The World Has Gone Mad Today

Many of Cole Porter's lyrics are incredibly -- even savagely -- topical. The songs of Anything Goes reference the latest news, gossip, pop culture, and celebrity sightings of 1934, and yet in a way that's fully organic to the characters and story. There's no question Reno Sweeney and Billy Crocker would be making jokes about this stuff.

From our vantage point today, close to a century later, we're apt to miss some of that wicked social satire, because so many of the original references are now obscure to us. So subsequent revivals have tinkered a lot with the lyrics to "You're the Top" and "Anything Goes," in particular, worried that contemporary audiences won't get all the original references (they won't), and as a result, exploring these lyrics sometimes requires a lot of digging.

But this kind of research is so much fun.

This show brilliantly captures some of America's craziest cultural impulses, most of which are very little different today from what they were in 1934. Anything Goes wasn't really telling a love story; it was telling the story of America awkwardly struggling with the huge social and technological changes that were transforming our nation from a rural culture to an urban one, and consequently a more diverse and socially liberal one; and from a social-status culture to one based on economic status.

Though it was surely unintentional, I could argue that [Spoiler Alert] Reno marrying Evelyn is a clear metaphor for the way, for the first time in the 20s and 30s, Americans routinely combined "low culture" and "high culture." In fact that mashup essentially defines American musical comedy.

Today, some frightened conservatives long to return to a mythical, nonexistent 1950s that's whiter, more Christian, and less complicated; and so too did folks in the 1930s fear the massive changes reshaping America. This show, its title, and its title song are all about that.

Every version of the show starts the title song the same way.
Times have changed,
And we've often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
If today,
Any shock they should try to stem,
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.

It's a double joke, built on the two meanings of land, and comically comparing the relative shocks of finding the New World, versus those same 17th-century pilgrims finding the wild nightlife of 1934 New York. Kinda sounds like a Bill & Ted sequel.

There's actually a lot going on here. The times do change and when they do, some people fear that change, and they react by trying to turn us back to an earlier era ("we've often rewound the clock"), a time perceived to be more innocent, more faithful, more moral. With Ronald Reagan and some of the conservative movement today, the 1960s so freaked them out, that ever since then they've been trying to turn American back to the 1950s. The same thing happened in the 1920s and 30s.

It's telling that Porter invokes the Puritans -- the symbol of social ultra-conservatism -- as a comic measure of the wild times we find ourselves in "now." No, the Puritan's likely would not have been big fans of speakeasies or The Ziegfeld Follies...

As the first verse of the song begins, we set up this comparison. Once upon a time, so long ago that the days are not just old, but "olden," America was really moral. Except that the use of the archaic "olden" (Porter originally used "former" in that spot), and the extremity of just a "glimpse" being shocking, gives the whole thing a layer of smartass irony. Who'd want to live in "olden days"...?
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes.

Women's modesty was a big issue as skirts got shorter, arms got bared, and dresses got more form-fitting. The androgynous, body-disguising, chest-flattening fashions of the 20s were gone. Throughout history, there's always been this weird impulse to hide women's bodies for fear men can't control their sexual urges (this is what the final scene of Grease is about). It's only now that we're concluding it's the men who need to control themselves.

I think we've become numb to the title phrase of this song. It's just too ubiquitous, too embedded in our culture. But think about that phrase -- anything goes, anything is okay, nothing is off limits, there are no rules, no norms, no constraints anymore.
Good authors too, who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose,
Anything Goes.

What was Porter talking about here?

James Joyce’s 1922 masterpiece Ulysses, was banned in England till 1930, and the United States Post Office reportedly burned any copies of the book they found. Finally, in 1933 (a year before Anything Goes opened), the case of Ulysses was re-opened, and the Supreme Court ruled that because the book was not "pornographic" it could not be banned or censored.

D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterly's Lover, about an aristocratic lady who has a sexual affair with her groundskeeper was also banned over its frank discussion of sex (and the importance of orgasm), and its frequent use of the words fuck and cunt. One U.S. Senator exclaimed, “I’ve not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!”

Erskine Caldwell's 1933 novel God's Little Acre was about a dysfunctional farming family in Georgia obsessed with sex and wealth. The novel's sexual themes were so controversial that the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice asked a New York state court to censor it.

In 1934, Henry Miller's semi-autobiographical novel of his sexual escapades in Paris, Tropic of Cancer, with its frequent use of the word cunt, was banned in the United States shortly after its first publication in France. The ACLU tried to sue the U.S. government, but lost its case. Finally, when the novel was published in 1961, sixty obscenity cases were brought in twenty-one different states. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno wrote that Cancer is "not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.” Porter wasn't kidding about four-letter words. This really was a sea change in popular literature.

"Anything Goes" has three bridges, each with a different purpose. The first lists examples of "immoral" acts which lead, in the second bridge, to a general moral chaos, which leads, in the third bridge, to how crazy that chaos makes us all. It's an ironic jab at all the experts of the time warning about the dangers of Modernity.

The song's first bridge lists a bunch of morally sketchy things that "you" (so interesting to put this in the second person!) might enjoy if you live a Fast Life, things which will no longer be off limits in our topsy-turvy culture...
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.

When every night,
The set that's smart is
In nudist parties
In studios,
Anything Goes.

Before we get to the content, let's look at the craft here. The bridge has seven lines and five of them start with "if," and six of them end with "you like" -- and in between an AABBCC rhyme scheme. That's some really skillful writing. Then we return to the verse, and of those six lines, three start with "in," and those same three lines all have an "-ood" in the middle of the line. But also "smart is" makes a kind of subliminal rhyme with "parties," and to top it all off, the last line of the bridge rhymes with the last two lines of the verse that follows it.

In terms of content, much of this lyric references current events. In 1930, twelve states still did not have any speed limits; it was an automobile wild west.

The "low bars" (i.e., speakeasies) of Prohibition were disappearing by the time Anything Goes opened, a year after the repeal of Prohibition. The reference is a joke on the two meanings of the word low. Here the word means disreputable, but also, literally lower in height. According to a 1946 Life magazine article, before Prohibition, bars were 46-47 inches high, but during and after Prohibition, so many more women were drinking that they lowered many bars to 43 inches.

The "old hymns" reference may be a joke about how many hymns were set to the music of drinking songs because those tunes were already popular. Why else would liking old hymns be subversive like the rest of the items in this list? Maybe the joke here is just that "you" like drinking in taverns, where they sing old hymns that have been converted into drinking songs.

Of course, "bare limbs" were still pretty new in women's fashion and still considered shocking by some. Mae West was still a new movie star in 1934, but she already had been writing plays, starring in them, and getting arrested for her plays' "obscenity." After the Hollywood Production Code was established in 1933, West simply perfected the double entente, with famous lines like "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."

Nudism / naturism spread throughout Europe in the 1920s and got to America in the 1930s, due in part to sociologist, political theorist, and liberal social critic Maurice Parmelee’s 1931 book Nudism in Modern Life. Also, "the set that's smart" refers to the phrase "The Smart Set," meaning the cultural elite, usually fashionable and wealthy. It was also the title of a literary magazine that published from 1900-1930.

