Up there

Some days ago this here blog passed the 20,000 visits mark. It would seem that my decision to post less frequently than the strict every-five-or-six-days I had going for three and a half years has led to greater interest in these little essays about the world of musical theatre. And I’m hearing from certain precincts that folks are appreciating the quality of the writing. Is blogging, then, my calling? I don’t imagine that 20,000 people attended all the productions of my fourteen musicals. The highest quantity saw The Pirate Captains, and you’re all grown now. And of course the highest quality ones, On the Brink, Our Wedding and Such Good Friends, were seen by the fewest. But then, it’s much easier to click your way on to this page than it is to see one of my shows. And it’s been a couple of years since you could catch one anywhere anyway.

And getting my shows in front of an audience is what it’s all about for me. I’m very excited that soon a selected few will take a gander at my newest creation. I’ve missed that; and this will end the longest new-work drought I’ve ever experienced – that is, the most years between premieres. Since the last one debuted, it seems a huge crop of so-called musical theatre writers have burst on to the scene. And they’ve managed to attract huge followings, including many singers clamoring to perform their songs, all without managing to put a musical on a stage somewhere. That’s really weird to me, although I appreciate that it’s hard to get produced.

Around the time I was writing my first musicals, there were a handful of rock stars (as we called them, then) writing rather interesting, theatrical songs. Some were like short stories set to music: Frank Zappa, the pre-Broadway Rupert Holmes, Randy Newman, Harry Chapin; you know the type. And I’m reminded of those old feelings of appreciating the pop song with wit, thoughtful lyrics that dramatize a situation, and mood changes within pieces when I hear contemporary composers like Joe Iconis. I’m intrigued enough to wonder about his abilities with the longer form. That is, stringing together a bunch of numbers, hopefully along with a good amount of dialogue, in order to tell a compelling story that will keep an audience interested over the course of an evening. Iconis has been called “the bad boy of musical theatre,” a title nobody would have thought of giving to Zappa.

So, now that my counter has ticked past 20,000, I’d like to ask all of you a question: Have you ever seen, live on stage, a musical by Joe Iconis, Scott Alan, Drew Gasparini, Kooman & Dimond, Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Ryan Scott Oliver, Jonathan Reid Gealt or Katie Thompson? If so, did you like it?

The ability to come up with an appealing song is one thing. The ability to fashion a full evening’s entertainment is another. We show-writers focus on things like the balance of ballads and up-tempos, gauging where the audience’s sympathies lies, and doling out a steady stream of dramatic surprises. Without casting a value judgment, let’s just say that these are very different concerns than those that lead to coming up with just one number that will catch some traffic on YouTube. And the lines should not blur. Writing for a live audience that’s come to a theatre to share the experience of following a narrative told through many songs, dialogue and dance is very different from processing some cheese that will get a stranger in front of a screen to navigate their mouse to. But one of the things that worries me is that there seems to be a new generation of internet stars, widely clicked on, who are somehow thought of as musical theatre writers.

The honor you’ve done me – clicking on this page in such quantity, therefore seems something of a mixed blessing. If this blog is demonstrably popular, then I’ve become a ‘net sensation, but not for writing musical theatre – for writing about musical theatre. Plenty read these pieces without investigating my musicals. My maddest fantasy would be if the worldwide readership, lured in by what I have to say, then fell in love with Area 51, The Christmas Bride, or, more likely, Murder at the Savoy, and instigated a production at their local theatre. There are countless blogs out there that exist merely to sell you something. I look at the number of Our Wedding CDs I’ve sold and think that, for someone whose favorite musical is How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, I’ve certainly managed to fail in business. Without Really Trying.

Some baby steps have been taken in the direction of getting myself a website, but my primary focus this summer has been writing the dozen songs that so far make up my new musical. And working on that, I feel I’m in my element: not blog-writing, not cracking the conundrum of how to promote myself. And these recent months, since I freed myself of the commitment to come up with a new entry here every week, have lifted an unnecessary pressure. I used to stockpile ideas for essays; now I just blog when the mood strikes me, and I’ve a few minutes available.

If you’ve a few minutes available, you could, most obviously, read some of the previous 252 musings here. Or, there’s a scattering of audios at https://soundcloud.com/noelkatz/ and – my least favorite form – videos of some of my songs here and there. And if you’ve more than a few minutes available, you could take a crack at writing a musical, hopefully using some of the tips gleaned here. So I could see it and enjoy something, for a change.


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