I went to New York over the weekend with New Line's resident stage manager Trish Bakula and we had a great time. While we were there, we met up with New Line actor Joe Garner, who's now living up there, and with Amy Schott, New Line's stage manager from Assassins in 1998 through Hair in 2001, who lives in New Haven. And we also unexpectedly ran into New Line actor Justin Heinrich, who I hadn't seen since Hair in 2001. I also spent some time with my friends John Prignano at Music Theatre International, and Peter Filichia, web columnist and Broadway critic for The Newark Star Ledger.
It was a fun musical-theatre-filled few days. On Friday I went to the New York Public Library's Theatre on Film and Tape Collection (my favorite home away from home). They've got a new, totally rehabbed, state-of-the-art home now. I watched the 2005 revival of the Shakespearean rock musical Two Gentlemen of Verona (with music by Hair composer Galt MacDermot), and though I already had heard the score and read the script, I had no idea how insanely fun and rowdy this show is! It's essentially the original Shakespeare script (though pruned considerably), augmented with some contemporary dialogue here and there and some hilarious new lyrics by playwright John Guare. It's fast and crazy and rowdy and romantic and sexy, and in a wacky way, really beautiful and life-affirming. And there's just enough political content to keep me happy. Even watching the show on video was such fun I was on a high the rest of the day.
...that is, until curtain time that night, when we dove into Next to Normal, the brilliant, dark, powerful new rock musical (almost rock opera) from Tom Kitt, the composer of one of my greatest musical theatre loves, High Fidelity. It's thrilling and overwhelming, and the cast was incredible (including the understudy playing the daughter!), and I cannot wait to produce it here in St. Louis. I think it is a genuine masterpiece of rock theatre. (Hopefully, the success of Normal will lead folks to take another look at the unfairly maligned High Fidelity!)
Next to Normal is the story of a bipolar woman and the family around her who are all struggling by her illness. It is a tough, uncompromising, exhilarating piece of theatre. Just six actors, a very minimalist set, and a driving, hard rock score like Broadway rarely hears. This is a show that asks a lot from its audience. My favorite kind of theatre!
On Saturday night, we saw the revival of Hair. I was worried about this one -- having directed the show three times now, and having written a whole book about Hair, I was prepared to be disappointed by a commercialization of this beautiful, experimental show. But to my surprise, the show was just about perfect. It was exactly what Hair is supposed to be -- messy, rowdy, chaotic, wild, and profoundly emotional. In fact, this revival was so much like New Line's productions in so many ways that it was almost a little disconcerting. The Tribe laid around the stage, hanging off the front, running through the audience, fucking around with people in the house -- at one point, Berger came running down the steps off the stage and threw himself across me (in the front row), literally laying across my entire body (Would just a little dry-humping be too much to ask in such a situation? He was hot!), in order to fuck around with the person behind me. The sad moments were devastating, the Trip was wonderful, the ending had half the audience in tears. And yes, they invited the audience up on stage to dance at the end. It was an incredibly emotional experience for me.
There were a few minor rewrites to Jim Rado and Gerry Ragni's script, but they all seemed to be aimed at helping the audience with historical references and context. Even Scott the Purist can't complain about that. The cast was utterly brilliant, every one of them. My only complaint is that everyone sang every song at the top of their voices. I know that's how Broadway handles rock musicals these days, but just a little variety would've been nice -- I would have preferred less kick-ass renditions of "Frank Mills" and "Walking in Space." But all in all, it was wonderful.
Sunday night we saw Toxic Avenger the Musical. Not so awesome. It is funny, I have to admit. I laughed a lot. But it's also a truly shameless rip-off of Bat Boy, cribbing almost every plot point and even some staging. After I noticed this, it was a little creepy watching them rarely waver from Bat Boy's plot through the whole show. They stole some from Urinetown as well, and stole one moment (a Bruce Springsteen doppelganger) from High Fidelity. I'm sorry to say there isn't a single original moment in the whole show. I was very disappointed.
We got back Monday, and though I enjoyed the trip, I really hate traveling, and I was incredibly happy to get back home to South City. But I have some awesome new musical theatre memories and a bunch of new show t-shirts as well.
Oh yeah, and we're definitely doing Two Gents in the fall and we'll do Next to Normal the second they let us have it. I can't wait!
Long Live the Musical!