The Rule of the Bone, a new musical with book and lyrics by Andy Hammerstein, grandson of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, got a staged reading this week at the Flea Theatre in New York.
Hammerstein, a painter and historian of the Hammerstein show business family, said the show, with music by Yale piano curator Boomer Harold, is based on the novel of the same title by Russell Banks. Hammerstein described the story to Playbill.com as such: ”Sexually abused homeless runaway befriends migrant worker on the lam —it's a Huck Finn bildungsroman update. It's experimental—it is not a boy-meets-girl story and it hits all the hot buttons—sex, drugs, violence. In short we wondered whether a musical could accommodate non-melodramatic, realistic characters. The takeaway is—stop doing drugs and get a job."
He said that he and Harold have been working on The Rule of the Bone ”officially for three years—unofficially for five. It is so antithetical to the highly polished Disney-fied mindset, that I saw it as a challenge.” He said he and Harold have been friends since college. ”We both speak fluent [Frank] Zappa and Firesign [Theatre].”
Several of Banks' novels have been adapted as films—The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Affliction (1997) and The Moor (2005)—but this would be his first musical.
As for the future of the project, Hammerstein said they are ”hoping for another reading in three months—with more polished music.”
Hammerstein, whose full name is Oscar Andrew Hammerstein III, is a scion of the Hammerstein family that entered American show business in the 19th century with Andy's great-great-grandfather, opera impresario Oscar Hammerstein I. He was the first to build theatres in Times Square. Oscar III's grandfather is the lyricist half of Rodgers and Hammerstein, songwriters for The Sound of Music, The King and I, South Pacific and other classics. The younger Hammerstein published the family history Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family in 2010. He told Playbill.com, ”I have enormous respect and awe for my grandfather's work and share his belief in the primacy of telling a story.”