I can hardly believe it, and I just double-checked to be sure: This past Broadway season I didn’t attend a single new musical. I feel chock full of chagrin. Some of the new efforts continue to run, so I might be able to catch them later. But many are gone, which is a shame, because I’m inspired by something a stranger said on Facebook to talk about one of them. Now, if you read carefully, you’ll see that what I have to say about it is not an opinion about the quality of the show. I’m talking about a broader issue. But, for the sake of this discussion, we need to assume that it’s not a good show.
I know, I know. This is all terribly convoluted and you’re going “What’s next? Is he going to scramble the show’s initials just to have a handy way of referring to it?” Well, yes. Can we just move on? Here’s what the Facebook stranger said:
Listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of ABC … Gorgeous. This should have a SPECTACULAR licensing life and tons of productions everywhere! 🙂
Now, while I haven’t heard ABC‘s album, let’s change things up and assume it’s just what the stranger said it is, gorgeous. This Facebook fellow says sooth.
So, the next thing that happens, when a new cast album is gorgeous, is that it gets bought by that very special subset of humanity that loves to listen to show tunes. Within that subset is a smaller subset, the people who have something to say about what musicals get done in theatres across the country. And a certain proportion of them are going to decide to produce ABC. And audiences will attend, and see a new musical that’s not very good at all.
Once burned; twice shy. Some of those theatre-goers may leap to the conclusion that new musicals are all awful, and never risk seeing one again. Similarly, some theatres, having burned their patrons with ABC, may be very hesitant to produce a new musical again. After all, there are so many old (say, more than 25 years) shows that have proved very popular with audiences. Reviving a classic is the safest move, and these are risk-averse times. If ABC has a spectacular licensing life and tons of productions everywhere, it might not be such a good thing.
Because ABC isn’t good. Let’s do the opposite what-if: Suppose ABC is excellent. Then, the whole story has a happy ending. A show that Broadway didn’t embrace (it closed quite quickly) but is high quality goes on to find productions around the country. That’s something that actually happened to the 1978 revue, Working, based on the Studs Terkel oral history. Didn’t last a month on Broadway, but I find the cast album very enjoyable. The project had multiple songwriters, one of which was the famous folk-rock star, James Taylor. This led a lot of people to pick up the album, which contains even better songs by Craig Carnelia and Stephen Schwartz.
And so, an unsuccessful Broadway musical became very, very successful, with tons of productions.
And there’s one other scenario. Suppose a show, for one reason or another, doesn’t get a cast album out to those theatre powers-that-be. One show I particularly loved, A…My Name Is Alice, is particularly easy to produce. The cast of five is all female, and the set requirements are few. But, for many years after its opening, companies beyond New York hadn’t heard of it; there was no original cast recording. It was rarely done. The same can be said for other unrecorded musicals, of varying quality: Something For the Boys, Love Life, Mademoiselle Colombe, Three Postcards. They’re little-known.
And I must admit: I resemble that remark. Many of my musicals are relatively obscure, and it’s logical to draw the conclusion that their lack of recording is a factor that accounts for that obscurity. (Two were recorded: The Pirate Captains and Our Wedding.) From time to time, I worry that readers here think I’ve some personal ax to grind in my musings. In this case, you’ve kinda caught me: the thought of a bad musical getting a recording and that recording leading to productions upsets me, a little, on some level. Some ego within me believes my shows are better than ABC, which, I hasten to repeat, I never got to see.