When pop composers become musical composers.

Over the past decade or so, Broadway has had a popular music invasion, as artists like Elton John, Paul Simon, U2, The Eurythmics tried their hand at writing the score to a musical.  Some to success, others to not.  And this year, we’ve got Cyndi Lauper and Phish (!) joining the ranks, with Kinky Boots (!!) and Hands on a Hardbody respectively.

As someone who develops musicals, I have to admit, having a successful pop artist on the writing team is an attractive proposition.  They usually have a knack for melody, and come with millions of fans.

So why not take anyone who has a couple gold albums, right?

Well, like anything else that Producers do, it’s important that you don’t make a choice solely for marketing’s sake.  Art has to come first, no matter how tempting it may be.  Because as I said in an article about Spider-Man some months ago, “Writing a three minute song is a lot different than writing a three hour musical.”

Yes, memorable melodies and snappy hooks are an essential part of writing a quality score . . . but musicals tell stories, and musicals develop characters . . . and that’s not as easy as coming up with a catchy chorus and couple of words that stay top o’ mind (Taylor Swift’s “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” comes to mind).

So when I’m in the market for a composer that may come from the popular music world, I look for song writers that tell stories in their songs first and foremost, whether or not they’ve got Grammys on their resume.  And as luck would have it, there are a few Grammy winners that have the knack (Elton, Paul, Billy, Bruce, Cyndi (!) and I always thought Tracy Chapman would write a great story-show).  Find one that can do both, and you could have an artistic and marketing one-two puncheroo.

But go after someone just because their tunes are on iTunes could get you in a lot of Taylor-like trouble, trouble, trouble.

Because just because a composer comes with millions of fans, doesn’t mean those fans will come out for your show.

 

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When was the last time there wasn’t a Sondheim show on Broadway?

Everyone knows that the great Mr. S. has had a major impact on the Broadway stage, right?

Well, get this.

Our office just noticed that there isn’t a show with songs by our “Shakespeare”  this season.  And for some reason that felt a little odd.

So we started sorting through the last few seasons of shows and realized it was odder than we thought.

In fact . . .

This is the first year since . . . ready for it . . . 1992 (!) that there hasn’t been a Sondheim show on The Great White Way.  Don’t believe me?  Check for yourself!

Shocking, right?  Shocking that there isn’t one, and shocking that for the last twenty years the Maestro has had some kind of representation on the boards.

What does this mean?  An anomaly?  Have we finally run out of his shows to revive?  Or, gulp, is he falling out of favor?  I don’t see any works slated for next season either . . . will it be two years in a row (trend alert).  Or will Passion move and put us back on track?

All those questions aside . . . I’ll end with this.  We should all stop for a moment and remark on the incredible feat that this man has achieved.  A show with your songs each year for 20 years?  Like it or not, recouping or not, this dude is a deity.

 

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Now let’s see how revivals are trending! Part II

Yesterday we refuted the notion that the number of new plays and new musicals were on a precipitous decline over the last thirty years.

Today we’ve got a couple more graphs for you, but this time we’re looking to find the revival trend line.  Are they increasing?  Decreasing?

Before you scroll down to find out the answer, take a guess.  Revivals of musicals?  Upward trend?  Downward?  Plays?

Ok, once you’ve placed your internal bet with yourself take a look below.

Here is a graph of the number of Revivals of Musicals over the last three decades:

revival musical

What do you see?  Well, I see a little lift off since around, oh, 1997.  The average for the entire thirty years is 3.6, whereas since ’97, it’s over 4.

If you remember correctly, that’s exactly when the trend for new musicals seemed to increase as well.  Coincidence? I think not.  What exactly happened then?  Not sure . . . but I’ll do some digging.  You have any thoughts?

Let’s move on to plays.  Here’s the chart:

revival play

Not surprisingly, revivals of plays do look like they are on their way up (thank you limited-run-star-driven-revival, and this trend seemed to have started in around 90-91, earlier then other increases.)

