But some shows are more of an adventure than others. Sometimes it's an adventure because the show is really hard (Sweeney Todd, Floyd Collins, Next to Normal, The Wild Party). Sometimes it's because the show is just so weird that none of us really knows what the end product will be (Forbidden Planet, Robber Bridegroom, The Nervous Set). Sometimes it's because we know where we're headed, but we have no idea what kind of reception we'll get when we arrive (Love Kills, Two Gents, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), in that last case, usually because a show is exceptionally dark or vulgar, or both.
Bukowsical is in that last category. (The title of this post comes from the lyric of "Get Down, Get Dark, Get Dirty.") I've figured out how this show operates, I know what our destination looks like, and I know how to get there. But what are people going to think of a musical with lyrics like:
What's the feeling you get
When you're coughing up blood
And your liver is crud?
When you’re fucking a whore
After downing a case
And you shit on her face?
I've already told my mother not to come to this one...
When I first started talking about this show, some folks said, "But do people know who Charles Bukowski is?" Well, the answer is that some do, but it doesn't really matter. After all, most people didn't know who Floyd Collins or Sam Byck were.
Almost every season we choose one show that we know may lose a lot of money. To be honest, every New Line show loses money, which we make up for with donations, grants, etc. But some shows lose a lot of money (Johnny Appleweed, Passing Strange, Love Kills). But that's okay -- we build that into our budget. Of course, some shows that we think may do poorly at the box office end up selling like crazy, like Return to the Forbidden Planet, Cry-Baby, High Fidelity, and The Robber Bridegroom.
Nobody knows how Bukowsical will do in sales. But it's still worth producing because it's so smart, so funny, and so interesting. And the form the writers have chosen for their story, the neo musical comedy, is at the vanguard of the art form in 2013.
Part of the fun for me working on his show is the research. I love research. The more I can learn about the world and characters of a show, the richer and fuller our storytelling will be. In this case, I'm reading all of Charles Bukowski's autobiographical novels (which are AWESOME, by the way), reading about the cultural influences that the show explores, finding video of the real people who show up in Bukowsical, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Mickey Rourke, Sean Penn, Tennessee Williams, Sylvia Plath, William Burroughs, William Faulkner, etc. It's such a blast.
Judy Newmark, theatre critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote in her review of New Line's I Love My Wife:
New Line has done well with Hair, which it has mounted several times. It’s also staged strong productions of Grease and Chicago, the Beat musical The Nervous Set, the slacker musical High Fidelity and Return to the Forbidden Planet, set either in the 1950s or the future, maybe both. Put them all together, and it's an era-by-era look at changing American mores. Miller’s anthropological twist on musical theater gives New Line a distinctive point of view, brainy and bold.
I loved that so much, partly because it's true. I am -- and by extension, New Line is -- exploring American culture and politics throughout the 20th century, through the shows we produce. That's why my last book, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals is organized by when the shows are set, starting with The Wild Party in the 1920s and going up through the present, chronicling the changes in American culture and politics as I explore these musicals.
I'm one of those people who just doesn't understand the point of making theatre that doesn't explore the issues and ideas of our times. I agree with playwright Arthur Miller, who said, “I could not imagine a theatre worth my time that did not want to change the world.” I also agree with the great Stella Adler, who said, "Unless you give the audience something that makes them bigger – better – do not act."
It's only been the last ten years or so that I've fully understood the power and necessity of storytelling and the obligation of storytellers. As actor Ben Kingsley has said, "The tribe has elected you to tell its story. You are the shaman/healer, that's what the storyteller is, and I think it's important for actors to appreciate that. Too often actors think it's all about them, when in reality it's all about the audience being able to recognize themselves in you." Yes!
Bukowsical is wild and silly and vulgar and outrageous. But it's also really smart and insightful. And I think audiences are going to love it. Well, the ones who don't walk out after the opening number...
It's so exciting working on a new piece, but particularly a fearless, original show like this one. Sometimes, people ask me if I would like to be as "successful" as Stages St. Louis is. Well, no, not if we'd have to produce State Fair and The Sound of Music. As Michelle Obama argued during the last campaign, success doesn't have to mean money. New Line is in our 22nd season of daring, alternative musical theatre, having produced dozens of regional premieres and a handful of world premieres. We're in the best financial shape in years, we're doing the best, most exciting work we've ever done, and we've got a loyal, growing audience who love being challenged and love going on an adventure.
We've already got two incredibly cool regional premieres planned for next season...
So plan to join us for opening night of Bukowsical on Friday, May 31, and help us get word-of-mouth jump-started. I promise you've never seen anything like this, and I also promise you'll laugh your fuckin' ass off. I'll leave you with one of the funniest, most jaw-dropping moments in the show, when Bukowski stands over the body of his one true love, and sings operatically:
Why did you do this, you goddamn motherfucking…fuck!
Oh, cocksucking motherfucking fuck!
Oh, goddamn motherfucking fuck!
Yes, you can be Bukowsical too!
Long Live the Musical!