The song's second bridge is more general than the first, more a catalog of the fallout. Here, the world is just fucked up, backwards, upside-down, disorienting...
The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
And that gent today
You gave a cent today
Once had several chateaus.

When folks who still can ride in jitneys
Find out Vanderbilts and Whitneys
Lack baby clo'es,
Anything goes.

No revival has used those last four lines because no one would understand them today. Jitneys were independent taxi cabs or small buses, so the joke is that the middle-class folks who can still afford to take a cab, here in the middle of the Depression, would be shocked to find out that some of the richest Americans (in this case, the Vanderbilt and Whitney families) had lost nearly everything -- due to the creation of income and estate taxes not too long before, the effects of the Depression, and the weirdly profligate spending of the Vanderbilts and others. The "baby clothes" might refer to Gloria Vanderbuilt, who was a child at the time. The Whitneys went broke through corruption.

The third bridge of "Anything Goes" returns to the second person -- you -- acknowledging everybody's feeling that the world has gone crazy and it's making us all crazy. Much like right now. And notice this very early critique of the mainstream media...
Just think of those shocks you've got
And those knocks you've got
And those blues you've got
From the news you've got,
And those pains you've got
(If any brains you've got)
From those little radios.

According to the PBS website:
For the radio, the 1930s was a golden age. At the start of the decade 12 million American households owned a radio, and by 1939 this total had exploded to more than 28 million. But why was this ‘talking telegram’ so popular?

As technology improved radios became smaller and cheaper [hence the "little" radios]. They became the central piece of furniture in the average family’s living room, with parents and children alike, crowding around the set to hear the latest installment of their favorite show.

News broadcasts also influenced the way the public experienced current affairs. When the Hindenburg airship exploded in 1937, reporter Herb Morrison was on the scene, recording the events to be broadcast the following day. But above all the radio provided a way to communicate like never before. Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chats’ helped the population feel closer to their president than ever.

There's yet another bridge section, with an early lyric that was not used in 1934 but restored for the 1987 revival:
If saying your pray'rs you like,
If green pears you like,
If old chairs you like,
If backstairs you like,
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like,
Why nobody will oppose.

And yes, "young bears" meant then what it means now; it's a gay reference that a fair number of New York theatre-goers, "the smart set," probably had heard. "Backstairs" was surely a reference to brothels or speakeasies. But what of these other lines? Though several of these references seem oddly random, two of my friends, Mark Cummings and Michael Dale, suggest that the whole stanza is about acceptance of varying sexual tastes, and I think they're right. After all, anything goes. We know Porter loved to joke in code...
If saying your pray'rs you like = Good Girls
If green pears you like = Young Girls, Virgins
If old chairs you like = Older Women
If backstairs you like = Hookers (or Servants?)
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like = Young Men
Why nobody will oppose.

In other words, Free Love. That does make a certain Porter-esque sense, both in terms of his writing and his biography. With that in mind, this sure does feel like Cole's quirky take on "chacun à son goût." And if we're right about this, that may explain why it was cut in 1934...

This last version of the bridge was written by P.G. Wodehouse for the first London production, and it's been used in all the revivals, because so much of the original 1934 lyric is unusable today.
When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey
With gigolos,
Anything Goes.
When mothers pack and leave poor father
Because they decide they'd rather
Be tennis pros,
Anything Goes.

But this lyric is way too British for this show and these characters. Americans don't use the word "matey" because we don't use "mate" to mean friend; and most Americans don't say, "grandmama." Also in America, "father" and "rather" do not rhyme. Also, Porter rarely inverted sentences as awkwardly as these first two lines. Still, this stanza does get at another cultural phenomenon of the 1930s.

While the trend up to that point had been for the divorce rate to increase, that got interrupted in the early 1930s. Due to the Depression, many couples stayed together because they couldn't afford divorce. It wasn't until the unemployment rate went down that the increasing divorce rate trend continued. Unemployment was at its highest in 1933, and as the unemployment rate declined throughout the 30s, the divorce rate increased. At the same time, women's tennis greatly increased in popularity. While Cole may be suggesting a connection -- a lesbian joke? -- I am not.

This cheat rhyme was written for the Act I finale of the 1962 revival:
They think he's gangster number one,
So they've made him their favorite son,
And that goes to show.
Anything Goes!
Anything, Anything, Anything Goes!

But "show" doesn't rhyme with "goes"! A different alternate Porter lyric I found corrects the bad rhyme with "And that plot twist shows..." Like I said, there is no single definitive version of this show or most of its songs.

Much of the original 1934 lyric for "Anything Goes" would just baffle today's audiences, with references to Mrs. Ned McLean (a socialite who was the last private owner of the Hope Diamond), Eleanor Roosevelt's radio broadcasts sponsored by Simmons mattresses, extravagant Broadway producer Max Gordon, movie studio head Sam Goldwyn, Ukrainian movie star Anna Sten, actor and socialite Lady Mendl, and others.

When Anything Goes first opened, the title song worked because it reinforced a feeling the audience already had -- that the world is spinning madly out of control, and that sometimes that can be fun. (Or as Little Red might put it, "excited and scared.") As proof of the show's thesis, the songs "Anything Goes" and "You're the Top" (the latter mocking our love affair with celebrities and brand names), offer up example after example ripped from the headlines (and society pages) of 1934. Today when we see Anything Goes, all those examples suggest the craziness in 2018, without literally referencing any of it. But it still works. Crazy is crazy.

In 1934, Americans were grappling with the massive, disorienting changes our country was going through. It did feel to many American as if all the rules had been ripped up, that literally anything goes. Today in 2018, we're grappling with much the same thing, here in the early days of the Digital Age, at the start of huge demographic and social changes in America, when the very nature of truth is up for debate. Life today is just as crazy as it was in Reno Sweeney's America, maybe crazier. Today, all these references may serve only as metaphors, but still pretty potent ones.

I've been telling people that the reason "the bad boy of musical theatre" decided to produce Anything Goes is that it's built on two central themes that fit our kind of work perfectly -- the American habit of making religion into show business and criminals into celebrities. But now, after taking such a deep dive into the title song, I realize those two themes are just the results of the show's true central premise, which is literally "anything goes" -- the world is upside-down.

Every element of this story is testament to this one idea. All the couples are wrongly coupled at first, the clergyman gets arrested and the gangster gets a cruise, the passengers deify a fake murderer, the real gangster is as nervous as a fucking cat, the worldly-wise speakeasy hostess falls for the dorky Englishman... Everything is up for grabs. None of the rules apply. We're in Shakespeare's woods.

And anything goes!

Now, the next time somebody tells you Anything Goes is just silly and mindless, I give you permission to tell them to shut the fuck up.

Long Live the Musical!

I've Been a Sinner, I've Been a Scamp

A lot of musical theatre fans love Anything Goes, but consider it a guilty pleasure, the artsy equivalent of Mississippi mud cake, just a mindless, old-fashioned musical comedy confection. They register great surprise when I describe it as a sharp satire.

But it is.

Musical comedy had dealt in gentle social satire since the beginning, but Anything Goes was the first successful Broadway musical comedy to build its story on two parallel threads of fierce, pointed satire. This time the plot came out of the satirical agenda, rather than the satire being just a fun side joke.

