Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don't Almost Revisit a Classic

It is considered poor form to review a workshop, unless of course the review is a rave. So I am not going to post a formal Musicals101 review of the current New York Musical Theatre Festival production of Main Travelled Roads, but I cannot resist offering a thought here on my blog.

If you are going to create any sort of artwork, it is a wise to avoid ideas that echo previous masterworks. Some years ago, the Broadway musical Copperfield had a song where the title character pleaded, “Mama, Don’t Get Married.” Set in 2/4, this charming number led a number of critics to compare it unfavorably to Gypsy’s 3/4 time “If Mama Was Married,” even though the two songs bore no resemblance to one another aside from two common words in the title.

Now imagine a musical that starts out with a farm girl deciding who will take her to a fair – the handsome hunk she loves, or the more aggressive man who won’t take no for an answer. While Main Travelled Roads is no Oklahoma, the vague resemblance was enough to make one person sitting near me audibly ask when the DeMille dream ballet would begin.

My friendly advice to the authors of Main Travelled Roads is to take whatever they have learned from this project and apply it to something else. The inescapable ghosts of Laurey, Curly and Judd (and Eller too) hang over Main Travelled Roads, and I suspect it will be impossible to escape them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Appearing on PBS

If you love documentaries like I do, you have probably spent more hours than you can count watching PBS. Sure, there are now several cable networks that offer documentaries on various subjects, but from the hard-hitting Frontline to the wonderful brothers Burns, the creme de la creme of documentaries are still found on public television. And because PBS is a public resource, pretty much everyone can access it.

So although I have been a "talking head" in various cable and DVD documentaries over the last decade, it was a special thrill to make my PBS debut in Hollywood Singing and Dancing. The producers contacted me about a year ago, and our filmed interview went exceptionally well, but I had no idea when the show would be aired. Imagine my surprise last Sunday morning when a slew of phone messages and e-mails from friends announced that I had been on the night before! Lucky for me, a rerun was scheduled for that very evening. I am not ashamed to say I spent the entire broadcast on the phone with my Mom, who kvelled over the entire program. Hey, its not every day you get to share the screen with Shirley Jones, Tommy Tune, Debbie Reynolds, Marge Champion and about a dozen other legendary talents. Mom tells me she spent the rest of the week hearing compliments from friends and relatives -- to put it mildly, she was a happy camper.And frankly, so was I.

Appearing on PBS is still something of a landmark for any historian and/or educator. And there is a definite pleasure in having strangers walk up on the street and say, "Hey, I saw you on TV this week!" (Go ahead, call me shallow!) But corny as it sounds, I keep thinking of the potential television has to inspire young viewers. You just know that somewhere, some kid watching that documentary got their first serious taste of musical film -- and with any luck, the torch has been passed on. My passion for musicals has been an animating factor in my life, and I want to give that passion to those that follow me.

As I type this at my desk in the York Theatre, an audience is just across the hall cheering for the songs of lyricist Amanda Green. This talented lady caught her passion for musical theatre from her parents, the legendary writer Adolph Green and the gifted actress Phyllis Newman. Not everyone can be lucky enough to have such a close connection to musicals. Some may catch the theatre bug from teachers or by seeing a show. But at least a few have found their passion by seeing something on PBS. So it is nice to have been a part of that -- very nice, in fact.
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