I've Never Felt So "bare"

I get so tired of people attacking contemporary musicals for not being Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. I attack this silliness in my next book, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals, which will be out this fall. A side argument to this crap is the idea that musical theatre voices are no longer "good" because they don't sound like John Raitt or Ethel Merman. Check out this silly New York Times blog post.

I call bullshit on both positions.

Rodgers and Hammerstein and their mid-century, rural American morality no longer have any relevance to our lives today. Now as we live amongst terrorism, gang violence, the internet, iPhones, and compulsive liars in Congress, how on earth are we supposed to relate to "This Was a Real Nice Clambake" or "The Lonely Goatherd"?

Blogger, please!

Today's real world is much more fully explored in shows like American Idiot, Next to Normal, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Rent, Hedwig, The Scottsboro Boys, Spring Awakening, and bare. These shows tackle the problems and issues most relevant to American life in 2011. Whether or not Laurie goes to the box social with Curly isn't nearly as compelling or emotional today as whether or not the boys in American Idiot will find the answers they need to their very complicated questions, or whether Tracy Turnblad can "make every day Negro Day"...

Likewise, the kind of voices Rodgers and Hammerstein preferred would ruin shows like American Idiot, Next to Normal, BBAJ, or bare. The days of those big, classical, old-fashioned Broadway voices are gone because musicals are more mature and more complex now. Granted, there's no excuse for casting an actor who can't handle the role, but musicals are inherently artificial, and big, Howard Keel type voices are even more artificial. Today's audiences want a character to sing like that person would sing, to bring a little more reality to the enterprise. After all, musical is an adjuective; the noun here is THEATRE. And theatre is about storytelling; it's not a concert.

It was very cool seeing Next to Normal for the second time last night, having seen the original cast a couple years ago in New York. This is today's theatre. It's muscular, it's ironic, it's complicated, it swims in gray area, and it refuses to offer us shallow, easy answers. No, life for Diana in Next to Normal would not be okay if someone would only sing to her, "You'll Never Walk Alone." Merely picking up a guitar does not heal this family.

Thinking about all this is so interesting while I'm working on bare. I don't understand the folks who still want to produce Brigadoon or Oklahoma! Taking nothing away from their quality and their original reception, why live in the past when the present is so interesting and so exciting? And why lock yourself away with cast albums of Carousel and South Pacific when so many amazing new scores are being written? I do love me some Anything Goes, but if I had a choice between seeing that and seeing Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, I'd choose the latter.

Sometimes I grumble about how today's young musical theatre artists don't know the art form's history, and I do think that's a legitimate gripe (which is why I wrote my last book, Strike Up the Band: A New History of Musical Theatre). But on the other hand, there's no reason today's artists should bow down before the rusty shrine of Rodgers and Hammerstein when they could better focus their attention on the work of Tom Kitt, Larry O'Keefe, Bill Finn, Andrew Lippa, Jason Robert Brown, Kyle Jarrow, and others.

I'm so proud that New Line is producing bare, and that we've produced shows like Love Kills, High Fidelity, and in the fall, Passing Strange. I don't know how someone can love this art form but not want it to move forward. Sounds to me like a dysfunctional relationship.

The future is so much more interesting than the past.

Long Live the Musical!