Top Ten Hidden Gems on the New Line Website

New Line was one of the first theatre companies in the St. Louis region (possibly the first) to have a website, first launched in 1997. But more recently, I've been concerned that New Line's website didn't look great on mobile devices, and in this new age, that's a problem. So a couple years ago, we started paying for a service that automatically turned our site into a mobile site, but it didn't really look that great.

This fall we hired local web designer Cristopher Ontiveros to design an all-new website for New Line, this time a site designed to work on any and all platforms, desktop, smartphone, smartpads, whatever.

I wrote a blog post a while back about the cool things you can find on New Line's YouTube Channel, and I did a list of the 15 coolest shows New Line has produced. But as much as I brag about New Line's "full-service website," I usually don't get a chance to brag on the cool stuff contained therein...

So now I will.

When we produced The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas back in 2003, I jumped into the research like I would on any other show. I read the book The Whorehouse Papers, an hilarious, behind-the-scenes tell-all, written by Larry L. King, who wrote the script for the musical, based on his own amazing "gonzo journalism" article for Playboy. So now that original article is on our site so you can read it too. Unless you're easily shocked, you really have to read it...

People forget that when Grease debuted off Broadway in 1971, one of its most direct ancestors was Hair (note both titles are about era-defining hair-dos), and it was every bit as vulgar as Hair was, and every bit as non-linear. Later, when Grease was licensed to schools and regional theatres, they un-vulgarized the script considerably.

But the whole reason I wanted New Line to produce Grease in 2007 was to show people what the real, original Grease was like, ugly, vulgar, shocking, mean, aggressive. Like Hair, Grease gave us a snapshot of a turbulent moment in American history, a cultural pivot point.

So I got hold of the original published script and made a chart of all the original Grease obscenities, complete with page numbers in the rental script, so that people could see what the original dialogue was, if they were interested. When we produced it, we put all these vulgarities back, and it really changed the show, made it much darker, less musical comedy and more social document – as it was meant to be.

Another of the resources I've created, which I'm very very proud of, and which I hope are as useful for others as they were for us, are my Source Rock lists. When we produced Grease, part of my research was to listen to as much early rock and roll as I could get my hands on (Amazon has a bunch of collections!), specifically from the years the Grease kids were in high school, 1955-1959. My theory was that since I knew one of the show's writers was writing from his own life, I figured the songs in the show would be deeply informed by the actual songs of the period. And I was right. I wanted to find the real songs that inspired the Grease songs. In many cases, I found what was obviously the inspiration ("Eddy, My Love," for instance); and in other cases, I found probable or likely inspirations. In many cases, I could sing the Grease song in counterpoint to the actual 1950s song. So cool. At the time, I made mix CDs for the actors and musicians, so they could get the authentic sounds in their heads, and then I uploaded my Grease "Source Rock" Chart onto our site, so others could use it as well.

When we started work on High Fidelity, I emailed composer Tom Kitt about his score. It was clear that each song was in the voice of one of Rob's rock gods, including a Beatles song, an Indigo Girls song, a Ben Folds song, an Aretha Franklin song, you get the idea. But I wanted to know if Kitt had particular songs in mind when he was writing, the way the Grease guys obviously did. Within half an hour, Kitt had emailed me back an amazing list of all the real songs that inspired the High Fidelity songs. Again, I made mix CDs for the actors and band, and I uploaded my High Fidelity "Source Rock" Chart to our website.

I also did a Source Rock list for Return to the Forbidden Planet...

I've always hated the (relative) barbarity of auditions. As playwright James Kirkwood once said, "The audition system, especially for musicals, is the closest thing to the Romans throwing the Christians to the lions. It really is brutal." I agree. To make it a little less intimidating, early in New Line's history, I started accumulating Audition Tips, and soon after, I posted them to our site. I've been told by both actors and teachers alike that they're very helpful. I hope so!

I started my blog, The Bad Boy of Musical Theatre, on January 1, 2007. The reason was clear from the start. I had always devoured every behind-the-scenes book on musical theatre I could find, so I was determined to create a real-time, behind-the-scenes chronicle of every show New Line produces, to give students, audience members, and everybody else a real look at our process, the easy parts and the difficult parts, the successes and the failures. It's something I would have killed for this as a 17-year-old drama kid.

In between shows, I decided to blog more generally about the art form, sometimes as fanboy, sometimes as public intellectual, sometimes as creative explorer. But after seven or eight years of blog posts, I realized it would be hard for people to find my posts that weren't directly related to shows (for which you could use the dates to find them). So I started a subject index for my blog, and I've been told it's very helpful

A sampling of topics: under the general heading of Musical Theatre, there's Terms and Definitions, The End of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Meta-Musicals, The New Golden Age of Musical Theatre, The Neo Musical Comedy, The Neo Rock Musical, The New Movie Musical; as well as topics like Respect for Musicals, Acting in Musicals, Choreographing a Non-Dance Number in a Musical, Directing Musicals, Emotion in Musicals, The Lie of Escapism, Musicals and Shakespeare, Musicals and Star Trek, Musicals and Storytelling, Adult Language, Audiences, Auditions, Comedy, The Hero Myth, and Silence.

