new musicals inc. -- blog

we develop musicals.

new musicals inc.

At New Musicals Inc. in Los Angeles, we develop new musicals.

Here’s our blog, which includes posts and musings on the craft of writing musical theatre, along with our observations about developing new musicals, and how to get them produced.

Want to get involved, as a writer or producer?  See our page about developing musicals.

If you’re looking for classes, visit our sister organization, The Academy for New Musical Theatre.

 

Check out Chaturbate at #HFF17 #NMIfringe

Chaturbate: The Musical!

Where Broadway Gets Off!

Book by Dan Margules, music by David Jayden Anthony, lyrics by Chris Edgar
Saturday, June 10 at 8:30
Wednesday, June 14 at 11:00
Thursday, June 15 at 6:00
Sunday, June 18 at 4:30
Friday, June 23 at 11:00
At the Hollywood Fringe Festival - June (tickets go on sale May 1)
http://nmi.org/fringe-festival-2017/

Breaking Musical Theatre News

Carousel barker vows to take care of his unborn child, declaring he’ll go out and make it or steal it or take it or die.  #NMI

NMI LAUNCHES ONLINE CONFERENCE FOR MUSICAL THEATRE WRITERS

Online Conference for Musical Theatre Writers

(Los Angeles, January 18, 2017)

Did you miss the national conference for musical theatre writers last summer? New Musicals Inc. is launching an online conference for musical theatre writers, focusing on business issues such as contracts, fundraising, copyright, how to approach producers (and how not to approach producers).

Every other year, NMI hosts a national conference live in Los Angeles. The online version features 19 videos of highlights from many of the conference panels.

“If you weren’t able to attend our conference in person, you missed a lot!” says NMI’s Executive Director Scott Guy. “It was a jam-packed three-day weekend of musical theatre panels, schmoozing, learning, eating, drinking, and networking.”

The August conference featured writers, attorneys, producers, artistic directors, actors, composers, and other theatre artists and industry experts. One of the keynote speakers of the 2016 conference was Ken Davenport of Davenport Theatricals (Spring Awakening, Grease, Altar Boyz, Daddy Long Legs, etc.) Davenport gave lots of practical advice, insights and strategies to writers about producing, fundraising and marketing new musicals. The online conference excerpts five of Davenport’s hottest topics, and two “case studies” from among conference participants he advised for everyone to hear.

Entertainment attorneys Gordon Firemark and Michael Blaha gave us thousands of dollars’ worth of advice about the legal aspects of musical theatre including topics such as collaboration agreements, permissions and rights, and merger in three excerted videos.

NMI’s artistic director Elise Dewsberry says that NMI has been contemplating creating an online version of the conference since its inception in 2008. “We always hope writers will attend in person, because the networking is so fantastic. Writers get to rub shoulders with producers, directors, writers, entertainment attorneys, money-raisers, and dramaturgs…it’s an experience you can’t duplicate online. But for those writers who can’t attend in person, we’re hoping the online version is the next best thing.”

Online viewers will miss the opportunity to present their musicals directly to producers; but two of the online videos are from the panel with producers giving advice how to approach them. Producers Daniel Henning, Michael Blaha, and Michael Michetti represent the Blank Theatre, Edinburgh Festival and Boston Court Theatre.

An additional set of seven videos feature tips and tricks from the screenwriting and television world, presented by Scott Guy (Disney, Warner Bros., NBC, PBS, etc.).

The online conference costs $195, which is a third of the cost of the full live conference ($595). The NMI website features two free videos for visitors to sample before committing to the purchase of the entire online conference.

To see the free videos and register for the online conference, visit nmi.org, or the direct link: http://nmi.org/develop/conference/2016-panel-videos-login/

An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Theatre Community

An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Theatre Community
from New Musicals Inc., the Academy Repertory Company, and The Academy for New Musical Theatre

Dear Colleagues:

Actors Equity has chosen to put us on the public “Do Not Work” list. We want you to know the facts.

