The Top Ten Reasons Why Musical Theatre Fans and Artists Should Be Glad They're Living Right Now...
10.) Amazon. You could spend hours browsing cast albums, videos, documentaries, scripts, scores, histories, analysis books, behind-the-scenes books, biographies, you name it – and most of that stuff you can get used really cheap. And we we set up the New Line Bookstore on Amazon to gather all that coolness in one place for you.
And then there's the Pre-Order button! The most awesome and most dangerous button on the internet. But I love it because once a month or so, I search Amazon to see what's being released in the coming months, when I see something cool, I pre-order it. When it's released, they mail it to me. What's not to love? I love that every once in a while a new cast album arrives in my mailbox!
(And while we're talking about it, Amazon has this new deal – if you go to smile.amazon.com instead of amazon.com, a portion of everything you buy is donated to charity. And you pick your charity. So if you wanna help New Line out a little, shop through smile.amazon.com, and when you first go there, tell them you want your donations to go to New Line Theatre. Commercial over.)
9.) There are more books about musical theatre being published now than ever before. Some are so-so, but some are really wonderful. Musical theatre scholarship is booming! Both music and theatre scholars are finally taking our relatively new art form seriously.
8.) There's never been more film and video footage available of the history of musical theatre than there is today, and almost all of it is online. When I first wanted to see film footage of the original Follies, I had to go to Lincoln Center and get permission from Sondheim and James Goldman's widow. (The first time I asked, she turned me down, so the second time, I asked Sondheim to intercede, and she said yes.) Now all that footage is on YouTube. The history of our art form is being preserved and democratized, perhaps like no other art form has been before.
7.) St. Louis now has two touring houses booking musicals, in addition to The Muny, Stages, and New Line. Plus Stray Dog is doing musicals every season now and there are new companies in town like The November Company and Next Generation Theatre Co., who are also doing musicals. (Check out this list of Upcoming Musicals in St. Louis.)
6.) We're getting to watch the evolution of our art form in real time. And it's really interesting and unpredictable. Who could have predicted new work like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Passing Strange, Spelling Bee, Natasha Pierre, The Scottsboro Boys, Next to Normal, Urinetown, Bat Boy...? Nobody saw these amazing, rule-busting shows coming...
5.) There's a whole new generation of musical theatre fans and artists today – and I think we may have Glee (as much as I hate it) and High School Musical (which I thought was decent, although admittedly it wasn't made for me) to thank for this resurgence. These young people really know and love the art form, past and present; they buy cast albums and come to see New Line shows; and they're writing new musicals and starting new theatre companies. Some of these new companies are dedicated to only new musicals. That kind of company couldn't have existed ten years ago; there wasn't enough product. Now there is.
4.) The musical theatre has finally, at long fucking last, fully embraced rock and roll as its musical language, maybe even as its default language now. Thank you, Jonathan Larson, Larry O'Keefe, and Tom Kitt.
3.) As has been happening for over a century now, every new generation of artists raises the bar in terms of skill, artistry, innovation, and balls, from Cohan to Porter to Rodgers & Hammerstein to Sondheim to Jason Robert Brown to today's brilliant new artists.
2.) Musicals are mainstream again. The movie musical is back (or on its way), and the indie movie musical has been born. TV is now producing both musical theatre-related programming and also musicals. Two live-on-TV musicals have already been announced for 2015. We live in a world now in which a broadcast TV network thought there might be an audience for Smash. That's good news. And a lot of mainstream pop and rock artists are now writing stage musicals. Who'd've ever thought we'd get musicals from Sting, Cyndi Lauper, Billie Joe Armstrong, Edie Brickell, John Cougar Mellancamp, and Tupac?
Musical theatre is populist again!
And the Number One Reason Why Musical Theatre Fans and Artists Should Be Glad They're Living Right Now...
1.) We're in a period of innovation and creativity that has been equalled only by the late 60s and early 70s. Our art form has never been more adventurous, more vigorous, or more exciting. We're in an honest-to-god Golden Age of the American Musical.
As regular readers here know, I argue that the last Golden Age (1943-64) was really just one era in our evolution, not necessarily a golden one. But regardless, we're in a Golden Age now, one that began in the mid-1990s, with Rent, Noise/Funk, Bat Boy, Urinetown, Floyd Collins, Hedwig, Songs for a New World, Violet, and others, and it continues today. Just in the last few years, I've seen some of the coolest new musicals I've ever seen – Next to Normal, American Idiot, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Scottsboro Boys, The Blue Flower... Which is not to say the commercial theatre is embracing them all, but very cool new work is being written.
Yes, we New Liners still often look to New York for new shows, because that's where many of the best writers are still struggling to get their work seen. If they hit the jackpot there, they might make a living at this. But we also know that commercial success in New York rarely has any relation at all to the quality of the material. Brilliant shows like Next to Normal can succeed modestly, and brilliant shows like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson can fail miserably. And brilliant shows like High Fidelity and Cry-Baby can be ruined by incompetent directors and designers.
Maybe that's one of the reasons it's a Golden Age and so many experiments are happening, because there isn't only one place for a musical to succeed anymore. And commercial success is no longer the only measure of success. The musical theatre has been democratized, just like the music and film industries.
I know that Broadway is still a dream for many young writers and actors, and I have my own love-hate relationship with it, but there is exciting musical theatre happening every day all across our country, amateur and professional, traditional and not. It's a great time to be a musical lover.
In this partitioned, digitized world, maybe they'll never be another time like the 20s and 30s, when theatre music was pop music. But maybe no element of culture will ever be that pervasive again. Cole Porter didn't have to compete with TV, cable, satellite radio, iTunes, iPhones, or YouTube.
Sometimes I think back on my early days as a musical theatre lover and budding scholar, and it seems like Abe Lincoln reading his schoolbooks by candlelight. What I would have given as a 12-year-old musical theatre freak to be able to talk to others like me, to have a seemingly endless ocean of information available to me. I know there are 12-year-old me's out there today. And let's be honest, in certain ways, I'm still 12. That's why New Line created our YouTube Online History of Musical Theatre (and a lot of other really cool content on our YouTube channel), and why we keep many of my analysis essays on our website for your use.
There will always be those who think Brigadoon is a better show than Next to Normal. And we'll just leave them to their dusty LPs. Meanwhile, the rest of us can swim in the awesomeness of all the cool new musical theatre being written for us.
It's a great time to be doing what I do. I'm very lucky. And so are you.
Long Live the Musical!