Suddenly There is Meaning

I have of late been looking back at the artistic influences on me throughout my life (in this blog post, among others). As I work on the extremely challenging, complicated shows we've been producing lately, I can see how those past influences have prepared me for my current work. Particularly with Passing Strange. This is a show that uses so many styles and devices to tell its story, from old-school musical comedy (albeit with a postmodern edge) to musical drama, to concept musical, to rock opera, from moments of high hilarity to moments of deep, subtle, complicated emotion, from totally naturalistic scenes to scenes of highly stylized theatrics.

Luckily, I've developed as a director over time to the point that I now have an incredibly versatile tool belt at my disposal. I really know musical theatre in all its forms. And part of that is due to my years at the Muny. I was browsing the Muny's website the other day, and it occurred to me visit some "old friends." I was an usher at the Muny the summers of 1980 through 1987. And I noticed a while back that the Muny finally put up on their site a list of all their shows going back to 1919. So I took a stroll back through the shows I saw as an usher, and I can trace a direct line from seeing and learning those shows straight through to the work I'm doing today, in The Wild Party, Forbidden Planet, Two Gents, bare, Passing Strange, and other shows.

The best thing about that Muny job was that the extremely cool usher captains realized quickly how desperately I loved musical theatre, so most nights they stationed me down in front, on one side or the other of the stage, where there are steps leading up onto the stage. My angle was a bit weird, but I was only a few yards from the actors. And the captains made sure I saw every show from both sides. It was amazing.

Although I knew a lot of the most famous musicals before that point, it was at the Muny that I really learned the literature of my art form. Not every production was perfect -- Joe Namath and Misty Rowe were literally tone deaf in the leading roles in Li'l Abner -- but most of the shows were really enjoyable. I got to see classic shows I might have never otherwise been able to see, gems like High Button Shoes, Pal Joey, They're Playing Our Song, Little Me, Funny Girl, Where's Charley?, Annie Get Your Gun, Carnival, I Do! I Do!, Shenandoah, Can-Can, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Apple Tree, the list goes on and on... and they all taught me something valuable about making musicals.

So here is that list of shows I saw during my ushering years... Envy me, my friends.

1980
Al Jolson, Tonight!
Bye Bye Birdie
Carnival!
Cinderella
The Debbie Reynolds Show
Li’l Abner
Little Me
The Merry Widow
Richard Rodgers in Concert
South Pacific
Sugar Babies

1981
Annie Get Your Gun
Camelot
A Chorus Line
Flower Drum Song
George M!
A Grand Night for Singing
Hans Christian Andersen
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Kiss Me, Kate
The Mitzi Gaynor Show
Show Boat

1982
Anything Goes
A Chorus Line
Fiddler on the Roof
Gigi
Grease
The Sound of Music
They’re Playing Our Song
Unsinkable Molly Brown
West Side Story
Where’s Charley?
The Wiz

1983
Annie
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Camelot
Can-Can
High Button Shoes
I Do! I Do!
The King and I
Man of La Mancha
Pal Joey
The Pirates of Penzance
Promises, Promises

1984
Dream Street
Funny Girl
The Music Man
Oklahoma!
The Red Skelton Show
Sleeping Beauty
Sugar Babies

1985
42nd Street
A Chorus Line
Bob Fosse's Dancin’
Evita
Festival on Ice
Jesus Christ Superstar
My Fair Lady

1986
42nd Street
The Apple Tree
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
La Cage aux Folles
Pippin
Shenandoah
Show Boat
Singin’ in the Rain
Swan Lake: The Musical

1987
Around the World in 80 Days
Big River
Cats
Fiddler on the Roof
My One and Only
Peter Pan
The Sound of Music

I learned how to tell a really dark story in an entertaining way from Carnival, Big River, Shenandoah, Pal Joey, Evita, and others. I learned how to make a concept musical work, from Pippin, Cats, and Al Jolson Tonight. I learned how to deal with really big, outsized style from Li'l Abner, How to Succeed, Where's Charley?, 42nd Street, and High Button Shoes. I learned the rules of old-school musical comedy from Bye Bye Birdie, Annie Get Your Gun, My One and Only, La Cage, and The Music Man. I even learned how operetta works from The Merry Widow and The Pirates of Penzance. In fact, I probably learned more about my art form during those eight years than at any other time in my life.

Aren't I a lucky bastard?

Long Live the Musical!
Scott

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