I've written a lot about the neo musical comedy, which emerged in the 1990s as one of the dominant musical theatre forms. A neo musical comedy involves the devices and conventions -- and usually the full-out joy -- of old-fashioned musical comedy, but with a more socio-political, more ironic, and often more subversive point of view. Think of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bat Boy, Urinetown, Heathers, Something Rotten, The Scottsboro Boys, Cry-Baby; but there were a few examples even earlier, like Little Shop of Horrors in 1982, The Cradle Will Rock in 1937, and really, The Threepenny Opera in 1928.

And arguably, Anything Goes in 1934. Anything Goes was a dead-on satirical chronicle of That Moment... which also happen to be This Moment.

Maybe we're just too used to Anything Goes at this point, to see it as it once was. But this is a show that includes a mock religious hymn to a (supposed) murderer, skeet shooting with a machine gun, a love song that mentions snorting coke, and a parody religious revival meeting featuring a song with a slyly sexual hook line. If you doubt the double entendre of "Blow Gabriel, Blow," this is the same songwriter who wrote in the title song, "If love affairs you like with young bears you like..." That meant then what it means today. And notice in the scene leading up to the song, most of the confessions are sexual. Reno is presented as an explicitly sexual presence from the beginning, so her spot as lead singer / evangelist, and with her randy angels as back-up, it's hard not to read the song as sexual double entendre.

In comic counterpoint to that, the language of the "Blow, Gabriel" lyric is Religious Symbolism as a Second Language. This is an amateur, or more to the point, a religious outsider, leading this revival meeting -- with the help of the fake-minister "Dr. Moon." It's obvious neither of them are really believers, and that doesn't seem to bother the crowd a bit.

And by the way, why do we want Gabriel to blow his horn? The Bible says that "an archangel with the trumpet of God" will announce the Second Coming, and people have assumed that's Gabriel, particularly since Milton made that connection in Paradise Lost.

During the Depression, many American believed that they were living through the "great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be." (Matthew 24:21) So riffing on that, Reno and her angels (I think we're supposed to assume this is one of their regular numbers) pray for the archangel to signal the end of the tribulations (Prohibition, the Depression) and announce with his trumpet the coming of Christ. Reno assures Gabriel she's ready to "trim [her] lamp," a Bible metaphor meaning she'll work at and maintain her faith (to keep oil lamps burning brightly and consistently, you have to trim the wick back), that she's mended her ways (we can only guess what those ways included), that now, "I'm good by day and I'm good by night." Of course, that line assumes that Reno hasn't always been "good by night."

But these "sinners" aren't asking for forgiveness or anything; they just want to "play all day in the Promised Land." It's a remarkably crass take on the Book of Revelation's thousand years of peace and righteousness. And all this to jazz music, until recently considered the devil's music...

In one section, they all chant:
Satan, you stay away from me,
'Cause you ain't the man I wanna see!
I'm gonna be good as the day I was born,
'Cause I heard that man with the horn!
Do ya hear it?

Once you really pay attention to this lyric, you realize this section is all about the End Times. They want to be good, because Jesus and Judgment Day are coming soon!

One of the more subtle jokes in the show is in this song, when the women take the melody and the men sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" in counterpart, also a song about angels taking "me" to heaven. Since this is the male passengers and crew singing this counter-melody, are we to read that as spontaneous, that religious fervor is taking them over? Since this is always a big, involved, full-company, Broadway musical comedy dance number, it lays on top of our fake revival meeting an even more cynical layer of comment -- religion really is show business.

But there's even more swimming around in Anything Goes. When the show opened in late 1934, Prohibition had ended just a year earlier, but the Depression rolled on, and the Dust Bowl kept destroying lives. The FBI was at the height of its notoriety, but the public loved some of the gangsters on the FBI's Most Wanted list (which is the whole point of "Public Enemy Number One"). Importantly, the FBI -- standing in for law and order in general -- is not on board the S.S. American. In fact, they arrest the wrong guy at the beginning of the show, and leave the ship! They're not up to the job. They can't/won't protect us. Was this a comment on how hard it was for law enforcement to catch America's celebrity criminals, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie & Clyde, et al.?

Here on the S.S. American, we are in Shakespeare's metaphorical woods, away from laws and civilization, where two things will happen. First, love will get "fixed" as our characters de-couple from the wrong partners and re-couple with the right partners. Second, with lots of liquor and very little "law," these passengers are free to act on their impulses, to chase after various forms of vice, to be their "natural" selves. And notice that the ship is called the "American" -- this place of no rules and no law is 1930s America, where (until a year earlier) lots of Americans broke the law by drinking alcohol. When that many Americans broke the law, when they stopped believing in the institutions that failed them, America became functionally lawless.

By calling the ship the S.S. American, the show's writers were underlining their social commentary. As a comic microcosm of our country, these passengers showcase the worst of the American inclination to make celebrities out of criminals and show biz out of religion, an inclination as prevalent today as it was in the thirties.

But the satiric aim is more pointed than just those two overarching themes. So what else does Anything Goes satirize? A lot.

Even though economists will tell you the 1929 stock market crash did not "cause" the Depression, it was still the starting pistol, and most people in 1934 believed rich Wall Street types were to blame. Notice that in Anything Goes we have two representatives of Wall Street -- the drunken, horny, nearly blind Mr. Whitney, and the shit-disturbing rogue Billy Crocker.

The name Crocker comes from the French for "heartbreak." In this story Wall Street is decidedly undependable.

Richard Whitney had been the very famous president of the New York Stock Exchange and during the 1930s, he was famed for steering his clients through the treacherous waters of the Depression. But his success was a scam of the proportions of Enron and Bernie Madoff, and he was finally caught in 1938 when his firm collapsed. Still, as audiences watched Anything Goes in 1934, Whitney was the hero of the rich, so naming Billy's boss Whitney -- and making him a drunk -- was a pretty subversive reference. According to Wikipedia:
On October 24, 1929, Black Thursday, Whitney attempted to avert the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Alarmed by rapidly falling stock prices, several leading Wall Street bankers met to find a solution to the panic and chaos on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The meeting included Thomas W. Lamont, acting head of Morgan Bank; Albert Wiggin, head of the Chase National Bank; and Charles E. Mitchell, president of the National City Bank of New York. They chose Whitney, then vice president of the Exchange, to act on their behalf.

 With the bankers' financial resources behind him, Whitney went onto the floor of the Exchange and ostentatiously placed a bid to purchase a large block of shares in U.S. Steel at a price well above the current market. As traders watched, Whitney then placed similar bids on other "blue chip" stocks. This tactic was similar to a tactic that had ended the Panic of 1907, and succeeded in halting the slide that day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recovered with a slight increase, closing with it down only 6.38 points for that day. In this case, however, the respite was only temporary; stocks subsequently collapsed catastrophically on Black Tuesday, October 29. Whitney's actions gained him the sobriquet, "White Knight of Wall Street."

It is a little weird that Mr. Whitney's first name is Elijah, coincidentally (?) named after the nineteenth-century inventor and arms manufacturer...

