to let them steal the conversation just because they're loud and mean? Do we have to let people makes pots of money by reassuring the fearful that all their fears and nightmares are worth fearing? Can't we speak up aggressively against the false stories and condemn them? And contradict them? Is there any way to flood the zone with true stories?


Not if you don't take care of your storytellers. Do you value us or not? Will you let us -- help us -- heal this broken world? Or will we all succumb to the darkest worldview, the fear, the isolation, the anger, the violence, the hatred?

We all know how badly teachers are paid, and how under-appreciated. It's so much worse for actors, singers, musicians, dancers, writers, directors, designers. Most of us get paid really badly, not even close to a living wage, and also not consistently. Why? Because "the market" won't support high enough ticket prices to pay the real cost of a theatre or concert seat. Theatres are tax-exempt because they are deemed by the Supreme Court to be inherently beneficial and necessary to the well-being of a community. That story itself is one of particular importance that I try to tell periodically.

But though our fellow humans may need desperately what we storytellers do, though we are in a very real sense the shamans of our tribes, Capitalism does not value what storytellers do as much as it values those who make money from money, creating only wealth, or those who make money from fear, creating only more fear.

There's nothing wrong with getting rich, but a lot of us storytellers spend our days trying to figure out how to not get evicted or how to not get the electricity turned off. Why is that okay? It's even worse now than it was a few years ago. Covid continues to cancel performances even now. Every working performer in America was financially crippled by the pandemic, and psychologically traumatized. None of us emerged unscathed or unchanged.

You know what happens if we lose our storytellers? Back to the Future II. Like America under Trump, but without the laughs.

From a purely personal perspective, you know what's so hard about it all? We give ourselves to the world, to our fellow humans. It sounds melodramatic but it's true. We give ourselves. We use our minds and mouths and breath and bodies and emotions to tell stories that help people bond and learn and grow and connect. It's a monumental task but we take it on over and over, just like generations before us, because something inside of each of us tells us that we have to, that it's important, that people need our stories, that we are fulfilling our calling when we are telling a story, that only then are we our full and true selves, in the act of storytelling.

And what's so hard about it, is that after centuries of stories and storytellers, it's still this hard.

And what's particularly ironic about how I feel is that it sort of parallels the struggle of film director Guido Contini, the main character of the musical Nine, which I'm in the midst of directing. Guido, a barely fictionalized avatar of real life genius filmmaker Federico Fellini, is lost for different reasons, but we're both lost. His obstacles are all internal; most of mine are external. But they all sometimes seem impossible to overcome.

I guess it's easy to understand how we got here and why things are the way they are. But only if we value money over each other. Do we?

Long Live the Storytellers. 

P.S. To donate to New Line Theatre, click here.

P.P.S. To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheimclick here.

Other Than That, She's Really a Peach

I'm writing a new book about acting in musicals, a sort of sequel to The ABCs of Broadway Musicals. And as part of that project, I've been re-acquainting myself with all the major acting methods -- Stanislavski, Strasberg, Adler, Meisner, Hagen, the whole gang -- so that I can summarize them adequately and accessibly. I've been reading again about all these teachers and their methods, and I've been watching videos on YouTube of these teachers discussing their methods, and actually teaching students. Zeus bless the Digital Age!

In one video, a teacher was introducing a Meisner exercise, and she mentioned a device she uses to teach her students about the physicality of acting. They watch great movies on mute. The idea is that if the acting is good, you'll still be able to discern relationships, personalities, motivations, and lots more, just from the way the characters stand, sit, move, by how they enter a room, how close they get to others.

It immediately struck me how useful this would be for the women of Nine. Some of these women are well-drawn dramatic characters, some are more sketches or impressions, and they're all images inside Guido's fevered, misogynistic head. And yet, each actor has to find a reality there. Each actor has to think about how her character met Guido, what kind of a relationship they have, whether he treated her badly, what she knows about the other women, how confident she is Guido still wants her, why she's attracted to him, what she wants from him, how much of her self-worth and dignity has he stolen?

Could she be the one to tame him? To domesticate him?

And on top of that, since our story is set in 1963 Venice, Italy, these woman are likely also thinking about are they getting old, are they getting fat, are they still attractive, can they attract Guido, can they get into his movie, might they become a star like Claudia...? Or has their chance passed by...?

And for most of our actors, they have to convey all that to our audience with very little dialogue and very little solo singing. In some cases, very little onstage contact with Guido.

