For a year and a half, Broadway was dark. There were no shows, no audiences, no live theater at all. Until the fall of 2021, where almost as quickly as it shut down, Broadway came roaring back to life. But how do you even go about reopening a Broadway show after all of that time? PBS’s latest Great Performances documentary, “Reopening: The Broadway Revival,” answers just that. Featuring rehearsal footage from several shows and a host of interviews from Broadway actors and creators, “Reopening” follows a handful of Broadway musicals from their initial closure in March 2020 to their grand reopening in the fall of 2021. It’s an uplifting, hopeful watch – even if it never quite goes into as much detail as you might like. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Great Performances: Reopening: The Broadway Revival Go behind the scenes of Broadway as shows reunite, rehearse and re-stage for their long-awaited reopening nights while the theater industry learns how to turn the lights back on after its longest hiatus in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in a single book is a monumental task. Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in less than 500 pages is a nearly impossible task. And yet that’s exactly what Barry Singer’s Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond attempts to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit the mark. For those hoping for a glimpse behind the scenes of their favorite musicals, Ever After isn’t the book for you. It’s less of a historical account and more of a collection of reviews. In that context, it’s not too bad. However, the first half of the book is particularly hard to power through and the book’s general lack of depth hinders much of the enjoyment. (3 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of Ever After from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.
Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020 Written by Barry Singer Before Ever After appeared in 2003, no book had addressed the recent past in musical theater history—an era Singer describes as “ever after musical theater’s many golden ages.” Derived significantly from Singer’s writings about musical theater for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker, Ever After captured that era in its entirety, from the opening of The Act on Broadway in October 1977 to the opening of Avenue Q Off-Broadway in March 2003. This new edition brings Ever After up to date, from Wicked, through The Book of Mormon, to Hamilton and beyond. Once again, this the first book to cover this new, pre-pandemic age of the Broadway musical.
It has been a decade since Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark first began previews, accompanied by endless reports about injured actors and workplace safety hazards. With a budget exceeding sixty million dollars, an endless barrage of reported injuries, and suggestions that the plot was nigh incoherent, the musical had all the makings of a colossal train wreck. And, for a while, it delivered on that promise, with continued reports of technical mistakes and feuding creatives. But, eventually, it just fizzled out. After months and months of previews, the ousting of its director, and endless lousy press, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark opened on June 14, 2011. But what happened? Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical’s script, seeks to answer this in his account of the musical’s creation, Song of Spider-Man. While reading as more of a gossipy, biased memoir than an objective, neutral account, Song of Spider-Man is an entertaining and revealing look at how Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark went from being an anticipated Broadway spectacle to a “sixty-five million dollar circus tragedy.” (4 out of 5 wands.)
Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History (by Glen Berger) As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together—along with U2’s Bono and Edge—they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.
But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety. Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor.
There’s nothing quite like Broadway drama. Between the divas who star in shows and the even bigger ones who write and produce them, there is never a dull moment behind the scenes of a Broadway show. This was especially true during the 1990s and early 2000s—the era of Broadway’s resurgence in American popular culture, which makes this time period the perfect topic for Michael Riedel, longtime theatre columnist for the New York Post, to write about. His latest book, Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway, often reads like more of a gossip column than a historical account, but is a quick, devilishly entertaining read for all Broadway lovers. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.)
Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel The 1990s was a decade of profound change on Broadway. At the dawn of the nineties, the British invasion of Broadway was in full swing, as musical spectacles like Les Miserables, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera dominated the box office. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard soon spelled the end of this era and ushered in a new wave of American musicals, beginning with the ascendance of an unlikely show by a struggling writer who reimagined Puccini’s opera La Bohème as the smash Broadway show Rent. American musical comedy made its grand return, culminating in The Producers, while plays, always an endangered species on Broadway, staged a powerful comeback with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. A different breed of producers rose up to challenge the grip theater owners had long held on Broadway, and corporations began to see how much money could be made from live theater.
And just as Broadway had clawed its way back into the mainstream of American popular culture, the September 11 attacks struck fear into the heart of Americans who thought Times Square might be the next target. But Broadway was back in business just two days later, buoyed by talented theater people intent on bringing New Yorkers together and supporting the economics of an injured city.
Michael Riedel presents the drama behind every mega-hit or shocking flop, bringing readers into high-stakes premieres, fraught rehearsals, tough contract negotiations, intense Tony Award battles, and more. From the bitter feuds to the surprising collaborations, all the intrigue of a revolutionary era in the Theater District is packed into Singular Sensation. Broadway has triumphs and disasters, but the show always goes on.
Hadestown is one of my favorite musicals from the last few years. It moved me in a way that many musicals fail to do. I found the whole thing utterly captivating and gorgeous. It’s one of those rare musicals where the entirety of the show is delivered through its music and lyrics. Sure, the staging plays a large part in the deliverance of the story, but there is no spoken dialogue. Everything that’s said on stage comes from the music – all of which came from the mind of Anaïs Mitchell. And that’s what makes Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown so appealing. It’s widely known how difficult writing musicals is. So, when it was announced that a book exploring the lyrics of Hadestown was due to be published, along with extensive commentary from Mitchell, I was immediately curious to see what all she’d talk about in the book. And, man, if you’re looking for insight into how composers and lyricists craft musical, this is the book for you. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
In this book, Anaïs Mitchell takes readers inside her more than decade’s-long process of building the musical from the ground up—detailing her inspiration, breaking down the lyrics, and opening up the process of creation that gave birth to Hadestown. Fans and newcomers alike will love this deeply thoughtful, revealing look at how the songs from “the underground” evolved, and became the songs we sing again and again.