For the last year, we have been attempting to have the Academy Repertory Company (our member company that was established in 2003) designated as a Member Company. We have been denied that classification. Equity’s official reason for that denial was that our application didn’t include “Academy Repertory Company”. According to Equity:

Your company was registered as New Musicals Inc./Academy for New Musical Theatre.

The demonstrably provable fact is that we registered all three of our branches in the same application, including our Member Company, the Academy Repertory Company. But Equity seems to be determined to deny our repertory company’s status as a Membership Company by somehow invalidating our paperwork.

We have asked for a meeting with Gail Gabler and Allison Harma about our membership company on ten separate occasions over the past thirteen months, but Equity has refused to take a meeting with us on this subject on all ten occasions, insisting instead that we take a meeting with them to discuss the new minimum wage contract. We have, on each occasion, respectfully informed Equity that contracts are inapplicable when we are clearly a Membership Company and our members are joyful volunteers, and have been for 14 years.

Instead of agreeing to meet with us about our Membership Company status, and explain to us why they are insisting that our paperwork was incorrect when we can prove that it wasn’t, Equity has chosen to put us on the national public “Do Not Work” list, causing very real damage to our name and reputation across the country.

Those of you with whom we have had the pleasure of reading and singing new musicals know how respectful we are of actors, stage managers and all theatre artists. Please continue to know that you are all always welcome at the Academy Repertory Company, New Musicals Inc, and the Academy for New Musical Theatre, whether you’re a member of Equity or not.

Scott Guy, Executive Director
John Sparks, Founding Director
Elise Dewsberry, Artistic Director
New Musicals Inc.
The Academy for New Musical Theatre
The Academy Repertory Company

Naked Assessments of a Century of Musicals

My mentor, Lehman Engel was wont to say, “We all know it will sound better when Ethel Merman sings it wearing a green sequined dress – but for now let’s focus on the writing.”

I have written four basic monthly essays. 1) How a musical lover’s first legit show is seminal (for that person); 2, 3, and 4) Principles writers should consider when creating the book, the music, or the lyrics for a musical.  We extract these principles from the past while the form is striding into the future.  Still I believe there is a direct relationship between Showboat and Hamilton in the sense that the current show could not have been written if the earlier and admittedly old-fashioned show had not preceded it.

6a00d8345212eb69e20148c83b3ce1970c-800wiIt feels as if the American Musical Theatre is experiencing a transition that began in the 60s and continues today.  A similar transition in classical music began early in the 20th century, but it was bucking a tradition of 300 years.  The American musical is still not quite 100 years old, and it is fair to say it is definitely in flux today.  Very traditional looking and sounding shows like A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder and Matilda compete with shows considered ground-breaking, like Hamilton and Fun Home.

I think this mix of familiar forms and new wrinkles make today a very exciting time to be working as a writer in this form.  There is clearly room for invention – in fact, there seems to be a thirst for invention.  But new, old or somewhere in between, the form is still selling tickets, and not just on Broadway.  Musicals old and new are filling theatres small and large across the country.  In recent weeks I saw two full houses in southern California, one for a brand new musical in La Mirada (Empire) and one for a revered Sondheim classic in Thousand Oaks (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

Every decade has its seminal, seemingly game-changing titles on Broadway, but the basic ways these shows work seem so similar to me as to be minor variations on a theme rather than the startling innovations the critics often like to claim.  “Des McAnuff has reinvented Broadway!” they chirped when The Who’s Tommy opened on Broadway in 1993 (right across the street from The Kiss of the Spider Woman, which was well received but not nearly with the same ecstasy as Tommy).  I think, if we researched the number of productions both shows have received since opening 26 years ago we will find that Spider Woman is the show that has survived its Broadway run and been produced many times over this period, whereas I have not heard of any significant productions of Tommy, although I assume there have been some.

