And the form will reach its apotheosis during the 2004-05 season, when Broadway will be serenaded with the songlists of Elvis Presley (All Shook Up), The Beach Boys (Good Vibrations) and John Lennon (Lennon). In the works are projects built on the greatest hits of Bob Dylan (a new venture by director-choreographer Twyla Tharp), Chicago (a book musical called Colour My World) and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters (a stage version of the concept album The Wall). A quick trip to Vegas and folks can also catch the Queen musical, We Will Rock You.
If you're looking to thank, or blame, someone for this trend in classic radio musical theatre, look no further then the super-wealthy creators of Mamma Mia!. For, while there were shows with pre-existing pop scores before that mammothly successful ABBA-born spectacular, after Mamma Mia! came the deluge. Nothing succeeds like success, after all, and Mamma Mia! has been successful like nothing in the past decade, with smash productions all over the world. No producer in the world thought this was because of the genius of the show's director, librettist or cast. It was the songs, those well-known FM anthems, and the way they were packaged.
Since then, the triumph of Tharp's Billy Joel balletic Movin' Out has strengthened producers' conviction that the juke box is the place to turn for their next lucrative stage hit. No pesky composing team to hire. No need to corral name performers when the score is the star. And no pressure to explain to the public—already so familiar with The Beach Boys, Dylan, Lennon, Presley et all—what the show is all about. Of course, there's also the drawback of not being able to complete for a Best Score Tony Award, but you can't have everything. (Showmen are not so interested in new scores by pop stars, thanks, in part, to Paul Simon's The Capeman and Boy George's Taboo.)
The trend is largely depressing to critical observers of the musical theatre, who, sensibly, would like to see young composers nurtured and new, original titles added to the form's honor roll. But hope springs eternal, and some recognize the chance for artistic excellence (a la Movin' Out) within the model's limited outlines. The presence of a single strong creative mind seems critical to achieving this. So Tharp's look at Dylan appears promising. And it's a good sign that Waters, who has always stubbornly insisted on his own musical vision, is to be heavily involved in The Wall. Also, it's difficult to imagine Yoko Ono allowing anyone to muck up the legacy of her late husband; more likely, she'd pull the plug on the entire thing before letting that happen.
*** The cast of the new musical The Opposite of Sex fairly screams that the show can't wait to be done with its premiere at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, beginning Sept. 25, and head straight to New York. The Douglas J. Cohen-Robert Jess Roth work, based on the film of the same name, will star Kerry Butler and Matthew Morrison of Hairspray fame, Urinetown's Jeff McCarthy and Tony winner and all-around Broadway gal Karen Ziemba. Sources expect it to trade the West Coast for the east this season if the reviews are good.
Eve Ensler, best known for her much-performed The Vagina Monologues, will make her Broadway debut this fall in The Good Body. The new play, written and performed by Ensler, will begin previews Oct. 22 at the Booth Theatre with an official opening set for Nov. 15. The limited 12-week engagement will run through Jan. 16, 2005. Peter Askin directs. Once again, Ensler's topic is women and their physiognomy.
Julie Andrews' 2003 Bay Street Theatre staging the jazzy musical spoof, The Boy Friend, was supposed to come to New York. Instead, it's been announced for a summer 2005 staging by Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut. It will then head out on a national tour produced by Goodspeed. The launch city for the tour is Wilmington, DE. This road show will mark the first time Goodspeed has solely produced a tour. Quite a nice way to start.
Finally, the Broadway staging of Gem of the Ocean will be a big, old August Wilson reunion. Joining Phylicia Rashad will be Delroy Lindo, who acted in the Broadway debut of Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone; Ruben Santiago Hudson, who won his Tony for Wilson's Seven Guitars; LisaGay Hamilton of the original Broadway company of Wilson's The Piano Lesson; Anthony Chisholm, veteran of Two Trains Running; and Raynor Scheine, also of Joe Turner. They say to playwrights: "Write what you know." But "cast who you know" isn't a bad rule of thumb, either.