Even worse, for a lot of the show, many of the women are watching the action around Guido, more than taking part in it, and yet they have to stay alive in our story. They have to find a way to watch these episodes in character, to be both inside and outside our story, to convey with their reactions and body language who they are and how they relate to Guido and the other women. Some of these women have clearly had enough of Guido's bullshit, but some of them haven't reached that limit yet...

In the excellent book Training of the American Actor, Carol Rosenfeld writes about the steps acting teacher Uta Hagen devised, in the process of creating a character, things to think about and explore, and one of those steps seems extra relevant to this acting challenge for the women in our show. Here's how Rosenfeld explains Hagen's Step 3, What Are My Relationships?
How do I stand in relationship to the circumstances. the place, the objects and the other people related to my circumstances? We have a point of view, opinion or feeling about almost everything. Becoming conscious of how you stand in relationship to the circumstances and places in which you find yourself helps you make choices for the situations you create for your exercises. Circumstances may make you feel unsure of yourself, extremely self-confident or deeply disturbed. You may detest the situation you are in, or it could make you feel totally safe and protected. Circumstances can throw you off-guard, make you crazy or energize you. You may be in an environment that you know very well and that holds wonderful or sad memories. You might be somewhere that is new, strange, off-putting, cold. intimidating or foreboding. Becoming conscious of how you stand in relationship to the objects (foreign or familiar) in your surroundings, as well as your own possessions, increases your sensory and emotional connection to every object you handle. Becoming more conscious of the cast of characters in your life and how your relationships affect your behavior helps you become more honest and personal in your work.

I can see a lot of value in all of Uta Hagen's steps, but this step is particularly relevant to Nine, a whole show entirely about relationships, in which many of the characters are defined by their relationship to Guido.

In the end, it all comes down to what every contemporary acting method is ultimately aiming for, emotional honesty, acting that comes from the inside. And the key to that is knowing really well the imaginary circumstances of our story, and then living inside our story honestly. That's how our actors will give their characters and our story real life onstage. It's really just pretending. A kind of informed, prepared kind of pretending, but still just pretending.

But wait, there's more. This show Nine is unlike any other show I've worked on. I finally figured out the key to it all today. This is a fundamentally serious, dramatic story we're telling, but Guido, nine-year-old that he still is, sees it all as a comedy. So of course he loves the idea of aligning himself with Casanova, the "loveable rogue" who serially assaulted women long before we called it assault, a literary hero, who by example absolves Guido of his sins. No wonder the film Guido begins to make in Act II doesn't just use the details and women of his real life, he uses them comically. And that is his greatest sin yet, the one thing his women won't accept, a mockery of their surrender to him.

The big overall arc of our story is the process of Guido coming to terms with his life and art, and realizing that, whether or not he's a genius, he has to grow up. And the largest part of that is realizing that women  -- no, that people -- are not playthings, and that using and abusing them isn't funny. It takes losing everyone for Guido to understand.

Nine is amazing. I'm so glad we get tot work on it. We are off on another rich, wonderful, exciting artistic adventure. We can't wait to share it with you.

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. To donate to New Line Theatre, click here.

P.P.S. To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheimclick here.


Federico Fellini's 1963 film 8 1/2 is one of a handful of semi-fictional artistic autobiographies, by and about a true genius. The others in that category are Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George; Stew's musical Passing Strange; Bob Fosse's All That Jazz; Woody Allen's Stardust Memories; and in an ironic, smartass kinda way, John Water's Cecil B. Demented

And in a manner that can only be called Felliniesque, the original film 8 1/2 and its adaptations now form a wonderful kind of strange loop. The film was adapted for the musical stage in the early 1980s, retitled Nine, won tons of awards, and became an instant classic of musical theatre, originally directed, choreographed, and shaped by Tommy Tune. Then Rob Marshall adapted the musical for the screen. But he chose to make a film adaptation of both the original film and its stage adaptation. Marshall made the stage musical into a new Fellini film, as if Fellini was making a film version of the stage musical Nine.

And I fell completely in love with it.

I've been wanting to work on Nine since I first heard the cast album in 1982. And I've always thought that it would be both a perfect New Line show and an incredible showcase for our incredibly talented and versatile local women actors.

I remember the first time I saw 8 1/2, it was like I had never really seen all that film was capable of before that moment, and now for the first time I saw how much more film could do than what we routinely see from Hollywood. It was like the first time I heard Sunday in the Park, HairMarch of the Falsettos, and Floyd Collins. Each of those experiences felt like I was Dorothy Gale emerging from the sepia and into Technicolor. I've now watched the Fellini film several times over the years, and each time I find more richness in it -- and more comedy. I loved it so much that it moved me to start exploring the other Fellini films, each one of them amazing and wondrous and mind-blowing, in all the most fun ways.