It’s very difficult in the heat of the moment to tell whether the current Broadway success is truly a show for the ages or merely a popular phenomenon, the equivalent of a Pet Rock on Broadway.  Where is The Producers today?  Where will Hamilton be in 25 years?  Who can say?  This is made more difficult because the fans of these highly popular shows are so totally convinced that the work they love is great.  Add to this the juggernauts of Cats (about to be revived) and Phantom (yet to close!) and the waters get muddier and muddier.  Certainly if commercial success on Broadway is the barometer, Cats and Phantom win hands down.  They would clearly be the #1 and #3 greatest shows of all time (I think the revival of Chicago has slipped into the #2 spot).

“We all know it will sound better when Ethel Merman sings it wearing a green sequined dress – but for now let’s focus on the writing.”

These shows, like all shows, have their detractors as well as their fans.  We know we can please some of the people some of the time but no one has learned to please all of the people all of the time.   It is very difficult to be objective about things we love and things we hate.  (Is anybody really objective about Donald Trump?)  If our interest is in writing better shows, I think it makes sense to try to be objective about the hit shows of the form (not quite 100 years old unless you really stretch the meaning of the word “musical”).  I pledge to make a serious effort to confine my remarks to an examination of the libretto and score of each show I analyze on these pages.  I don’t intend to study only shows I ‘liked’ or shows I ‘didn’t like.’  My opinion is not better than yours or anybody else’s, including Ben Brantley’s and Charles Isherwood’s.  Opinions are merely opinions, and people who know me know I have strong ones – but they are for private conversation, not public consumption.

sweeney-todd-broadway-poster-1979I want to look at a seminal musical from each of the decades from 1920 to 2000.  It will be harder to choose one from the 90s onward since not enough time has passed to determine whether the shows will truly pass the test of time.  Many will (and should) argue with the choices I have made.  There is always at least one person in every crowd who doggedly prefers black jelly beans.

1920s:  Showboat
1930s:  Porgy and Bess (I know, I know.  They say it’s an opera.  So what?)
1940s:  Oklahoma
1950s:  West Side Story
1960s:  Fiddler on the Roof
1970s:  Sweeney Todd
1980s:  Les Miserables
1990s:  Rent
2000s:  Wicked
2010s:  Since we haven’t finished the decade, I won’t try for one here (but I’m betting it will be Hamilton).

Each examination of the shows above will consist of four parts – an analysis of the book, the music and the lyrics followed by a discussion of how well these elements work together to tell the story.  Here are the criteria I plan to apply in each section.

The Book:  Narrative structure (beginning, middle and end); Cause and Effect of Action, Character Development, Thematic Strength, Diction in Dialogue,  and how these elements affect the willing suspension of disbelief.

The Lyrics:  Song Topics, Development of the Central Song Idea, Lyric Diction (especially how it matches or fails to match the characters’ diction as established in the book), Specificity of Language and Imagery, Consistency of Rhythmic Patterns (in matching sections of the song according to its form –whether ABAB [verse/chorus], AABA or some other song form), Grammar (appropriate to character), and Thematic Importance.

The Music:  Melodic, Rhythmic and Harmonic Development, Style (whether the modalities or tonalities of the songs fit the dramatic moments they serve, either by underlining them, playing against them or informing them in some other way), Rhythmic Prosody (matching the melodic rhythm to the natural spoken rhythms of the lyric), Euphony (whether the lyric is easily sung over the contour of the melody), Compositional Invention and Integrity (whether the music of a song represents the composer’s “voice” or seems to be merely derivative).

Overall Effectiveness:  Do the songs flow from the action of the play?  Is there an abrupt change in energy when a song begins or have the authors created an effective bridge from the spoken word to the singing?  Are the songs distributed throughout the evening in a balanced way to provide variety in tempo, content, and vocal range, etc?  In shows with an intermission, is the gap effectively managed?  What is the theme of the show and how consistently does the material from the book and songs support that theme?  Does the ending satisfy or frustrate the audience’s expectations?  (I will attempt to confine my remarks to the writing rather than the staging or elements of stagecraft like the famous chandelier in Phantom or the phantasmagorical costumes and puppetry of The Lion King, i.e. ignoring the “green sequined dress.”)

