Friday, September 28, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance (to some new musical theatre)

Though the latest season of So You Think You Can Dance is over, I still think about one of the final contemporary performances to "Leave" from Once:

Being that Broadway is a frequent style of dance on the show, it's hardly the first time music from a major musical has been featured on the show. Consider that and the fact that a few original Newsies came from So You Think You Can Dance, and crossover between stage and screen is not only natural but quite welcome. After all, the level of storytelling that many dances on the show accomplishes is a type of musical theatre in itself, and I've had my breath taken away on multiple occasions by some really stellar performances.

But aside from Broadway classics (and soon-to-be classics), a couple of up-and-coming musical theatre composers have had their work featured on So You Think You Can Dance, and the results are incredibly moving:

Katie Thompson's "It Doesn't Hurt":

Scott Alan's "It's Good To See You Again":

Now excuse me while I quietly tear up watching these...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Only Kids at Bayside

I feel like I've seen a decent array of parody musicals so far this year, with Newsadoosies and Triassic Parq both representing great (albeit very different) examples of what a musical based on a popular franchise can be. Ryan Bogner wrote recently on Crazytown about the phenomenon of __ The Musical!, but Newsadoosies proved that a completely wacky spoof could still make social commentary and Triassic Parq demonstrated that sidelined characters of a cult classic could have its own rich brand of storytelling.

The latest parody musical that I had the pleasure of seeing was Bayside! The UnMusical! (by Bob and Tobly McSmith) based on-- you guessed it, the wacky kids from Saved by the Bell. I grew up on Zack Morris (trust me, I even wrote a short story in grade school that involved running into Mark Paul Gosselaar, which I hope is lost somewhere and will not resurface at my wedding or be excerpted in my biography), so I was excited but nervous. What was there to say about the kids of Bayside so many years later?
There's obviously a lot of material to lampoon-- all of the cast members have gone a long way from their high school characters, the show itself was known for its outlandish schemes, all the plots were strangely squeaky clean, and there were dance sequences and after school special episodes that will live in infamy. Bayside! hits on many of the obvious jokes-- the Max is facing bankruptcy, Jessie is addicted to caffeine pills, Zack and Kelly broke up and Kelly is pregnant, Slater might be gay, and Lisa doesn't realize she's the only non-white character. Yet, in spite of all these plot points, the story of this wacky, raunchy show never really comes to a cohesive whole. Even with all this going on, most of the show consists of a Miss Bayside pageant that just allows the characters to do their insane thangs.

Which in many ways is fine. Most of the audience is there for the cheese and over-the-top characters, and the show does deliver this in spades. The actors' dedication to their characters is impressive, particularly April Kidwell, who channels Elizabeth Berkley at her most manic.

There are some parodies of songs in the show as well, with 4 Non Blondes getting a shoutout, as well as the Hot Sundae workout video song and a tune from Grease. The original music is simple, and pretty much the entire score is sung to the audience in an explanatory, self-aware Zack Morris narration way instead of amongst the characters. Probably one of the most memorable songs was one involving unicorns, in a bizarre but entrancing moment of glory for Screech. There's also a fantastic rap for Lisa that actress Shamira Clark kills.

If you've been missing the Bayside gang, this play will more than get your nostalgia going. They still have 7 performances, so check them out here, and visit the only kids at Bayside high.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting to know Fannie Lou

Continuing our series of guest posts is Felicia Hunter, composer, book writer, and lyricist of the new musical Fannie Lou. Telling the story of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, Fannie Lou is not only a powerful work of musical theatre, but an important one as well. With their first New York performance coming up on October 6th, the 95th anniversary of Fannie Lou's birth, Felicia Hunter shares the story of her show's journey (and be sure to go to the end of the post for an exclusive discount for readers of this blog).

My original musical Fannie Lou began as an idea that wedded history, music and drama. What if, I thought, the story of Fannie Lou Hamer were told not only through an artistic work that presented her voice, but gave considerable weight to contrasting perspectives as well?

Fannie Lou was inspired by the life of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, she grew up poor and had to leave school before reaching the seventh grade to help her family make ends meet by working in the fields. At the age of 44, in August of 1962, Mrs. Hamer decided to register to vote. She had never voted before, and was determined to exercise her right as a citizen. She, and others in the group of prospective voters that day, were turned away. Thus began Mrs. Hamer’s public life as a voting, civil and human rights advocate.

In my writing process for Fannie Lou, many of the songs came first; I started by telling different elements of the story through the music and lyrics. The book followed. As characters and personalities developed while I went through the intricacies of completing the book, more songs were written. A few more came afterward.

Although I was aware of Mrs. Hamer and her work, the idea to create a musical came while I was reading a biography about Mrs. Hamer written by Kay Mills, titled This Little Light of Mine. What I learned about her was so inspirational and motivating that I thought her life and determination would translate well as a theatrical work.

One of several musical influences for Fannie Lou is the compelling work Jesus Christ, Superstar. I'm amazed at how the writers succeeded in retelling an age-old story through the eyes of the antagonist and, at the same time, made that story palpable for modern audiences. Because Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice even attempted -- much less succeeded, in my opinion -- to walk that intricate tightrope makes Jesus Christ Superstar one of my favorite musicals of all time.

What they did is what I wanted to do with Fannie Lou. I wanted to utilize artistic conventions to tell a story of heroism, dynamism and personal sacrifice in an unconventional way. And, at the same time, even though we know the ending (although arguably the voting rights story is still being written), take audience members on such an intriguing journey that they wonder what will happen next.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Emerging Musical Theatre: The Theme Song

Were you aware that this blog has a theme song? Well, it does now!

A while ago, I donated to The Online Musical's Kickstarter campaign for their Mini Musicals, and a perk of making my donation was a custom song written and performed by none other than Jeff Luppino-Esposito and Matt Savarese. I asked them to write a little theme song for this blog, and here's what they came up with:

Big thanks to Jeff, Matt, and Anna McGrady! Now go check out some of their other works here!