This upcoming season in new musicals has me brimming over with excitement and confidence. Since I don’t delete entries here, those words may seem foolish in retrospect. But writing this in mid-September, looking forward, 2013-2014 seems to be shaping up as the sort of season I’ve long prayed for.
When a songwriter you’ve long admired finally gets his big break on Broadway, that’s something to celebrate. Steven Lutvak, who long ago coached my wife on her singing, has been toiling for years and years on A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder in collaboration with Robert L. Freedman. They’ve won a couple of prestigious awards, but have remained under the radar. (I have little regard for those over-the-radar dudes who generate a lot of press but next to no good work. Lutvak and Freedman have focused on quality, rather than making names for themselves.) What particularly enthuses me is that Lutvak is genuinely witty. His lyrics (such as We Were Bagel-Makers to the Czar) contain punch lines that land, solidly, leading me to have high hopes for the musical comedy few are talking about.
I’m always looking to see a musical comedy in the fine tradition of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To the Forum or How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. And if the the titles are a little shorter, that’s fine with me. After an incredibly prolific career making movies I’ve often enjoyed, Woody Allen is adapting his Bullets Over Broadway for the musical stage. Hard not to be intrigued. The screenplay was co-written with Douglas McGrath, and now he’s got a musical coming to Broadway, Beautiful. This will mark the Broadway debut of the immensely talented director Marc Bruni, who helmed my Such Good Friends so brilliantly six years ago.
The pre-eminent songwriting team of the past quarter century has got to be Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. They’ve had a large number of shows produced, including two pretty terrific ones, Once On This Island and Ragtime. Their Seussical didn’t light up New York, but since closing years ago it’s become one of the most produced American musicals. Now it’s been a dozen years since they’ve had a new show on Broadway, and the excitement is mounting as we countdown to Rocky, at The Winter Garden. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to rumble.
It puzzles me that Jason Robert Brown seems to be far more popular and well-known than Flaherty and Ahrens. I was bored to tears by his musicals Parade and The Last Five Years, but left each thinking that it’s likely that someday he’ll write a show that I enjoy. Could The Bridges of Madison County be it? Star Kelli O’Hara and director Bartlett Sher have done interesting work before, so there’s no reason to cast aspersions now. We’ll cross these Bridges when we come to them.
Andrew Lippa is someone else who’s penned fine songs for less-than-terrific projects. His Big Fish is helmed by the Tony-laden director/choreographer Susan Stroman, a genius in the Jerome Robbins/Bob Fosse/Michael Bennett tradition. The stars are the always-entertaining Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin, who appeared in a fund-raiser for a show of mine long before she became Broadway’s go-to soprano.
And, as always, those who go to Off-Broadway are more likely to see something special, such as new musicals by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), John Kander (The Landing) and William Finn (Little Miss Sunshine). I ask you: who’s better than them?
By now, it must seem that every new Broadway effort’s based on some recent movie. Not so. The current original First Date will be joined, half a year from now, by If/Then. It’s by the only Pulitzer Prize winners producing new musicals these days, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.
I tend to mention prizes a lot, I know. And maybe I make too much out of a laurel and hardy reason to go to the theatre. But awards have a way of piquing my interest in what the Pulitzer, Larson, Ebb or Kleban honoree is going to do next. I had no interest at all in Aladdin until I saw that Chad Begulin (who has a Kleban) is one of three lyricists. I found the movie a huge disappointment mostly because the great Howard Ashman started writing it, but died and then was replaced by the vastly inferior Tim Rice, who believes you can go free-wheeling on a magic carpet. Can you, really? Would it make every moment red-letter?
Ach – don’t get me started on Rice. Get the new musicals started instead, already, so it’ll feel like I’m only dreamING.