As I wade through the task of researching and writing these analyses, I would appreciate hearing from anybody who thinks of titles which more clearly represent the decades other than those I have chosen.  I would also appreciate hearing from anyone who would either challenge or add to the criteria I have outlined.

Until Showboat, then…

–John
July 15, 2016

 

Musical Theatre Lyrics

Hmmm.  It all starts with the book, But everyone wants to come out humming the music.  Still the fact is that, since the early 1920s, the American musical has always been distinguished by the sophistication of its lyrics.  There was a lot of word play in the beginning:

1925:  (from No, No, Nanette, lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach)

SHOW THE LADIES EVERY STEP YOU KNOW
JUST RAISE HADES TILL THEY TINGLE
MINGLE TILL THEY THINK YOU’RE SINGLE
YOU CAN DANCE WITH ANY GIRL AT ALL
AS LONG AS YOU COME HOME TO ME.

Before too long, inventive imagery and irony crept in:

babesInAmrsSheet1937:  (from Babes In Arms, lyrics by Lorenz Hart)

THE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, THE DAILY FIGHTS
THE QUICK TOBOGGAN WHEN YOU REACH THE HEIGHTS
I MISS THE KISSES AND I MISS THE BITES
I WISH I WERE IN LOVE AGAIN.

The 1940s brought us the defining achievements of the Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration with an almost perfect marriage of music and lyrics both rhythmically and in the “singability” of the lyrics over the contour of the melodies that presented them.  The organic nature of the lyrics, often growing seamlessly out of the dialogue, spawned many imitators, right up to the present day.

1942:  (from Oklahoma, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)

LAUREY
Well, you jist can’t go around kissin’ every man that asts you!  Didn’t anybody ever tell you that?

ADO ANNIE
Yeow, they told me…

IT AIN’T SO MUCH A QUESTION OF NOT KNOWIN’ WHUT TO DO
I KNOWED WHUT’S RIGHT AND WRONG SINCE I BEEN TEN.
I HEARD A LOT OF STORIES – AND I RECKON THEY ARE TRUE –
ABOUT HOW GIRLS’RE PUT UPON BY MEN.
I KNOW I MUSTN’T FALL INTO THE PIT
BUT WHEN I’M WITH A FELLER – I FERGIT!

Rodgers and Hammerstein continued to experiment and refine their crafts as their collaboration labored on, striving to make the words and music work together to illuminate the moment.  Listen to the plea in Lady Thiang’s voice in both the music and the words to the song Something Wonderful from The King And I (also book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II):

1951:  HE WILL NOT ALWAYS SAY
WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE HIM SAY
BUT NOW AND THEN HE’LL SAY
SOMETHING WONDERFUL…

The fall and rise of the melody successfully mimics the fall and rise of a voice begging for more understanding from a listener.  In this case, the listener is Mrs. Anna.  Lady Thiang is asking Mrs. Anna to be tactful, to help the king manage international relationships without suggesting that he actually needs help.  Her advice mustn’t sound like advice.  Further, Mrs. Anna must go to the king, not wait for him to ask for her help, something he is far too proud to do.  Lady Thiang realizes she is dealing with two very strong personalities and that she must be diplomatic in her request.  The song, and its placement in the scene, is a marvel of craft, and well worth studying.

The lyric to a theatre song, and the way the music presents the lyric must be carefully crafted to convey the moment.  In its diction, the lyric needs to reflect the character’s capacity for language, while honoring whatever social restrictions the setting and other characters present place on the singer.  The best theatre songs focus on a single topic (like The Surrey With The Fringe On Top) and yet this topic is not always what the song is about (Surrey is about Curly trying to get a date with a Laurey – the Surrey is merely a means to an end.).  Unlike dialogue, the lyric needs rhythm and rhyme, and these elements need to be present in an organized way that literally helps the audience understand both the topic of the song and the reason it is being sung.  Making it possible for the audience to hear the lyric is not nearly as important as making it possible for the audience to fully understand the lyric instantly, without reflection.  That understanding needs to transcend the mere meaning of the words and achieve the greater impact of the subtextual information and thematic thrust of the moment in the show.  The craft of writing lyrics carefully and thoughtfully to achieve emotional truth and serve the character in the moment is what makes this transcendent understanding possible.

