I just finished teaching four sessions of a class on Broadway musicals for UNM’s Continuing Ed. I had a great time. One of the questions we left unanswered was the future of musicals.

The last few decades have been interesting for musicals. During the 1980s, Andrew Lloyd Webber dominated the Broadway landscape. In the 1990s, Broadway was desperate for something new until RENT came along. In the most recent decade, musicals have come from so many different sources that only one composer was represented on the Great White Way more than once in those ten years: Mel Brooks with The Producers and Young Frankenstein.

Compare that to the Golden Age of Musicals — roughly World War II to the Vietnam War — and you could reliably see the names of the revered composing teams up in lights: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Strouse and Adams, Bock and Harnick.

Certainly the sources of musicals have broadened a bit, but not necessarily by expanding the creative horizons. The two biggest sources of musical theater properties in the last 15 years have been movies-turned-musicals and juke box musicals.

From the Hollywood-to-Broadway route, we’ve seen The Producers, Beauty and the Beast, Sunset Boulevard, The Wizard of Oz, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Hairspray. Juke box musicals include Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Movin’ Out and Mamma Mia! And I’m only listing the shows that have come through Popejoy Hall.

So what are Albuquerque’s Broadway musical fans likely to see in the next few years? More of the same, I would guess. With Broadway production costs at the $60 million mark (for the new Spiderman musical), producers want products they are reasonably sure will return their hefty investments. Even a more modest new musical from the creators of Hairspray, an adaptation of the movie Catch Me If You Can, has a price tag of $13 million.

If you don’t already know the titles or the songs, producers feel, you won’t gamble your money on their shows. Really? That means that musicals in the mold of Tony Award-winning shows In the Heights or Memphis will have a hard time breaking into a Broadway theater. Even shows that rely heavily on literary sources and carry familiar titles — like The Color Purple or A Light in the Piazza — will have a harder time because so many people are more familiar with movie titles than with book titles.

Does that mean the original Broadway musical, like The Music Man or Avenue Q is going away? Clearly, it depends on what you want. If you buy the tickets, the producers will put it on the stage. Certainly with the price of tickets going up as much as they are, that makes some of these choices a heftier gamble for you. Only you can decide whether the payoff is worth it.

Terry S. Davis
Communications Director
Popejoy Hall

Views: 23

Comment by Slick 27 on November 9, 2010 at 12:28pm
I feel most of the "new" Broadway shows are really nothing new. Like movies, and almost all television is just a rerun of something else. Many of the new Broadway shows are based on movies or TV shows that they add music to and call it "new" which it isn't.
The older I get the more I notice this happening in all mediums. There doesn't seem to be anything new happening.
Comment by Terry S. Davis on November 10, 2010 at 9:48am
@ Ben: I may repeat the class. I'll keep you posted.
@ Slick: The retreaded-movies-as-musicals that have succeeded, in my opinion, are those that add something new to the story. Hairspray, I think, clarified the story a bit. The Color Purple adds dimension to the characters that the movie didn't have. The Full Monty, I think, added a fuller range of emotions. The Wedding Singer became one long '80s joke.
Musicals can add to the story if the writers understand the differences in the two story-telling genres and if they truly connect with the characters and the story they are telling.


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