Merrily We Roll Along...

This is my first blog. Alert the media! Call out the hounds! Light up a fat one! I have no idea what possessed me to start one, except that perpetual gnawing fear of Being Left Out of the Cool Shit. That's always been an issue for me, but I'm working on it, so get off my back already! Jeez, what are you, my wife?

As I sit here at my computer (a PC and don't you dare tell me a Mac is better), lighting up some of God's Goofy Green Goodness (locally grown and remarkably high quality), I realize that much of what I have to say of any value I usually say through my shows (whether I'm writer or just director) and in the books I write (five books on musical theatre so far and one vampire novel...) Shameless plug...

So I'll start (does everyone feel this awkwardly self-aggrandizing and/or masturbatory when they first start blogging?) by looking back over the year that's just ending before I begin chronicling the present. If you're reading this and you're not part of the St. Louis theatre community (and why not?), you may not know that St. Louis has a genuinely vigorous, thriving theatre scene, and for the most part it is not the back-biting kind but instead a genuinely supportive, enthusiastic community (there are exceptions, but really only a few). If you wanna get the inside dope on the local theatre scene, you can join the St. Louis Theatre Discussion Group.

Since I have this public forum now and I'm pretending actual people will actually read what I write, I might as well opine on the year past by mentioning my favorite local shows of 2006 --

Humble Boy, St. Louis Rep, Studio
Medea, Orange Girls
Matt and Ben, NonProphet Theatre Co.
The Pillowman, Rep Off-Ramp Series
Metamorphoses, St. Louis Shakespeare
Sonnets for an Old Century, Off Center Theatre
Yellowman, Rep Studio
The Musical of Musicals, Rep Mainstage
Jesus Christ Superstar, New Line Theatre
(it may be tacky to name a show I directed, but I was so proud of it...!)

But let's steer that focus back to ME! 2006 was a great year for New Line Theatre, this alternative musical theatre company I run, happily ensconced here in increasingly artsy St. Louis, a city now home to our own theatre awards, the Kevin Kline Awards, and a fast growing nnumber of exciting local theatre companies.

New Line produced one concert and three mainstage shows in 2006. We started off with A New Line Cabaret, Episode III: When Musicals Attack in January, our third concert of theatre songs at the acoustically kick-ass Sheldon Concert Hall. We love doing these concerts every few years because we get to do amazing songs from shows we might never produce; because it's nice sometimes to allow an audience to really listen to great theatre songs without the distractions of sets, costumes, etc.; and also because I get to play a 7-foot grand piano (which I don't get to do all that often) and our actors get to perform in this amazing hall. I'm sure we'll be back...

In March, we brought back one of our biggest hits, the satirical masterpiece Bat Boy the Musical, the true story of a half-boy/half-bat who just wants to be loved, ripped from the headlines of the Weekly World News (now don't be dissin' the WWN!). Seven of the original ten New Line actors returned for this revisit, and it was a real joy to perform every night to packed, delighted houses. There is something very special indeed about working on material that good, that artful, that insightful, and that crazy-ass fearless! This show continued our unofficial reputation for doing musicals in which main characters die and somewhere, somehow, pot often seems to make an appearance. This particular show did not, however, continue our love affair with musicals in which people say fuck a lot.

In June, we rescued Jesus Christ Superstar just in the nick of time from the bland, mindless productions that have convinced too many people that this show doesn't have much there there. We set the show in the present (as the creators originally intended) and brought Tim Rice's political content to the forefront, the way he meant it to be, almost entirely ignoring the religious aspect of the story -- again, as the show's creators always intended. This isn't a show about God and religion; this is a show about power and political activism (read my essay about the show). As we often do, we surprised the hell out of our audiences with the intensity and darkness inside this great show that they didn't know was just clamoring to get out. We also tried an interesting experiment, alternating the roles of Jesus and Judas, with our two leads swapping roles each week of the run.

In October, to open our 16th season, we produced a musical I wrote -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it an "anti-musical" or an "un-musical" -- the outrageous stoner satire of American politics, religion, sexuality, and drugs, Johnny Appleweed, as part of the first ever St. Louis Political Theatre Festival, a festival we created along with nine other local companies. In keeping with New Line's S.O.P., Appleweed included the deaths of main characters, an inordinate amount of pot smoking (we went through about 15 joints per performance, but they weren't real, oh no!), and no fewer than 51 appearances of the word fuck and its derivatives. Go New Line! Our attendance was lower than expected, largely due to St. Louis making it to the World Series in the middle of our run (goddammit!), but audiences seemed to have a great time with the show, and the reviews were mostly very positive. Once we won the World Series, Appleweed started selling out... Thanks a lot, Cardinals!

We did a lot of work we can be very proud of this year, and it looks like 2007 will be every bit as cool... There may be some very exciting news coming soon...! I'll give you a hint... No, I won't. On second thought, maybe... nah, forget it. You'll just tell everybody! I know you! You're the one who told my mother about that big... Oh, what's the point? "Soon, I promise..." (name that musical...)

Long Live the Musical!
Scott Miller
New Line Theatre, St. Louis