It is the craft of lyric writing that makes it possible for the audience to instantly and fully understand the emotional moment for the character.

The lyric must be written in the voice of the character.  Every character has a unique speech pattern, and the lyric should reflect this.  Where was the character born?  What education does the character have?  What social position does the character enjoy, aspire to or strive to escape?  (Study Adelaide’s Lament from Guys And Dolls, lyrics by Frank Loesser.  The woman is trying to educate herself, but ultimately relies on her own common sense to sum up what she is learning: “In other words just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold, a person can develop a cold.”)

The lyric must attend to the social moment of the character.  Characters adjust their language according to the circumstances.  Think about Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (book and lyrics by Allan Jay Lerner), striving to pronounce everything properly at Ascot, but losing control during the race to shout “Come on, Dover, move yer bloomin’ arse!”  Eliza couldn’t contain her excitement during the race, but earlier in the show she is forced to stifle her anger and must wait until she is alone to vent in the song “Just You Wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins!”

The lyric must reflect the character’s thoughts and feelings in the moment of the play.  At the end of the first act of Gypsy (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), Herbie asks Rose to marry him and settle down.  Louise begs her to say yes.  But Rose, angry at June’s desertion, is determined to forge ahead.  If she can’t make Baby June a star, she’ll make Louise a star.  “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great, gonna have the whole world on a plate!”

The lyric has to do all of this work within the constraints of the musical form chosen by the composer.  There are very few syllables to a line of lyric, so it is not wise to waste one.  The hearability and understandability of the lyric is affected by orchestration,, choreography, swirling costumes and mechanical scenery.  With all those elements competing for the audience’s attention, the lyric has to emerge clearly so the patrons can simultaneously hear and understand the lyric in the voice of the character in the moment of the play.

There was a time when lyrics did not need to flow so seamlessly from the dialogue, when two people could have a “cute meet,” hear a bell tone in the orchestra, and launch into a charming love-at-first-sight tune.  We’ve grown past that.

We seem to have also grown past metaphor and simile at times to a state where specificity is rooted in reality – harsh, unromantic and filled with expletives, like this example from Next To Normal (book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey):.  “Mozart was crazy, flat fucking crazy, batshit I hear.”  Over my career I have watched our society lose its innocence and insouciance the way the characters In La Boheme do when Mimi dies.  During World War II and its aftermath, we felt indestructible.  We were optimistic.  We knew things would get better and better as time went on.  Somewhere along the way we became skeptical, and we now feel as if things are changing for the worse, not the better.  The American psyche is having a dark night of the soul, and this is reflected in our musical theatre as well as other aspects of our lives.

Fortunately, Americans can’t seem to stay sulking in the dark too long, and the culture’s original impulse to optimism and cheerfulness continues to express itself in our entertainment media.  On Broadway today:  Aladdin, American In Paris, Kinky Boots, She Loves Me, Something Rotten, Book of Mormon, The Lion King, and Wicked.  These are only a few of the current shows, a list slanted toward those on the humorous and romantic side, away from the more dramatic musicals like Fiddler on the Roof or The Color Purple, and avoiding non-American musicals.  So whether it’s a revival or a new work, the American musical is alive and well on Broadway, and sometimes the lyrics shine with sophistication, wit and occasional wisdom.

At my advancing years (nearly 75 now) one of my favorite lyrics is from Milk and Honey, 1961, by Jerry Herman:

LET’S NOT WASTE A MOMENT,    0603123a
LET’S NOT LOSE A DAY;
THERE’S A SHORT FOREVER,
NOT TOO FAR AWAY.

