Otto Frank’s song

Today’s post is not about 9/11. But it’s inspired by a musical that takes place on 9/11. And things people said about it without the benefit of having seen it.

On a newsgroup called Cast Recordings, someone posted a link to an article about the Broadway-bound Come From Away. Even though it doesn’t (yet) have a cast recording. But some numb-nuts just can’t resist the opportunity for snark. “Doesn’t this sound like a bundle of joy?? Oy….” It soon became clear that the Original Poster hadn’t seen the show, which has already played some out-of-town tryouts and a NAMT presentation. “It looks like a scaled down version of ONCE. No thanks…”

He was reacting to one photograph and the following blurb: “In a heartbeat, 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, doubling the population of one small town on the edge of the world. On September 11, 2001 the world stopped. On September 12, their stories moved us all.”

FRANK: Let’s all judge this new original musical based on a three sentence premise and a partial cast list and then move to another thread where we complain that we have too many movie to musical adaptations running on Broadway.

ORIGINAL POSTER: yes, let’s…

OTTO: How much more than “a musical about people stranded on September 11”, do you need to hear before you realize it’s a lousy idea? “A gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden”.

FRANK: I’m not sure what seems lousy about that idea… I know nothing about this show but I’d rather wait until I know more than the basic setup of the story before damning it to oblivion.

OTTO: It’s a musical about a tragic time in the US, who wants to relive that in a musical?? I don’t. I lived through it once. That was enough for me!

FRANK: We’ve had plenty of musicals set during tragic times that have done quite well. Considering this musical is set at an airport quite far from the bulk of 9/11’s landmarks, I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of tragedy in the story.

OTTO: It may be emotional, but it’s not the kind of thing people want to see on Broadway.

ORIGINAL POSTER: Exactly.

OTTO: Even the pitch makes it sound fringe-y. What about a musical that examines the thoughts of hostages while they’re waiting to be killed? It would be like A Chorus Line, but with beheadings, instead of headshots.

FRANK: This is not a musical about hostages waiting to be killed…are you mad? “Come From Away, the new rock musical that explores the lasting connection forged between a group of travelers whose planes were diverted to a small Newfoundland town on September 11, 2001.” Where does it say that?

SOMEONE ELSE: I haven’t seen it, but it seems many are missing the point: these are the lucky people of 9/11. They were stuck, feeling helpless, and burdened with survivor guilt — much like the rest of us on that horrible day — but they ended up making lifelong friendships and realizing how precious life is (in part because it is so tenuous). I think it could turn out to be a great healing show, much as Oklahoma! was for WWII audiences.

(my song, from A Time for Heroes and Hoagies, 2002)

Another had a similar memory to my own: When I read in the Times that Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler were preparing a show about a killer whose accomplice bakes his victim’s bodies into pies, who then gets caught when a customer bites into an ear. Sounded unlikely. But, intrepid theatre-goer that I am, I bought a ticket and saw Sweeney Todd from a great orchestra seat one month into its run.

NOEL KATZ: People who judge a show by its blurb are one of the biggest problems in the musical theatre biz today. (“You can’t judge a book by how literate it look.” – Sondheim)

Suppose someone writes an excellent musical that audiences love, BUT, the three sentences don’t make it sound good. Judgments based on blurbs stop it from getting produced. Look- you stepped on a hat.

OTTO: Sorry. That argument applies to a show that is badly summarized in the pitch. But this is enough to determine it’s a bad idea. Unless it has nothing to do with September 11, in which case, boy, what a confusing blurb.

NOEL KATZ: Continue to respond to blurbs, if that’s what amuses you. Me, I’ll continue to attend the wonderful new musicals you’ll never see because they sound like they might be bad.

OTTO: Sometimes, you have to pay attention to the warning signs. As Joe Queenan put it, he went to see Cats, which, much to his amazement, “turned out to be about a bunch of cats”.

NOEL KATZ: “Stage mom cows untalented daughter into becoming a stripper.” Ooh, that sounds awful. Can’t be good. Skip it.

OTTO: No, that sounds interesting.

FRANK: I cannot believe this

NOEL KATZ: “Ludicrous” isn’t quite the word for this plague of thinking shows are bad based on their blurbs. “Ruinous?” “Destructive?” Musical theater is a genre in which the audience has to take a leap of faith. Songs you’ve never heard. A plot you don’t know. If you’re unable to take the leap, you’re part of the problem

OTTO: Sorry, the problem is that producers are willing to waste $12 million of people’s money on shows that never looked like a good idea, based on that “You can’t tell from the pitch . . . or the reading . . . or the workshop. You can’t tell if it’s a good idea until you do a full production, on Broadway. ” Then it becomes even harder to get investors. Not good shows that never found their audience, like Ragtime, or Titanic, or Sideshow. Lousy ideas that someone should realize aren’t suitable for Broadway.

I didn’t say it on the thread, but I love that he brought up Sideshow. Its premise sounded terrible to me until I saw it done as a slapstick comedy with a cast of four called From the Hip.

NOEL KATZ: Judging shows by their blurbs, or books by their titles (The Catcher in the Rye – can’t be worth reading) is the scourge of our time. Today, there’d be instant rejection of

“Poor milkman arranges to have his daughter marry wealthy butcher, then reneges. Entire town forced to evacuate at end.”

Or…

“Tart with heart thinks she’s finally broken her cycle of dating men who abuse her. But she’s wrong.”

OTTO: You know, you’re just picking random things and writing bad blurbs, which entirely misses the point. The point is that, as a basis for a Broadway musical, the topic stinks, not the specific details of the story. It’s irrelevant that you can write a dopey description of a good show. We’re not basing our opinion on the blurb. All we need to hear is that it’s a musical about September 11. That’s not the blurb; that’s the topic.

NOEL KATZ: This attitude, of judging by topic rather than by the quality of music, lyrics or book is a significant impediment to the progress of musicals today. “Berliners during Nazis’ rise.” sounds like an unlikely topic for a musical, and yet…

Could be I took such umbrage at Otto’s rush to judgment because some of my shows have been hard sells. I can entertain an audience for an evening. Generating interest with a three-sentence description: a much tougher nut to crack.

(names changed and lightly edited)
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