1955’s Damn Yankees, with a libretto by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music by Richard Adler, and lyrics by Jerry Ross, is iconic in its own right. It is a retelling of the classic Faust story, with Joe Boyd selling his soul to Mr. Applegate in order to play for his favorite baseball team – the Washington Senators. It marked the first collaboration between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, leading to their multi-decade relationship and partnership. It ran for 1,019 performances on Broadway and spawned a reasonably successful film adaptation in 1958. So, why is Damn Yankees revived so rarely? Aside from a short, but successful, run in 2008 as part of the City Center Encores! Series, the last major American production of the show was its 1994 revival – a revival that ran for over two years, itself. If the show is as popular as it seems, why is it so rarely done outside of schools and other smaller theatres? Perhaps it has something to do with its subject matter and how well it has stood the test of time? That is certainly true for other Golden Age musicals. But is it true for Damn Yankees? Maybe not. In fact, Damn Yankees is one of the rare Golden Age musicals that holds up relatively well. However, there are certainly things that can be done to make it more appealing for a modern audience – most notably an update in its depiction of women. Continue reading →
As I say every time I review an album, I don’t consider myself a music reviewer. I know the basics of what makes a song work, but I do know what I like and I mostly know why I like it. I do consider myself someone who can review musicals, though, which is why I’ll occasionally review the cast album for a musical. A good cast album should be able to stand on its own as a wholly complete piece of music but should also be a good representation of the musical and its plot. This is where The Prince of Egypt enters. I grew up watching the film and absolutely adore it. It’s once of my favorite animated musicals of all time and I’ve long wanted it to be adapted for the stage, much like Disney does with their animated films. And it’s finally happened. A big, grande adaptation opened in London’s West End earlier this year, and its cast album dropped today. Featuring all-but-one of the film’s songs and a whole host of new songs by original lyricist and composer, Stephen Schwartz, can this new musical hold a candle to its iconic source material? In short: more or less.
The Tony Awards aired this past weekend, and the internet is abuzz about the winner of the Best New Play award: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There’s been a bit of controversy as a result of its win, particularly from the Harry Potter fandom, so, I figured now is as good a time as any to mount a defense for the play. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play borne out of a collaboration between Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne, and director John Tiffany. It’s advertised as the official eighth chapter in the Harry Potter series and tells the story of Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus, and his experiences as he attends Hogwarts and fights to escape the shadows of his father’s past glories. The script for the show was initially published in July of 2016, and to say there was some controversy directly afterward would be an understatement. While the majority of critics in London adored the show and praised it for its script, acting, design elements, etc, fans were noticeably more divided, if not downright negative towards it. It’s been criticized as “bad fanfiction with a silly story”, “totally out of character”, “inconsistent with the books and the universe that Rowling wrote”, amongst others. I disagree with most of those points, and I’m gonna explain why. It’s worth noting that there will be total spoilers for the play throughout this. You’ve been warned. Continue reading →
It never truly feels like Christmas for me unless there’s some kind of musical event in either the television or film world. Whether it’s a new movie musical for Hollywood or another one of those live musicals on TV (via NBC or FOX), a big part of my Christmas tradition nowadays is a new musical to watch and enjoy right before the big holiday. This year was no exception, bringing two musicals to my eyeballs. FOX just aired A Christmas Story Live! this past weekend (with a book by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins and music and lyrics by the songwriting duo Pasek and Paul) and 20th Century Fox is releasing a new movie musical about P.T. Barnum (of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame) directed by Michael Gracey, with a screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and music and lyrics by Pasek and Paul. You might have noticed a theme there with both of this year’s big, new musical offerings: they both feature the music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Fresh off their recent success with Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, Pasek and Paul have written original lyrics and music for The Greatest Showman as well as composing a new song for the live telecast of their 2012 Broadway musical A Christmas Story. (Also of note: one of last year’s big musical offerings, La La Land, also featured the lyrics of Pasek and Paul.) So with Pasek and Paul taking over my screens in both of the big new filmed musical offerings, I thought it worthwhile to give my thoughts on the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman (I haven’t seen the movie yet), FOX’s telecast of A Christmas Story Live!, and my general thoughts on the music of Pasek and Paul. Continue reading →
This past week, the Tony Award-winning musical Matilda: the Musical played the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC and the cast and crew filled the room with rebellion and magic. With a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by comedian Tim Minchin, Matilda the Musical tells the story of Matilda Wormwood (Jaime Maclean, at my performance), a young, smart, book-obsessed girl raised by abusive parents who is sent to a school, run by the evil Ms. Trunchball (Dan Chameroy), and discovers she possesses magical powers. Based on the classic novel by Roald Dahl, Matilda: the Musical aims to remind us all that sometimes we have to be a little bit naughty in life, and that’s okay! (Note: pictures may not be from the current tour; I had to make do with what I could find. Continue reading →