There are also a lot of posts containing lists, among them Top Ten Reasons It's Great to Be a Musical Theatre Fan, 25 Reasons to Love Musical Theatre, Top Ten Reasons Why St. Louis Theatre Rocks, New Line's 15 Coolest Shows, Ten Alternative Musicals You Might Not Know, Ten Older Shows New Line Should Do, Ten Musical Theatre Titles We Take for Granted, Ten Great Musicals Pre-1964, The Most Interesting Musicals Throughout History, Musicals Live on Video, Great Documentaries about Musical Theatre, Top Ten Desert Island Musical Theatre Books, Non-Musical-Theatre Books and Videos for Musical Theatre Artists, Top Ten Novels That Musicals Are Based On, Ten Lesser Known Movie Musicals, Ten Great Movies About Musicals, Top Ten TV Christmas Musicals, The Worst Types at Auditions, and one of my faves, "Fellini, Fosse, Woody, Sondheim, and Stew."

And all accessible through my handy-dandy blog index.

One of the things that gets the most visits on our website is my show analysis chapters, including all my essays that haven't been published yet, about shows like bare, Bukowsical, Cry-Baby, Evita, The Fantasticks, I Love My Wife, Kiss of the Spider Woman, A New Brain, Next to Normal, Passing Strange, Reefer Madness, Return to the Forbidden Planet, The Robber Bridegroom, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and others. Just go to our Sitemap, and go to the far right column at the bottom.

Since I started my blog in 2007, my show chapters are an accumulating and rewriting of my blog posts, and I haven't been keeping up. I still have chapters to write on Hands on a Hardbody, Bonnie & Clyde, Jerry Springer the Opera, Threepenny, Heathers, American Idiot, Atomic, and Celebration. But if you're interested in those shows, you can still read my blog posts.

Since the beginning, New Line has had a dual purpose, to promote our work but also to promote the art form. From the beginning, New Line's website included links to all the theatre companies in the St. Louis area. We did this partly because I read that the more your site is an "authority," a place people know to go to for information, the more traffic the site will get. But the other reason was to make it clear that New Line is not in competition with other area theatres. Our shows run four weeks; if someone sees a show at Upstream this week, they can still come see us the other three weeks we run. To further reinforce all that, we also give free program ads to small companies in almost every program.

Also, fairly early in our online history, we added a page of Upcoming Musicals in the St. Louis area. As I said, New Line promotes the art form, not just the musicals we produce. It's fun to keep this list up-to-date. We get a wonderful variety of work every season, even within the genre of musical theatre. We don't keep school productions and church groups on this list, because it would be too difficult to keep up with, but otherwise, it's a pretty comprehensive list. And I can tell from our statistics, that people use it a lot.

Two publications did lengthy feature articles about New Line leading up to our 25th season. American Theatre magazine, the national magazine for professional theatre in our country, did a beautiful feature about New Line in 2014 called "Those Magic Changes" (although I don't think the writer knew about my deep love for Grease), and the tag line was, "In case you haven't noticed, the American musical is changing keys and adding new voices. Scott Miller's small theatre in St. Louis is keeping score." Seriously, what could be better than that?

The article's writer Rob Weinert-Kendt wrote:
Survey today's new-musical makers and you'll find that many have a similar New Line story: about how Miller secured the rights to their show not long after its initial run, auspicious or otherwise, and ended up staging a production that found a receptive, even ecstatic audience in St. Louis, a town with no shortage of musical-theatre options. . . There are edgier theatre companies in the U.S., but it would be hard to find a musicals-only company with programming as consistently provocative or as reluctant to proffer theatrical comfort food. . . You might say he's in the business of changing people's minds: about shows they thought they hated, about subjects they didn't think could be sung about, about the musical form itself. The key to Miller's success may be that – for all the ego necessarily involved in running a theatre and writing several books and blog posts expounding your point of view – what has guided him above all is his willingness to have his own mind changed, even occasionally blown.

The following year, The Riverfront Times did another long, awesome feature story about New Line, as we were about to open our 25th season, called, "How Scott Miller Is Revamping the Musical – and Putting St. Louis Theatre on the Map," and the tag line was, "His sharp, smart musicals have gained a national following." Again, what's not to love?

Of course it was nice to read all those compliments about the cool work we've done over the years, but more importantly for us, both these articles now serve as outstanding calling cards, objective sources testifying to our artistry, our fearlessness, our excellence, our adventurousness. When the usual struggles of running a small non-profit get overwhelming, I re-read one or both of these articles, and it reboots me.

The thing on our website of which I'm personally proudest is our Show Pages. Every New Line show going back to 2002 (plus a few before that) has its own webpage, including details about the show and the New Line production, but all the links to related material, articles, books, interviews, analyses, websites, videos, etc. I have to admit, we've only recently converted our website to an multi-platform design, so the older show pages are not all really mobile-friendly. We'll get to that when we have some time...

All in all, a pretty cool website, no? And you can find even more coolness browsing around our Sitemap. Our productions are obviously the most important part of what we do, but our website is important too, more so than most websites. We hope you find lots there to intrigue you, to inform you, and to inspire you.

Long Live the Musical!