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The Prom Review: Divas, Hams and Lesbians in Broadway Satire

“The Prom” is really two musicals in one. One is a funny, knowing backstage comedy, satirizing the self-regard of theater folk. The other is a loud, fast high school musical. What ties them together, somewhat glibly, is a story of homophobia inspired by true events at a high school far from New York.

 

 

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Could Good Poets Make Good Musicals? Edna St. Vincent Millay and Renascence

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Carmel Dean had worked closely with celebrated musicians and theater artists ranging from Green Day to Chita Rivera, but she panicked when she met Stephen Sondheim, not because she revered him – although she does – but because he asked her what she was working on. She had heard that Sondheim believed you should never set poems to music, but that’s precisely what she was doing. “I’m writing a show about Edna St. Vincent Millay,” she confessed “and all of the songs are set to her poems.”
He looked at her briefly, and then started to recite Millay’s “Renascence” — the exact poem that is the title of Dean’s musical, and that figures prominently in the musical’s book, as I relate in my article on  “Renascence” for TDF Stages, entitled Making Edna St. Vincent Millay Sing

What Sondheim actually has said on the subject is more nuanced: “One difference between poetry and lyrics is that lyrics sort of fade into the background. They fade on the page and live on the stage when set to music.”
Dean understood that Millay’s poems don’t fade. “The language is so dense. She often uses words that are no longer familiar to us. In setting her poems to music, I had to be sure I was allowing the audiences to connect with the emotion of the poem.” One of her techniques? Having the singers belt out “oooh”s in-between the stanzas. “I needed to add ooohs and ahhs to let the audience’s ear settle before digesting more of the language.”

Sample of Carmel Dean’s songs, with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “lyrics,” from “Renascence”:

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Lady Gaga Should Write A Broadway Musical; Crazy Rich Asians Should Be One.

Lady Gaga, Madonna, Kesha, U2 and Panic! At the Disco were among the answers to the question: What recording artist or band would you most like to see providing the score for a musical on Broadway?
The question was asked in a contest to win tickets to Head Over Heels, a musical that uses the music of The Go-Go’s. The winner of the tickets, David Ashtiani, happened to pick Lady Gaga: “Her music is fun, relatable, and easy to get into the “beat”. Lady Gaga’s music is so flexible and can be adapted into many different, fun scenes throughout an original script.” (David won not because of his choice, but because his order in answering was selected at a drawing on Random.org.) Scroll to the bottom for more songwriter selections.

There was an alternative question:
What work of literature would you like to see turned into a musical?

The answers to this question were more varied and sometimes obscure. Below are a selection of responses to the literature question, organized alphabetically by title, with links to the recommended books to learn more about them. Producers, are you listening?
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Oklahoma Review: Hip and Homey not Hokey, with Mixed Results

At the scaled-down, reimagined production of “Oklahoma!” at St. Ann’s Warehouse, they didn’t give us the program until after the musical was over – one of the several signs that director Daniel Fish sees his version as cutting-edge, and wants us to see it that way too. In a traditional show, they give you the program before the show begins.
“Oklahoma!” has been a traditional show for decades. Yes, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first musical was considered groundbreaking when it debuted on Broadway, but that was 75 years ago.
Fish clearly felt it time to break new ground. What’s sprung from that broken ground is decidedly mixed.

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Pretty Woman: Photos, Video, review

Vivian (Samantha Banks) is a hooker, Edward (Andy Karl) is a killer corporate raider who meets her on Hollywood Boulevard, and if the ensuing romance is no less a fable than it was in the hit 1990 movie, there are fewer charms and almost no surprises in Pretty Woman The Musical.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged.

2018 New York Musical Festival NYMF Awards for Excellence

Four musicals in the 2018 New York Musical Festival tied for the most awards, five apiece: Between the Sea and the Sky, Emojiland, Interstate and Pedro Pan. Below the list of winners and nominees.

 

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NYMF Review Sonata 1962: A Lesbian Daughter, A Mother’s Mistake

Margaret, a widow and well-meaning mother, is dressed in pearls while making her special buttermilk biscuits for her daughter Laura, who’s back home listless with severe memory loss after her mother sent her away to be tortured.

That of course is not how Margaret sees it in “Sonata 1962,” one of the last of the shows in the 15th annual New York Musical Festival. Written by Patricia Loughrey and Thomas Hodges, the musical takes us back to an era when suburban housewives baked with Crisco, watched Jackie Kennedy give a White House tour on a black and white set, shopped at the Green Stamp store in town, and believed the family doctor that their daughter’s lesbianism was a mental illness, but one that could be cured.
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NYMF Review Between the Sea and Sky: Two Sisters Lured and Trapped by a Mystery

“I am tall when I’m young but short when I’m old. What am I?”
That’s the first of the three riddles that Sam (short for Samantha) poses to the mysterious woman in white in order to free her sister Emily from the woman’s clutches.
“A candle,” the woman answers in triumph.
What’s not as easily solved is the riddle of “Between the Sea and Sky,” a musical written by an Australian named Luke Byrne being presented in a competently directed (and lovingly lit) production as part of the New York Musical Festival. Byrne’s music is impressive in its variety and appeal – from a classical-sounding art song to 1930s song-and-dance number to funky jazz to sea shanty, many suggesting the mysteries and allure of the sea. His lyrics are largely straightforward if undistinguished, except when he tries for the lyrical; then they’re incoherent. But his book is all over the place — an over-flavored stew of young adult novel, mystery, Grimm’s Fairy Tale, satire, even a primer on Shakespeare’s The Tempest – and winds up making no sense at all.
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NYMF Review ’68: A Musical about the 1968 Chicago Convention and the Limits of History

 

Before the musical “’68” begins, newspaper headlines are projected on the stage, marking some of the tumultuous events in the year 1968 — the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy, campus protests and city riots across the United States….and the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

But, despite the title of their musical,  which is an entry in the New York Musical Theater festival, librettist/lyricist Jamie Leo and composer Paul Leschen focus on just one of those events; the NYMF program bills “’68” as “inspired by the volatile events of the 1968 Democratic Convention and their place in history and our future.”
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Head Over Heels: Review, Pics

“Head Over Heels” is a mash-up that sounds weird and unworkable: It’s a jukebox musical using 18 songs by the 1980s all-female L.A. punk band The Go-Go’s. But it’s also a loose adaptation of Arcadia, a 1580s work of literature by Philip Sidney, a contemporary of Shakespeare.

Dressed in Elizabethan doublets, ruffs, crowns and long gowns, the performers speak in iambic pentameter when they’re not singing lyrics like “We got the beat/we got the beat/yeah we got it” and dancing the Cool Jerk.

This is silly, but the show doesn’t pretend otherwise, and, given the right mood, one can revel in its silliness. “Head Over Heels” is happy to be a musical comedy that winks at us, while under Michael Mayer’s fast-paced direction a ton of talented performers energetically deliver the songs, the shtick and the story in 19 colorful and sometimes off-color scenes.

But the musical also attempts something more beneath its busy surface

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged