Let's Make a Scene

It used to be that if a musical didn't open on Broadway, no one would ever even hear of it. The writers might have worked on it for three years, but Broadway was the only avenue. It used to be that if a show didn't get a good New York Times review, it would have to close. And even if it did open on Broadway, if it didn't run for a good while (or have that expectation), no one would record a cast album, and people like me would still never hear of it. In other words, if a musical didn't have at least a decent Broadway run, its life ended right there in Manhattan.

Of course, this is back during the so-called "Golden Age of Musical Theatre" (I refuse to use that term without so-called in front of it), but before that, back in the 20s and 30s, nobody even saved the orchestra parts or scripts after a show closed. Musicals were literally disposable. Who'd ever want to produce Anything Goes again after 1934?

Things are so different now, almost entirely because of the information superhighway. It's a good time to run a company like New Line. We produce shows that haven't even made it to the state of New York, much less Broadway. And now with YouTube and iTunes, authors can get their work to their fans cheaply and easily, it's so much easier to get a good feel for a new show, even if you can't get to where it's playing. Every couple months, I spend a few hours on Google looking for new musicals that might be worth producing. That's how we found Love Kills, which we produced last fall. That's how we found High Fidelity and Reefer Madness. That's how we found bare, which we're producing next season.

As I think I've mentioned here before, there are two shows called The Wild Party, both based on the same poem, both running in New York the same season, one on Broadway and the other off Broadway. (We're doing Andrew Lippa's off Broadway show.) Neither one had a particularly long run, but both got cast albums (in both cases, I think, based on the reputation and track record of the composers). The Broadway production ran sixty-eight performances; our version ran fifty-four. Twenty-five years ago, I probably wouldn't have even known about these shows.

But the joy of New Line and companies like ours is that those shows no longer die when they close in New York (or if they close before New York). If they're good, they'll be produced all over the country. The writers won't make fistfuls of dollars, but their work will be seen and appreciated. It will continue to live and communicate.

Sunday, we had our sitzprobe, the one and only rehearsal where the band and the cast get to work through the score once, without the distractions of production elements. Considering the massive complexity of the score, the rehearsal went surprisingly smoothly. And I realized while I was playing this beautiful, quirky, sophisticated, and intensely dramatic music that this was a mammoth undertaking for Andrew Lippa. He has written an almost entirely sung-through show that flirts with being a jazz opera from time to time. The music is lush and emotional and expansive, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes ironic, sometimes full-throated romantic. This is a piece of art on a scale with Sweeney Todd, Next to Normal, and Ragtime. It has power and muscle. And these days, it doesn't matter that it didn't run in New York very long.

We are all so proud of this show. We're so proud that we've conquered this artistic mountain, but more than that, that we will get to share with all of you this incredible, truthful piece of art. We're proud that we trust St. Louis audiences enough to bring them challenging, complex, adult theatre. With every single New Line show, St. Louis proves us right.

I don't know if I'll have the energy to blog again before we open this week, but if not, I hope to see you at the show. This is one of those experiences that will stay with me for a very long time -- you can't work on a piece of art this good and not be changed by it -- and I think it might do the same for you.

Long Live the Musical!