I had to write it fast. I had to write it while accompanying a dance rehearsal. There were five days until the show, and thirteen people would have to learn it. It had to be done by the time the rehearsal was over, at which point the choreographer took my hand-written scribbling and texted the cast.
Such was the pressure-filled situation Friday night when I realized I’d have to create a new lyric for the finale of the Circle-in-the-Square School’s industry showcase.
Dutifully, the graduating students had chosen I Hate Musicals from Ruthless as their opening number. The plan was always to reprise some of it as their closer. As a group, the cast cut and reformatted the solo into a group number, assigning lines to each of the thirteen, equally. When it came time to stage the finale I realized that all the lyrics we wanted to sing were heard in the opening. Using them again was not an option, as all on the creative team loathe verbatim repetition. Here, we would be using the final lines rhyming pay/stay/ballet, so I just had to fill the 25 bars leading into that.
Quick, what jokes could I write about contemporary Broadway? Well, obviously something about Spiderman. Immediately, the question becomes what does the audience know? An obscure reference can only cause confusion. Since the play currently in the Circle-in-the-Square is about Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, I thought it was reasonable to surmise our audience would know this. After all, it’s why we were using a different venue this evening. What else? Last season’s hit, The Addams Family is pretty famous, and I thought there might be a funny rhyme in the world of Gomez and Morticia. Would everyone be familiar with their butler, Lurch? Could I rhyme him with church? What would the joke be? I thought there’d be a way of referencing the fact that the Mark Hellinger Theatre, where My Fair Lady opened, has been converted into The Times Square Church.
Whenever the choreographer stopped to adjust something, I popped up from the piano bench to madly write ideas on a page on top of the piano. This frequent Jack-in-the-boxing caught the eye of an actor who wasn’t involved in the dance then being rehearsed. I asked her if she knew The Times Square Church, which she passes every day, was once a Broadway theatre and she did not. Therefore, I could not use the reference: I now had evidence the audience wouldn’t instantly know what I was talking about.
Daniel Radcliffe is coming to Broadway in a revival of my favorite musical. On his previous trip to The Great White Way, he was naked. Surely there’s a joke there. (I know: don’t call you Shirley.) Again, I returned to the question of what the audience knows. Does everybody remember that the Brit was in the buff in 2008? Isn’t this song about hating musicals? Do people really instantly recognize the name, Daniel Radcliffe? Or is the name of the character he played in umpteen films more famous?
Once I’d thought of three things I wanted to reference, it was time for rhymes. The original lyric, by Joel Paley, is inconsistent in its rhyme scheme and uses false rhymes. I wanted to make sure my punch lines were, well, punched and leading the ear, through rhyme, accomplishes that. Since a rhyme adds emphasis, you should always make sure that the second half of your rhyme is a word you want underlined.
One other circumstance to consider is that the audience knows it’s the end of the show. They’re busy applauding the last number and it’s my job, as accompanist, to decide when to start the next number. The previous song was a trio, but now, I knew, we’d be bringing out the whole cast, which might trigger applause. The first line might not even be heard, but I had to trust the women singing it to command the audience’s attention. To support that, I added an internal rhyme.
Stupid shows refuse to close as Tony approaches
We’d rather praise dramatic plays ’bout old football coaches
Tragedies boost ticket sales, among other factors
“Let’s go see Spiderman, and catch falling actors!”
Times Square is Disneyland with no room for cars
With Idol runners-up and Hollywood stars
So, Harry Potter’s singing? I’m still not enticed
(The rest of the lyric is the original song:)
It’s way over-priced
And I won’t pay.
I hate musicals but I fear they’re here to stay
Yes, I hate musicals, but not as much as I hate ballet
We staged the number before the cast had time to memorize the lyric. So, first, the choreographer (who had texted it to them) commanded “Take out your cell phones and sing!”