The Harcourts (and Mrs. Wentworth, in the '34 version) stand in for America's "cafe society," the 1% of 1934. In the original version of the show, the Harcourts' family business was in serious trouble and needed saving, which was the reason for the arranged marriage. Is it any wonder Billy and Hope both would like to escape this culture? According to an article on the PBS website:
The Great Depression was partly caused by the great inequality between the rich who accounted for a third of all wealth and the poor who had no savings at all. As the economy worsened many lost their fortunes, and some members of high society were forced to curb their extravagant lifestyles.

But for others the Depression was simply an inconvenience especially in New York where the city’s glamorous venues – places to see and be seen – such as El Morocco and The Stork Club were heaving with celebrities, socialites and aristocrats.

For the vast majority the 1930s was a time of misery. But for many American dynastic families, parties helped to escape the reality on the street and the grander the better.

Parties and trans-Atlantic cruises.

Many stories of the Great Depression show us the shattered and disenfranchised turning to religion in their time of need. But church attendance grew during the Depression only about five percent. Notably, no one aboard the S.S. American in Anything Goes has that spiritual need, and so for these people religion becomes show business, entertainment, the latest fad. Though the content of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" is basically reverent, the song's rowdy, fast, jazz music quickly and comically short-circuits any hint of real religion fervor. This is religion as party.

The only genuine symbol of religion we see in the show is the comically clueless Bishop Dobson, who's banished from this community (i.e.,mistakenly arrested) before the ship even sets sail; and all we're left with is the fake religion of fake-minister "Dr." Moon, and the gambling "Christian converts." Genuine religion (and conventional morality), the Baptist tent revivals and religious radio shows of the 1930s, are all missing from this place. Here there is no moral control -- it's Shakespeare's woods.

In the 1930s, the 1960s, and also today, Dark Times bring forth the most pointed satire. Anything Goes opened halfway through the Depression, which also begat brilliant satires like Of Thee I Sing, Let 'Em Eat Cake, and The Cradle Will Rock.. The 1962 revival opened at the start of one of the most divided, angry decades in American history. The 1987 revival opened on the infamous Black Monday, the day the stock market crashed again.

None of the show's targets feel dated, because we're struggling with all the same things now. Still today, religion is often repackaged as slick, high-budget show biz. When America's evangelicals strongly support the womanizing vulgarian and sexual predator Donald Trump, religion in America is on life support. And still today, we make celebrities out of criminals, and depending where the various investigations lead, Trump may be the best illustration of that too.

Cole Porter's songs have all the bite, the sophistication, and the smartass humor of Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg, but Porter's songs often bite a little harder, his lyrics closer to how people talk, instead of always just building toward a funny rhyme. Like those of the great George M. Cohan, Porter's lyrics sound like they could actually come out of the mouths of the characters. If his songs can often be transplanted from one show to another, that's only because many of his shows were about the same kind of people -- smartass, subversive, sexual, clever, ironic, complicated, and contradictory.

Just think for a second about all the characters in Anything Goes that have contradictory impulses.

Porter wrote both in contemporary slang and in genuinely elevated, powerfully poetic language when the moment called for it. His songs can be emotionally shattering and they can be icily cynical, about the most intimate insecurities or the most macro satire. Porter and his co-writers were writing old-school musical comedy, but they were also chronicling our times -- then and now -- most insightfully. It's so much fun working on this rich, crazy material.

Long Live the Musical!

The Tinpantithesis

People like me -- let's be gentle and just call us "the purists" -- really like to have "definitive" texts for all the great musicals. Often that is represented by the first production, but not always. Shows like The Music Man, Gypsy, Oklahoma!, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof pretty much have their scripts and scores etched in stone. You don't fiddle with them.

For other shows, like Show Boat, Cabaret, Hair, Pippin, and Anything Goes, there is no single definitive version. These shows have changed so much and so often, in foreign productions, tours, and revivals -- even during their original runs -- that you can't really point to one version of any of these shows as canonical. I would argue strenuously for the original Broadway productions of Cabaret, Grease, and Pippin, but the shows' authors would disagree with me. I would love to brand Ziegfeld's original 1927 production of Show Boat as definitive, but there are many changes I like in the revivals, especially Hal Prince's fairly radical 1994 revival.

It all reminds me of the game Exquisite Corpse (for which a song in Hedwig is named). According to Wikipedia:
also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis), is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. "The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun." as in "The green duck sweetly sang the dreadful dirge.") or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed.

The historian-analysis-geek in me would love to call the 1934 Anything Goes the "real" version, but I've read that script... it's seriously flawed. From 1900 to about 1940, many Broadway musicals had much stronger scores than scripts, which is why so many of those shows are unrevivable.

The substantially rewritten 1962 off Broadway revival is much better theatre. The 1987 revival is a bit closer to the original, but still heavily revised, including several of the changes from 1962. In 2011, the latest revival was pretty close to the '87 version.

And don't even get me started on the TV and movie versions.

We're doing the 1962 version, which I've found most theatre people think is the best of the of Anything Goes's. Because of all the versions, it's fun to look at this Frankenstein song list...

The first song in the '62 version, "You're the Top," is in the original 1934 Anything Goes score, and set up pretty much the same way, but it's late in Act I, right before the finale. And "Bon Voyage" is in pretty much the same spot in every production (although the '87 revival added its counterpoint song, "There's No Cure Like Travel," which had been cut in '34)

Our version quotes instrumentally the sailor's chantey, "There Will Always Be a Lady Fair," but does not include the vocals from 1934 (and '87). The '87 production also stuck in "I Like to Row on the Crew," one of Porter's college songs from Yale.

But where the '62 version has "It's De-Lovely," with Billy and Hope on deck, the original version has them singing "All Through the Night." Though the two songs sort of accomplish the same thing, the tone couldn't be more different. Replacing the serious, aching emotion of "All Through the Night" with the smartass playfulness of "De-Lovely" is an interesting move. "It's De-Lovely" is actually from Porter's 1936 show Red, Hot, and Blue, featuring Ethel Merman as a hard-boiled manicurist (not kidding) named "Nails" O'Reilly Duquesne, singing to her square lawyer boyfriend Bob, played by Bob Hope. It was first written but not used, for the 1936 film Born to Dance.

It's interesting in the transfer from one show to the other, how the smartass, streetwise woman becomes the smartass, streetwise guy (Billy); and the innocent, "square" guy becomes the innocent, "square" woman (Hope).

Where the '62 version has Bonnie and the angels singing, "Heaven Hop," in 1934 the song "Where are the Men?" was in that spot originally. "Heaven Hop" is actually from the 1928 Porter show Paris. It's a more interesting song here, if for no other reason, the crazy mashing up of religion and pop culture in the lyric, perfect for Reno's Angels. No other versions of the show used this song.

"Friendship" is originally from the 1939 musical DuBarry Was a Lady. The original Anything Goes script has "You're the Top" in this spot, with only Reno and Billy. In '62, Reno, Moonie, and Billy sing "Friendhip;" in the later revivals, only Reno and Moonie sing it.

The '62 version then moves "I Get a Kick Out of You," from the beginning of the show to late Act I, Originally, Reno was singing about being in love with Billy, but in the '62 version, she's singing about being in love with Sir Evelyn.

Every version of the show ends the first act with "Anything Goes," but the original also added a short dialogue scene after the song in which Hope walks out on Billy (which happens before the song in our version), and a short reprise of "You're the Top."

Both the original and the '62 version start Act II with "Public Enemy Number One," although the original is much longer.

"Let's Step Out" was added halfway through the original run of Porter's Fifty Million Frenchmen, under the title, "Stepping Out." I don't know if the title phrase was changed as well as the title... There's really no reason for this song here -- contrary to the common misconception of 30s musical theatre, the rest of the songs (including the interpolated ones) do connect to the plot and speak in the voices of these characters. But this one...

I'm guessing this was just an attempt to juice the energy early in the second act. In the original, the audience had to wait fourteen pages to get to the second song of Act II. In the '62 version, there are two songs in that gap. The other is "Let's Misbehave," one of Porter's real gems, which was also written for the 1928 musical Paris, but cut before opening. The song was sung by two characters who are actors, Vivienne Rolland and Guy Pennel, who've been working together but only now realize they are in love.

But then Porter wrote his huge hit, "Let's Do It," and that replaced "Let's Misbehave," which then sat in a trunk till it was rescued in 1962.

"All Through the Night" in the '62 version is essentially where a reprise of "All Through the Night" was in 1934. In '34, it was followed by "Be Like the Bluebird"; in '62 it was preceded by "Be Like the Bluebird."

The '62 revival really did fix some problem with pacing and narrative structure.

In the original, we then took a break for Reno to sing "Buddie Beware," and Hope to sing "The Gypsy in Me." But in the '87 revival, they gave "Buddie Beware" to Bonnie (renamed Erma), and gave "The Gypsy in Me" to Sir Evelyn.

In the '62 version, this spot goes to Reno and the Angels for "Take Me Back to Manhattan," which is really from The New Yorkers (1930), Porter's very adult musical satire about a rich woman who falls in love with a bootlegger. "Take Me Back to Manhattan" was that show's full company finale.

Most of the versions of Anything Goes end with a short medley of "You're the Top" and "Anything Goes," though the 1934 script just has a stage direction saying they reprise "Anything Goes."

As you can see from that tour through the score, the '62 revival version didn't just add a bunch of Porter songs, it also cut four songs from the original: "There Will Always Be a Lady Fair," "Where Are the Men?", "Buddie Beware," and "The Gypsy in Me." The 1987 revival put these last two back in, along with a song cut from the original, "Easy to Love," which was too rangy for the original Billy. The later revivals also added Porter's "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,"first written for the movie Born to Dance but cut, then added and cut again from Red, Hot, and Blue, finally landing as the only song in Terrence Rattigan's London play, O Mistress Mine.

Now... take a look back over this post and the many songs mentioned, all of them really great. That man could crank out amazing music and lyrics like nobody else I can think of. He would write dozens of songs for every show, knowing that two-thirds of them would be discarded.

I once had an exercise in a musical theatre class in college. The prof gave us a piece of sheet music with no lyrics. We had to write a new lyric to this existing music. Even for someone like me who writes musicals, this was a cool exercise, something I usually don't have to do. It turned out the music was some unknown "cut" Cole Porter song. (My lyric was called, "Ethel, Go Away.") Porter wrote so much. And so much of it is amazing.

He was as prolific as the Tin Pan Alley writers, but went beyond them in terms of originality and artistry -- and sexuality. None of them could have written the epic, sprawling "Begin the Beguine," or lyrics as culturally insightful and acrobatic as "You're the Top." Irving Berlin was a great songwriter, but he didn't write more than a small handful of great theatre songs. Porter wrote a shit-ton.

The purist in me fights with the fanboy over Anything Goes because I love this patched together score so deeply. Even the lighter weight songs are so clever, so ironic, so subversive.

We New Liners will return to the spirit of the original production, but not the original script and score, which honestly aren't as strong as what came after.

Maybe the reason Anything Goes has stayed so popular so long is the rehab done on it off Broadway in 1962, when they sort of made the perfect Cole Porter musical.

And who am I to argue with that?

Rehearsals start next week!

Long Live the Musical!


Why is "the bad boy of musical theatre" producing the 1934 musical comedy Anything Goes, a show everybody does? What are they gonna do to it?

That's what I keep hearing.

Well, we're not going to do anything "to it," other than what we always do, take the show back to its roots, back to its creators' intentions, to let it be again the very pointed, very adult satire it once was.

Also, could a show title ever describe our company better?

My freshman year in high school, Anything Goes (the 1962 version) was the first "real" musical (i.e., a musical that had been on Broadway and not just written for school kids) that I had ever been in. I played Bishop Dobson (who's arrested in the first scene) and I was also in the tap chorus! I fell in love with the show, and all the songs. I knew it was an "old" show, but it didn't seem old-fashioned to me. It was sexual and cynical, and kind of wild and anarchic, and blazingly self-aware.

I now know it was very much in the vein of George M. Cohan's earliest musical comedies in the early 1900s, but more cynical, a little edgier.

Fast-forward to 2006, and I was writing a musical theatre history book, Strike Up the Band, and as I wrote about Anything Goes, I started to realize things I had never thought of before. Maybe it was because when I first got to know the show, I hadn't yet developed analytical skills, so I hadn't really looked beyond the surface. But now writing about the show, I realized there are two central themes running through the story, two delicious pieces of social satire that are just as relevant today as they were in 1934.

We still turn religion into show business -- and we've gotten so much better at it! And we still turn criminals into celebrities. Anything Goes is a New Line show.

I also had learned that Reno was based on two real-life people, the famous speakeasy hostess Texas Guinan (also the model for Velma Kelly in Chicago), and to a lesser extent, the first superstar evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. I just recently learned that, at one point, Texas Guinan pondered becoming an evangelist.

Notice the similarity in the names Texas Guinan and Reno Sweeney: two two-syllable names, and the first is a place name. Also, Reno, Nevada, legalized open gambling in 1931.

I also learned from an actor who was playing Moonface and had done lots of research on the show, that Victor Moore originally played Moonie very mousy, unassuming, jittery, with a high, nasally voice, and none of the Brooklyn accent we're used to from more recent productions. He was opposite every cliche about gangsters -- which was the joke. He was fundamentally, constitutionally ill-suited to being a gangster. That immediately struck me as much funnier than the usual characterization. I think Joel Grey in the latest revival came closer to that idea.

For some reason, now when I think of Moonie, I think of John Waters...

Also, it's important to me that Sir Evelyn is not gay, which is the usual default for unimaginative actors. But suggesting he's gay short-circuits a big part of the intricate plot. It's much funnier if he's obviously straight -- and terribly charming. After all, we have to believe that hard-boiled Reno falls for him.

It occurs to me that Reno and Evelyn are sort of Harold Hill and Marion, but with the genders reversed...

Since 2006, I've been telling people that one day New Line will do Anything Goes, and often I would then share with them my revelations about the show. In order for us to produce the show, I had to whittle the cast down to 16 at the most. So I actually sat down and figured that out three years ago. Just so I knew it could be done. Last year, once Dowdy and I started talking about actually producing it, I made some other decisions.

First, I don't want it to be a "tap show" -- I want it to be a smart, insightful comedy. After all, there were other kinds of dancing in the 1930s. There will be some tap, because I don't like frustrating audience's expectations without a good reason, but not a ton. Our angels will tap, and I'm told that our Mrs. Harcourt can tap too...

