We Did It All for Love

Caril Ann Fugate and Charlie Starkweather
Week One of rehearsals is done and we are all so psyched!

My God, this score is incredible. We've noticed how much the show's creator Kyle Jarrow has used music to characterize, like all the best musicals do. The show has four characters - Charlie and Caril (the murderers), and the Sheriff and his wife. Charlie and Caril's music is mostly what I would call alternative rock, some of it very much like the best glam rock. But the Sheriff and his wife get 50s music, both doo-wop and other period forms -- the Sheriff gets a waltz for one of his more interior songs. Kyle has drawn this clear line between the generations by what kind of sound he gives them. This is terrific writing!

We've also realized how well wrought these lyrics are. In some cases, they sound very much like real rock/pop lyrics, with lots of repetition and often what seems like shallow emotions. But if you really listen closely, there are hundreds of tiny, subtle moments that elevate the lyrics and slyly give us information about these kids' thoughts, fears, desires, loneliness, and lots more. And so often, when there is repetition, there is also subtle variation that changes the emotion or context just enough that it moves us forward dramatically.

Check out this lyric in which Charlie berates the audience:
You stare at the newspaper pictures
They shock like a kick in the crotch
But I know you like what you're seeing
I know you love to watch

It's like watching a movie
And we're the stars of the movie
And it's a comedy movie
And it's terribly funny
And it's terribly funny how...

Now the roads all run with blood
From the people we killed
And the countryside could flood
With all that we spilled
Cause we did it all for love
And we'd be doing it still...
That's the funny thing.

That's some powerful shit. It's completely in Charlie's voice, but it reveals things about him that he doesn't even know he's revealing. The movie references remind us how he fetishized James Dean and saw Rebel Without a Cause several times. But it also shows us the self-delusion, that he murdered "for love." And what I like most about this song is that Charlie is indicting the audience for being complicit in his crime by lapping up all the salacious details...

This show was presented for six performances at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and I read some of the reviews from those performances -- they're not entirely positive, but I think these reviewers really missed a lot of what's in this material. That may be partly because most musical theatre in New York these days isn't terribly subtle or complex, so maybe some of the New York reviewers just aren't used to looking into a musical that deeply. We often have the same problem with St. Louis reviewers...

Like some of my other favorite theatre writers (Bill Finn, Larry O'Keefe, Adam Guettel, Tom Kitt, Jason Robert Brown), Kyle knows how to use a rock/pop vocabulary in the theatre without violating it. The songs in Love Kills are honest-to-god real rock and roll, but they're also excellent theatre songs. They have the repetition and surface simplicity of real rock and pop, but they also have the continually unfolding complexity and communication of important information that theatre songs need to do good storytelling.

For years, real rock didn't work on Broadway, with only a few exceptions. Rock is by definition repetitive, with the lyric usually taking a backseat to the beat, but theatre songs have to communicate a ton of info about character, context, plot, themes, etc. During the mid-1990s, suddenly a bunch of songwriters showed up who could both juggle and fuse the inherent characteristics of both forms, creating rock musicals that sounded far more like rock and roll than like Broadway -- with shows like Hedwig, Rent, Bat Boy, Songs for a New World, Myths and Hymns, The Capeman, and more recently, High Fidelity and Spring Awakening.

In the past, the Golden Age of Musical Theatre has been defined as Oklahoma! (1943) to Fiddler on the Roof (1964). I've never agreed with that. I'd say 1925-1950 was an important time when the art form found its voice. But for my money, the real Golden Age was 1960-1975, including shows like The Fantasticks, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha, Jacques Brel, JC Superstar, Hair, Company, Follies, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Rocky Horror...

But think of the amazing work being done right now -- Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, Spelling Bee, Avenue Q, In the Heights, Passing Strange, Grey Gardens, Jersey Boys, The Light in the Piazza... I believe we're in a new Golden Age of American musical theatre right now.

It's such an exciting time to be working in this art form!!

Long live the Musical!