So what do today’s and yesterday’s graphs show us?  Well, the idea that new plays are on the downswing is a bit of a mirage, actually.  They’re not, really.  BUT they are the only genre out of these four that are remaining flat.  We’re seeing some amount of increase in the number of new musicals, and revivals of both plays and musicals.  But new plays are just kind of sitting there.

So how do we throw some gas on the new play graph?  Reduce risks for new plays on Broadway (should all parties, from Authors to GMs to Lighting Companies to Theater Owners get lower rates on new plays versus old, convince stars to do more new plays as opposed to revivals (separate Tonys for acting in new plays?),  lower prices for audiences of new plays?).

But the easiest answer is perhaps the hardest to accomplish.  We need great plays.

And that means we need great writers.

If you want to see more new plays on Broadway then do what you can, support new and emerging writers.  See more off-off Broadway shows.  Donate to a kick-starter.  Or if you’re a theatre pro, lend a developmental ear to someone that’s passionate about writing for the theater.

Because great artists are the best way to change the course of any graph.

 

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Are new plays and new musicals really on the downswing? Part I

I read a quote recently which lamented the fact that there weren’t as many new plays on Broadway anymore.

At first, my head started a-nodding in agreement.  It’s easy to jump on the ol’ “things aren’t so good” whine-wagon.  But then I wondered, “Is that really the case?”  I know it seems like that, and maybe it is, but before I just start joining the pessimists club, let’s take a look at the statistics shall we?  Maybe the picture ain’t as gloomy as we think?

So, my trusty intern Kate and I, went into the season archives of IBDB, and simply counted the number of new plays and new musicals over the last three decades to see if we could find some kind of trend line, good or gloomy.

Here’s a chart of the number of new plays on Broadway since the 1982-83 season through today:

new plays 2

Well?  What do you think?

Seems to me that the sweet spot of new plays is between 10 and 15 (average of the 30 years is 12.77), and actually there isn’t much of a swing in either direction, or a downward trend line.  Although we don’t jump over that 15 mark much, and we have sunk below the 10 line a few times, it seems to be that we’re sort of consistent.  (Note to self:  if ever I see a season where there is more than 15 new plays being produced – see if there’s another season when I can do my show.)

So in the modern theatrical era (what I call the 80s to now), we’re not doing drastically less new plays.

Now, let’s check out the same stats for new musicals:

new musicals

To quote an Xmas Carol, “Do you see what I see?”

After a downward trend in the first part of the decade, there’s actually a slight upward slant since 1997 (average of the entire three decades is 9 and since 1996, the average is almost 10 .  No coincidence that this is also when Broadway grosses started an upward trend as well.)

So, the picture ain’t so bad after all.  And that means, Pessimist club?  You’ve got one less member.

While sure, it’d be great if we could produce more new plays and more new musicals, we actually have a real estate issue (see this blog) and a audience development issue (our attendance has been relatively flat – see this blog).  But the good news is, we’re not producing less.

Tomorrow I’ll look at the trend for revivals.  More Graphs!  #GraphNerdAlert

 

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Oh how Broadway will miss Marty Richards.

Broadway lost one of the great Producers on Monday, when Marty Richards passed on to the Great White Way in the sky.

Just look at these credits:  On The Twentieth Century, Sweeney Todd, Grand Hotel, Will Rogers Follies, and a whole bunch more.

But perhaps his greatest credit would be his first . . . Chicago.

Most of you probably know that when Chicago opened in 1975, it wasn’t the smash hit it became when it returned to Broadway in the late 90s.  But that didn’t stop Marty.

See, like all great Producers, Marty only produced shows he loved.  Like really loved.  And he really loved Chicago.

He was also one of the few who believed it would make a great movie.  So he spent over 25 years working on it, until it happened.

And then he won an Oscar.

And then a whole slate of movie musicals were green lit, ushering in the new era of the Hollywood musical.

Thanks to Marty.

I only met him casually a couple of times, but I think about the couple of decades he spent working on Chicago all the time.  It’s a true testament to what you need to succeed in this business.  Passion and perseverance are the definition of a great Producer.

And Marty, you were a great one.

 

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