Also, pacing is everything. The performance style of musical comedy in 1934 wasn't far removed from vaudeville, very full front (no mics!), with only the slightest wisp of a Fourth Wall. This should be a big, crazy, nonstop, high-energy, perpetual motion machine, something closer to a Marx Brothers movie crossed with New Line's own fearless, high-voltage style. It should leave the audience and actors breathless.

And on that topic, I'll quote from our website:
Like the Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles, Joan Littlewood’s company in London, and the Steppenwolf in Chicago, New Line has developed its own style of performance, its own personality – very aggressive, very intimate, outrageous but serious-minded, and anchored by a phrase coined by the Actors' Gang, “the height of expression, the depth of sincerity.” The canvas is bigger, the colors richer, the brushstrokes more expansive, but the image is no less true, the details no less real, the textures no less subtle. Theatre scholar Tom Oppenheim writes about Stella Adler, in the outstanding book Training of the American Actor, "Stella insisted that characters must be multidimensional and grounded in oneself. They must be real human beings. But she does not shy away from painting characters in broad strokes. While she demands truth, she never shies away from size."

The height of expression, the depth of sincerity -- exaggerated and completely honest at the same time. The more seriously these characters take the stakes, the chaos, the plot twists,. the funnier our show will be. As we've learned from Bat Boy, Urinetown, Spelling Bee, Cry-Baby and Jerry Springer the Opera, there's nothing funnier than Too Serious.

Without changing much at all (other than the size of the cast), I really believe we can reveal things about this show that people don't usually see. And the way we'll do that is to trust the material and follow it where it takes us, whether or not that's where it took others...

We start rehearsals the day after our reading of The Zombies of Penzance. No rest for the wicked. But I can't wait to dive into the insane chaotic glory of Anything Goes.

We are going to have SO MUCH FUN. Click here for tickets!


The Wild and Wacky Year Ahead...

A few days ago, I posted my year-end New Line poem for 2017. I've looked backward over the previous year; now I look forward to the coming year, which will be pretty crazy and pretty awesome.

We have another very busy year ahead...

We've been rehearsing several weeks already to learn the score of The Zombies of Penzance, and we'll present a free public reading of the show on Monday night, January 8. I hope you'll join us. Readings of new works are so valuable, to watch and listen to how the audience reacts, to see if jokes land, if plot points are clear, etc. And afterward we'll have a short chat with the audience, ask them some questions and ask for their thoughts. I hope you'll join us.

It was almost exactly five years ago that I first got the idea for The Zombies of Penzance. It was after watching the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. With all the horror/classic literature mashups lately -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, among others -- I thought it would be fun to do a musical theatre version of that. And that's when it hit me that one of my all-time favorite shows is in the public domain -- The Pirates of Penzance. If I was ever going to try a stunt like this, Penzance was perfect.

So first, I rewrote the famous patter song, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General." I figured if I could write a lyric that makes sense, keeps all the stresses and rhymes intact, and is funny, then I would be able to do the whole show. And I really pulled it off! So I spent some time thinking about plot, and planning the big, ridiculous reveal at the end that always resolves a Gilbert plot at the last second. I realized I didn't have to change the story much at all, though I did end up cutting a couple songs, as well as the characters of Ruth and the policemen.

And then I constructed an elaborate meta-backstory, which you can read here. The very silly premise is that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote The Zombies of Penzance first, but their producer Richard D'Oyly-Carte refused to produce it. So they rewrote their show as The Pirates of Penzance.

And yet, I've also gone out of my way to pepper the score with contemporary references and four-letter words, which makes it impossible to actually have been written in the 1870s.

The day after our ZofP reading is our first rehearsal for Anything Goes.

I know, I know, why is "the bad boy of musical theatre" doing Anything Goes? Because it's a brilliant satire of two socio-political trends in America that are still with us today -- our desire to make celebrities out of criminals and our habit of turning religion into show business. These are the themes that run throughout Anything Goes, and they are completely in tune with our work over the last twenty-seven seasons.

Also, from time to time over the years, New Line has produced famous shows that most people consider mainstream, and then we show them how much these shows are actually "New Line shows" -- Camelot, Grease, The Fantasticks, Man of La Mancha, and now Anything Goes.

Also, the more I've learned about Anything Goes over the years, the more I see that recent productions have strayed quite a bit from the show in its original form, and we intend to put back the adult humor, the abundant alcohol, the anarchy, and the pointed satire that make the show so brilliant. I want to remove Merman from Reno Sweeney and let her be Texas Guinan again. I want Sir Evelyn to be heterosexual again. I want Moonface to be small and meek and mousy again (Joel Grey did sort of return to this characterization in the last revival).

The S.S. American is Shakespeare's woods, where our characters escape from the rules of The City, to find their authentic selves, and also to de-couple from the wrong partners and re-couple with the right ones. (A Little Night Music uses this device too.) But an important element of this archetypal story is the anarchy of the "woods" -- humankind's "natural state" -- where there are no rules. So our production will be wild, fast-paced, outrageous, and overwhelming.

I can't wait to show people how much fun Anything Goes can be and how relevant it still is to today's world.

After Anything Goes closes, we'll get one week off, then we'll jump into rehearsals for the bizarre and brilliant Yeast Nation, a wild, subversive comedy about conformity and the human pull toward exploration, played out on the ocean floor three billion year ago, and written by the mad geniuses behind Urinetown, which New Line produced to rave reviews in 2007. This will be Yeast Nation's fifth production ever, and the writers are likely coming to see us during the run.

Rob and I have talked about the set for Yeast Nation and it's going to be really different and really cool, in a configuration we haven't tried yet in the Marcelle. And Dowdy and I have been talking to costumer Sarah Porter about some pretty hilariously high-concept costumes. It's going to be endless fun.

Then we'll get a little bit of a break in July, and in August we will go back into rehearsal with The Zombies of Penzance, for a fully-produced four-week run in October. I expect I will have done some rewrites and shaping in the interim.

Meanwhile, Dowdy, Zak, and I have been writing a new musical, and we expect to do a reading of that sometime in 2018 as well. And Dowdy will continue curating our cabaret series at The Monocle.

Lots of cool shit coming...

I think we've also settled on our 2018-2019 season, but we're not quite ready to announce it yet. Stay tuned...

Meanwhile, mark your calendar and plan your Year of New Line. So much fun ahead! And if you don't have a calendar to mark, we can help with that too -- check out New Line's awesome 2018 calendar, with gorgeous production photos of New Line shows by Jill Ritter Photography!

Long Live the Musical!

'Twas a Year Full of New Line 2017

'Twas a year full of New Line -- across our small stage
Trod moral Neanderthals, Grrrl Power rage,
A charming misogynist, five show tune queens;
And the palpable thrill that you can't get from screens --
The real human moments, the joy and the strife,
The brutal satire that cuts like a knife.
It's the magic of theatre, Mirror to Life.

Finding the sunshine when life is most bleak
Was the point of the musical Zorba (the Greek).
A philosopher rogue on a hedonist's quest,
His moral authority, suspect at best.
But he knows we must celebrate man's inner boy,
All his stumbles toward love, and the transparent ploy;
For a life lived out loud, firmly rooted in joy.