Fun Fact: Fellini gave his film its title as a joke: his lead character was so blocked artistically that his story didn’t even get a real title (its original title was La Bella Confusione), just a number. Fellini had already directed six full-length films and one short, and he had co-directed two films, so this was number eight-and-a-half.

Bonus Fun Fact: Fellini's film Nights of Cabiria is the source for Sweet Charity.

Both the film and stage musical tell the story of genius filmmaker Guido Contini going through a very painful midlife crisis, an artistic crisis, and a complete emotional breakdown -- and all presented as a wildly entertaining, surrealistic romp, all happening inside the head of this troubled, brilliant, creative man. The challenge for Guido is to recognize his toxic behavior and his terrible treatment of the women in his life, all of which has been tolerated by those around him, and to finally, at age forty, Grow Up.

Songwriter Maury Yeston had begun to write Nine in 1973, nearly a decade before it opened on Broadway in May 1982. Yeston (who would go on to write the score for Titanic and half the score for Grand Hotel) was obsessed with the Fellini film. 

But because the musical was no longer actually Fellini’s work, no longer autobiography, the new title Nine referred to the age to which the central character Guido wishes he could return. Yeston began writing songs for a stage version of the film, working with Mario Fratti, who adapted the original Italian screenplay into English. In 1979, a workshop was done with lyricist-director Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors) at the helm. Several new songs were created and the show’s ending was discovered.

In the fall of 1981, Yeston teamed up with director-choreographer Tommy Tune, co-choreographer Thommie Walsh (already immortalized as a character in A Chorus Line), and playwright Arthur Kopit. At that point, several characters had to be cut, including a male producer, his daughter, a critic, and others. The decision was made to cast the show entirely with woman around the one male character, the antihero Guido. Later on, four boys were added to the cast for a flashback. It was then that the overture was written, to be performed vocally by an “orchestra” of women, all the women in Guido’s life, past and present.

Tune staged the show more minimally than any Broadway musical in a very long time, finding at last that inimitable style that marks a Tommy Tune musical. With the entire cast clad in black and a set made entirely of white tile to suggest the spa, the show looked like no other. Tune’s production moved dreamlike in and out of scenes, in and out of songs, in and out of chronological order and conventional storytelling, creating an impressionist musical that challenged audiences and musical theatre traditions.

The show won five Tony Awards out of ten nominations. The wins included best musical, best featured actress (Liliane Montevecchi), best director, best score, and best costumes. Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times, “In this, his most ambitious show, Mr. Tune provides the strongest evidence yet that he is one of or theater’s most inventive directors – a man who could create rainbows in a desert. Mr. Yeston, a newcomer to Broadway, has an imagination that, at its best, is almost Mr. Tune’s match. His score, giddily orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick, is a literate mixture of showbiz and operatic musical genres that contains some of the season’s most novel and beautiful songs. Together, Mr. Yeston and Mr. Tune give Nine more than a few sequences that are at once hallucinatory and entertaining – dreams that play like showstoppers.” He went on to say, “There’s so much rich icing on Nine that anyone who cares about the progress of the Broadway musical will have to see it.”

Nine ran 732 performances. Productions were mounted in several other countries. A concert version was presented at London’s Festival Hall in 1992, with Liliane Montevecchi and Jonathan Price, and then a full production was mounted at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 1996. A successful Broadway revival was mounted in 2003 with film star Antonio Banderas in the lead, alongside theatre stars Chita Rivera, Jane Krakowski, and others. That production won Tonys for best revival and best featured actress (Krakowski).

I've been wanting to work on this rich, delicious material ever since I first encountered it. And part of the joy of finally directing it was the fun of casting some of region's strongest, most talented women, some of whom we've worked with before, and quite a few of whom we haven't. And part of the fun of the show is that each character gets a spotlight moment. I can't wait to start blocking this show. Our fearless scenic designer Rob Lippert has designed a cool variation on the original set, and we're staging the action across the middle of our blackbox, with audiences on either side, like we did with Head Over Heels and Atomic. It's going to be very up close and personal, and so much fun!

We've just learned the score but already this cast sounds so wonderful. It's so rare that we get to hear a group of only women, singing four-part harmony. It's gorgeous.

Another adventure begins! I hope you'll share it with us! I'll keep you posted.

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. Tickets for Nine are on sale now. For more info about the show, click here.

P.S.S. To donate to New Line, click here.

P.P.P.S. To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, He Never Did Anything Twice: Deconstructing Stephen Sondheimclick here.