WE DON’T HAVE TO HEAR THE CLOCK REMIND US
THAT THERE’S MORE THAN HALF OF LIFE BEHIND US,
WHEN YOU FACE A SHORT FOREVER.
THERE’S NO RIGHT OR WRONG;
I CAN ONLY FACE FOREVER,
IF YOU COME ALONG.
I CAN ONLY FIND MY WAY,
IF YOU’RE THERE TO LEAD ME ON;

SO LET’S NOT WASTE A MOMENT,
OH, LOOK, ANOTHER MOMENT’S GONE!

I remember hearing that lyric in the Colonial Theatre in Boston at the tender age of 20 (sung by Robert Weede to Mimi Benzell).  I understood it completely then, and I definitely understand it now, that I, too, don’t need to hear a clock remind me that there is more than half of life behind me.  It hasn’t lost a particle of its truth in the intervening 55 years.

I’d like to hear from some of you about your favorite lyrics, words that moved you in the safety of theatre and continue to speak to you now, in the harsh light of reality where for 50 people forever can be very short indeed.

–John
June 13, 2016

 

NMI Announces cast for staged reading of INVISIBLE

Picture1

NMI Announces cast for staged reading of INVISIBLE

(Los Angeles, April 29, 2016)

New Musicals Inc. (in cooperation with 3-D Theatricals) is thrilled to announce the cast for the upcoming staged reading of the new musical Invisible, with book by David Hollingsworth and lyrics and music by David Orris.

Invisible was developed through NMI’s curriculum; was presented at the STAGES Festival in the summer of 2015; and won NMI’s annual SEARCH for New Musicals this year. This concert reading will be co-directed by 3-D Theatrical’s Artistic Director T.J. Dawson and NMI’s Artistic Director Elise Dewsberry; with music direction by Ron Barnett; sound design by Julie Ferrin; and puppet design by Patricio Wolovich.

The cast is set to include Michael Thomas Grant (For the Record: Dear John Hughes, UMPO: Clueless, UMPO: Scream) and Daniel Amerman (Arrested Development, The Office, Glee, CSI:NY, Awkward, and the ABC Family prank show “Freak Out”) as the high school nerds, Griff and Kemper who brew up a potion intended to make them popular (but which accidentally turns Griff invisible). Ashley Argota (The FostersGirl Meets World, True Jackson, VP, The Lion King on Broadway) is the goth girl, Hemlock; and Jordan Goodsell (Frozen: Live at the Hyperion) is the jock Chetwick. The cast is rounded out with Christie Brooke and Natalie MacDonald as the twins Melrose and Madison Lindeborne; Jay Cramer as Principal Sherman; Luke Klipp as Mr. Reeves, and Luke Matthew Simon and Daniel Mills as the flunkies Craig and Jackal.

The Invisible ensemble is made up of Melvin Villajin Biteng, Natasha J Gaston, Sara Gonzales, Sarah Kennedy, Christian Sullivan, Dekontee Tucrkile, Collin Tyler, Logan Vamosi; with Ian Wakem Felchlin (Guitar), Randy Fox (Drums), and Kevin Lambertucci (Bass).

Invisible is a John-Hughes-esque musical theatre re-interpretation of the HG Wells classic The Invisible Man with a totally original pop/rock score that takes great joy in paying homage to popular music and popular cultural tropes of the era. The show ultimately endeavors to physically and figuratively bring the audience into their own hallowed high school hallways via the heightened and dangerous halls of Springborough High School. Invisible lives in the fairly self-concerned and narcissistic year of 1988, because at its core, it is a show about what it means to cut away all of the cultural and social melodrama and truly see another human being.

The presentations will take place on Monday, June 6 (8:00pm) at the Colony Theatre in Burbank; and again on Tuesday, June 7 (8:00pm) at the 3-D Theatricals Rehearsal Hall in Anaheim. Visit www.nmi.org to learn more.

NMI has launched an Indiegogo Campaign designed to sell out the house for June 6, and to support the development of more new musicals like Invisible. To support the campaign, visit https://igg.me/at/invisible-the-musical between May 1 and May 15.