The musical horror, Sweet Smell of Success,
Spun its characters round like a dark game of chess,
Tearing down, ripping open, flayed bare to reveal
All the darkest of impulses, as they congeal;
So nasty and selfish, so cruel and destructive,
And poetic justice? No, that's too reductive.
But Jesus, the Dark Side is awfully seductive...

And then Out on Broadway, (sub-head: "The Third Coming"),
Some humor, much pride, and a little nose-thumbing;
With songs that were written for couples just straight,
Reimagined for all, so that all can relate.
These proud, out, gay men at the height of their powers
Know musicals still are as gay as pink flowers,
So all we boys did was take back what is ours...

And then we met Lizzie, and rock goddess justice,
The women around her, her story (just trust us!),
The details of which are exquisitely sketchy,
But all of her punk-emo songs fuckin' catchy!
Fierce and aggressive, this feminist wail
At a culture too sexist and power too male,
A rousing revenge and empowerment tale.

I checked off more shows from my List of the Bucket;
They didn't sell great, but they're awesome, so fuck it.
The critics embraced them, our audience too;
I remain crazy proud of the work we all do.
So we'll finish the holidays, finish the feasts,
But we're not quite done yet with villains and beasts -- 
Now it's on to the zombies, the Smart Set, and yeasts...!

Happy Holidays! Long Live the Musical!

P.S. If you're a glutton for punishment, here are my year-end poems from 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Look Around, Look Around at How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now

Most of my friends swoon over the thought of meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda or Stephanie J. Block, but my heroes are the directors and writers (although I guess that also includes Lin-Manuel Miranda). What I would give to talk to Hal Prince or Tommy Tune! Or to go back in time to talk with Fosse or George Abbott before they died!

Luckily for this MT* FanBoy, I do get to meet some amazing writers from time to time. [* MT is internet shorthand for Musical Theatre]

One of the great joys of running a company like New Line is that every show really is an adventure, with its own style, tone, devices, etc. Sometimes it's a wild, roller-coaster ride; sometimes we have to slowly hack our way through a jungle of complexity and nuance to get where we're going. And it's always an adventure for our audience too, who often know nothing about a show coming in, only that it will be an adventure.

One of the coolest parts of the adventure is that periodically over our 27-year history, the writers of the shows we've produced have come to see our productions of their work. Which is always very cool. These are the folks who've come to visit us...

bookwriter-composer-lyricist Mark Savage
The Ballad of Little Mikey (1997)
We were still a young company when we took our first two big risks, in our sixth season. We produced the weirdly wonderful cult favorite, the off Broadway concept musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. And then we did The Ballad of Little Mikey. If I remember right, it had been produced only in Los Angeles by Mark Savage, who wrote it. I found his cast album on CD and fell in love with his quirky but gorgeous score telling the story of the birth of a gay activist in the 1980s. There was a big dance number in the show called "Tap," about anonymous sex in public restrooms (I'm not kidding). In the L.A. production the song was kind of naughty but cute, but ours was more explicit -- an R-rated Busby Berkeley number, with the guys' pants around their ankles the whole time, running in and out of bathroom stalls, and making a giant revolving wreath of rainbow-colored toilet seats. It was hilarious and freaky and very John Waters. But when Mark Savage flew in to see our show, our version of "Tap" really shocked him. He couldn't believe we had taken it so far. Which cracked me up. It was a song about anonymous sex in public restrooms. He really loved our production, though, because we understood the story's heart and the complexity of gay cultural history. Such a funny, beautiful show. And it was amazing to meet Mark.

bookwriter-lyricist Annie Kessler
Woman with Pocketbook (1998)
We had a one-act musical contest, and the winning show shared its world premiere with Bill Finn's March of the Falsettos. We got about three dozen really wonderful short musicals submitted from all across the country. We settled on one that was very simple on the surface but such an insightful piece of social commentary. It was called Woman with Pocketbook, by Annie Kessler, Libby Saines, and actor Jeff Blumenkrantz, and it was about this older woman, Doris, who dies, gets to Heaven, but can't get in because she refuses to give up her pocketbook. Annie came to see the production, and it was very cool meeting her.

lyricist Amanda Green
High Fidelity (2008)
This was such a thrill for me. I had found the High Fidelity cast album, after its aborted run on Broadway in 2006. Only because Tom Kitt had his own band with a website was I able to find him and get a look at the Hi-Fi script. Which is amazing. Soon enough, we had the rights to the American Regional Premiere, and we brought back to life -- and to rave reviews -- one of the most interesting, most inventive musicals of the last couple decades. To my great delight, lyricist Amanda Green flew into see us, and she got to sit in a sold-out house roaring with laughter at Barry and sniffling at "Laura, Laura." In part, I think Amanda came to see if her show could really work stripped down and minimalist -- I don't know if she'd agree, but I think it works ten times better. It' a very intimate story and should never have been on a Broadway stage (or directed by someone who didn't understand what it is). Amanda was awesome and seemed really happy with our production, with the balance we found between the funny stuff and the harrowing emotional content. She was so complimentary to all of us. She went to dinner with us after the show, and her best bud Ann Harada just happened to be in town at the Muny, so Ann joined us too. We all geeked out.

songwriter Adam Schlessinger, 
orchestrator Christopher Jahnke
Cry-Baby (2012)
Like High Fidelity, this was another show that was badly directed and completely misunderstood on Broadway. The original director, who shall remain nameless, hopelessly crippled the show. I found one of the writers, David Javerbaum, online and again, got a script. Which was also amazing. I had the great fun of meeting all four writers for brunch when I was up in NYC, and they all felt comfortable letting me take a swing at their baby (what an unfortunate mixed metaphor), so New Line presented the American Regional Premiere. The writers also agreed to pay for new arrangements for a six-piece rock band for us (and for future productions). Javerbaum's songwriting partner Adam Schlessinger (of Fountains of Wayne) flew out to see us, along with the show's orchestrator Chris Jahnke. Again, I think Adam wanted to know if the show could work with a six-piece band (which is what they had originally wanted), and a cast of 16. I think they were both very happy. And again, it was just such fun to meet them and talk with them afterward.

bookwriter-lyricist Spencer Green,
bookwriter-composer-lyricist Gary Stockdale
Bukowsical (2013)
Spencer and Gary flew in to see our production and they were both so nice! Ours was the first production outside of NYC and L.A., and the first production the writers weren't involved with. But I think they were very happy with what we had wrought. I was a little nervous because they had originally written a framing device for the show that I thought was unnecessary, even a cop-out of sorts. So I lobbied them to cut it and they let me. So here they were, seeing their show without the framing device for the first time -- and they told me they really liked how well it worked. I know they've continued to work on it, though I'm not sure if the frame has survived or not.

composer-lyricist Amanda Green
Hands on a Hardbody (2014)
Amanda came back to see us a second time when we produced the American Regional Premiere of Hands on a Hardbody. Once again, the show hadn't lasted long on Broadway, but it absolutely thrived in our intimate 200-seat house. Amanda was really happy with our production and our many rave reviews. I later found out that during intermission on opening night, a young woman in our audience turned to her friend and said, "This is so good! If I had another $25, I'd come see it again!" Whereupon Amanda Green, sitting directly in front of this young woman, turned around, handed her $25, and said, "Come back and see it again." How cool is that.

bookwriter Ivan Menchell,
orchestrator John McDaniel
Bonnie & Clyde (2014)
Most improbably, Bonnie & Clyde bookwriter Ivan Menchell and the show's orchestrator and arranger (and St. Louis hometown boy) John McDaniel both came to our production on the same night -- without knowing the other would be there. I think they were both happy with our show, and we went out for a late dinner. I had seen the Broadway production (which I loved), but I had forgotten how differently we had approached the show. I think some of those changes (like not having any actual kids) were a bit weird to Ivan, but I think he genuinely liked our production.

bookwriter-lyricist Danny Ginges,
composer-lyricist Philip Foxman
Atomic (2016)
This amazing rock drama was born in Australia, then badly abused off Broadway, then returned to Australia, and emerged better and sharper than ever. It was this last version that we had the privilege of producing (I think we were the second American regional production), and ours was the first production the writers hadn't been involved in. But they both flew in from Australia to see us and were very gracious and very complimentary. They asked me for a few subtle changes in our staging, and we were happy to work those in. The production before us had been on a large stage in a big regional theatre. I think it was cool for Danny and Philip to see their show as freakishly up close as ours was -- and to see how powerful it is that way.

bookwriter-lyricist Tom Jones
Celebration (2016)
I had always wanted to see this show. I never thought I'd ever be in a position to actually produce it. But somehow we made the crazy decision to open last season with it. Once we had decided to do it, I contacted bookwriter and lyricist Tom Jones (The Fantasticks, I Do! I Do!, 110 in the Shade, Philemon), told him we were doing the show, and I wanted to ask him some questions. It's a really odd show! He replied that he'd been working on a new draft of the script and he wanted to know if we'd premiere this new version. I immediately agreed. So he flew out to see us, with one of his sons (who had never seen Celebration), and like the other writers, he was so nice, so warm, and so complimentary. Plus, I got to do a podcast interview with him about the show!

Pretty cool, huh?

And it looks pretty likely that Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, the writers of Yeast Nation (and Urinetown) will be coming to see our production in June. We produced Urinetown in 2007. I really hope they can make it.

There are a thousand reasons I'm grateful that I get to run New Line, but one of the biggest is the amazing artists I get to talk with and their amazing shows that I get to work on. With some of these shows, New Line gave them new life, after misguided Broadway productions that closed quickly, proving that the shows themselves are much stronger than their clueless original productions. With some of these shows, our production is the proof that the shows don't need spectacle, big sets, a big orchestra, a big chorus, that in fact the stories are stronger and more powerful without all that extra stuff.

But whatever small gifts we can give these writers, they give us a much bigger gift by coming to see us, by being so friendly and so generous with their praise. I know in some of these cases, they're a little apprehensive, wondering what we'll do to their precious shows, wondering if the shows will work without all the accouterments of Broadway. I think they always fly home relieved.

One of the nicest things Amanda Green did (among many nice things!) was when we announced we were doing Jerry Springer the Opera, she posted on composer Richard Thomas's Facebook wall that we did great work with her shows and she knows we'll take good care of his show. I thought that was wonderful.

The writers don't always get the praise and huzzahs that they deserve, so I thought it would be nice to take a minute and say Thank You, to Mark, Annie, Amanda, Adam, Chris, Spencer, Gary, Ivan, John, Danny, Philip, and Tom! You guys are my heroes!

Long Live the Musical!

Deep Down Inside

I write about musical theatre a lot. Aside from my history book and my book about Hair, all of my other books are collections of what I call "background and analysis essays." As far as I know, nobody really did this -- at least not for musical theatre -- before I started in the early 1990s. Stephen Banfield did a terrific book, examining famous musicals in term of musical construction, etc., but that's only one piece of what I do.

I deconstruct each show, take it apart and look at its pieces and how they function. I analyze the script and score in terms of music, rhyme, form, content, style, etc. I explore a show's history, historical context, source material, and so much more. Pretty much everything you'd need before starting work on a show. Some people tell me they love reading my essays before seeing a show they don't know; other people tell me they love reading my essays after seeing a show that's new to them. I endorse both practices. And tons of directors and actors tell me that my essays have helped them enormously in figuring out shows they're working on.

Since 1994, I've written background and analysis essays on sixty-four musicals, and I have several more essays under construction (on American Idiot, Atomic, Bonnie & Clyde, Heathers, and The Sweet Smell of Success.)

In my book From Assassins to West Side Story (1996), I analyze Assassins, Cabaret, Carousel, Company, Godspell, Gypsy, How to Succeed, Into the Woods, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Misérables, Man of La Mancha, Merrily We Roll Along, My Fair Lady, Pippin, Sweeney Todd, and West Side Story.

In Deconstructing Harold Hill (1999), I analyze Ragtime, Camelot, Chicago, Passion, The Music Man, March of the Falsettos, Sunday in the Park with George, and The King and I.

In Rebels with Applause (2001), I analyze Hair, Rent, Oklahoma!, Pal Joey, Anyone Can Whistle, Floyd Collins, Jacques Brel, The Cradle Will Rock, Songs for a New World, and The Ballad of Little Mikey.

And in Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals (2011), I analyze The Wild Party, Grease, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, I Love My Wife, Bat Boy, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, High Fidelity, as well as brief looks at The Capeman, bare, Taboo, Jersey Boys, Next to Normal, Edges, Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, Love Kills, Glory Days, Rooms, American Idiot, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

The truth is that, over the last ten years or so, I write an essay on every show I direct, with only a couple exceptions. I sort of can't help myself. And really, having to put my thoughts and ideas into words helps me figure things out. Since I started my blog in 2007, I blog about my research and analysis as I work on the shows, and then afterward, I form those posts into a coherent (I hope) single essay. Many of these essays then go into my next book.

But not all those essays make it into one of my books, mostly because my books can't be 600 pages long. Still, I write these essays in order to share what I learn; so long ago, I put links on the New Line sitemap to all the other essays I've written. And now, for your convenience, here they are, all in one place. I hope they keep you happily occupied for hours.

Anything Goes
Assassins (expanded from what's in my book)
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Cabaret  (expanded from what's in my book)
The Fantasticks
Hands on a Hardbody
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Love Kills
The Nervous Set
A New Brain
Next to Normal
Passing Strange
Reefer Madness
Return to the Forbidden Planet
The Robber Bridegroom
The Threepenny Opera
Two Gentlemen of Verona

And coming soon... an expanded essay on Anything Goes, which we start work on in January, plus an essay on Yeast Nation, our June show.  These days, I almost never write an essay on a show unless I'm working on it. Luckily, I routinely work on some of the most interesting musicals ever written. So my collection of essays features a wonderful variety of cool, fascinating musicals.

It is my life's goal to get people to take the musical theatre and its literature seriously, to get theatre artists to stop turning their brains off when they work on musicals, to get everyone to treat musical theatre with the same respect we give to the work of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, and Suzan-Lori Parks. There's nothing I love more than helping people, through my writing and my work onstage, to see new richness and complexity in great musicals, to understand the emotional and social power of the American musical theatre.

This is how I hope to achieve my goal -- through my essays, my blog posts, and my work. Join my crusade!

Long Live the Musical!