New Music

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve been generally underwhelmed by the new Broadway musicals. But taking a look at the new musical line up for 2010-2011, my interest is rather piqued. The pedigree is varied, and the ideas ranging from fascinating to bemusing. It’s just shaping up to be a memorable year all around (plays, revivals, star vehicles, etc). I’m not going to talk about the shows that will be built around pre-existing music (Rain, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or the revivals (How to Succeed, Anything Goes). But here are some thoughts on new musicals scheduled to open this year:

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – I’m not really what anyone would deem an emo kid, however, I have a weakness for U.S. History and especially for musicals which involve historical figures and presidents (1776, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Assassins). From the Public comes this fascinating idea of telling the story of Andrew Jackson, one of our most rogue presidents (whose inauguration makes keggers look like high tea in comparison) with a rock score. I wasn’t too impressed by the press event performance, but that hasn’t curbed my interest in seeing the show when it starts performances (I tend to trust the Public Theatre’s judgment). It appears that Benjamin Walker is giving the performance of a lifetime as our nation’s 7th President. My copy of the cast album, which I won on a whim via a twitter contest, should arrive shortly. The show opens Oct. 13 at the Jacobs.

The Scottsboro Boys – This is the one that keeps popping in my head first. It’s got a score by Kander and Ebb, their last to be performed, book by David Thompson and direction/choreography from Susan Stroman. The subject matter is rather serious stuff, but having listened to the score I’m fascinated and riveted (and “Go Back Home” is one of the loveliest ballads I’ve heard in a while). The production makes use of minstrelsy as a concept/framing device. Word of mouth is extraordinary. Reviews are also quite positive, even the negative notice in the NY Times further fueled my interest. The show opens Oct 31 at the Lyceum.

Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Lincoln Center has assembled an all-star lineup here and is easily one of the most buzzed about new shows of the season. Now, an all-star lineup doesn’t guarantee success (Paradise Found, anyone?) but it certainly makes it something to look forward to. Lots of favorites in the cast: Patti, Stokes, Benanti, and leading lady Sherie Renee Scott singing a score from the highly underrated David Yazbeck under the direction of the estimable Bartlett Sher. Even if the show weren’t something to anticipate, the musical is housed in the newly renovated Belasco Theatre and I am chomping at the bit to just be inside. Opening night is scheduled for November 4.

Elf – Though I love me some Christmas and even have a Broadway playlist of Christmas related songs on my ipod, I am not a big fan of Christmas shows and spectaculars. This has always been the case; I’ve never been engaged with them as a kid, preferring concerts and meditative services to razz-matazz. Wild horses couldn’t draw me to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. However, I love Christmas movies and Elf, in particular, is a recent favorite. It’s funny and charming without being overly saccharine. I’m curious how it will adapt, especially because Ferrell is such a huge part of why the film works, but I’m ready and willing to give this one a try. Plus it’s got George Wendt as Santa, which to me seems inspired. The show opens at the Hirschfeld on November 14. Limited holiday engagement closes January 2.

SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark – I’m tired of conjecture and innuendo; I just want to see the show and draw my opinion from that. It will be visually stunning, that’s always a given when Julie Taymor is involved. The curiosity is whether or not the script and score (by Bono and the Edge) have the substance required for a memorable evening. Then again given the hefty price tag and the names involved, this one could very well be Broadway’s answer to the Hollywood summer blockbuster. The debut performance on GMA the other day didn’t really impress me, especially in regards to star Reeve Carney. I understand it was a concert performance, but he was incredibly lacking in charisma. Peter Parker doesn’t exactly cry out for a Robert Preston type turn, but I hope Carney has the energy and wattage to carry the $50 million show. The long-delayed show will officially open December 21 at the Foxwoods (nee Hilton).

The Book of Mormon – I’ll never forget how surprised I was by South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut which was one of the funniest, most irreverent and cleverly written musical comedies in recent memory. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are now trying Broadway, with the assistance of Avenue Q Tony-winner Bobby Lopez on the lyrics. Parker and another Avenue Q alum Jason Moore will direct. Joseph Smith establishes the Mormon religion while contemporary missionaries go to Uganda. Hijinks ensue. Given the reputations of everyone involved, it’s bound to be tuneful, offbeat and an equal opportunity offender. I’m game. The show opens at the Eugene O’Neill on March 24.

Sister Act – I wish I could say I were more excited for this, but I’m not. I’m a big fan of the film and nuns in general; I remember being amazed when I was in third grade seeing groups of nuns going to the movie theatres. But I was even more amazed at how fun and enjoyable the film was. The novelty of the film’s score, taking popular Motown songs and adapting them for a religious context, is what really gave the film its charm. Alan Menken and Glenn Slater have provided a new score which doesn’t serve the film as well as one would hope. It’s got slick, entertainment value but none of that charm (and Slater’s lyrics in general tend to be rather mundane). However, there is something about this show that excites me: the truly fabulous Patina Miller. She starred in the show in London and appears to be destined for stardom. No word on whether she is coming to NY, but I hope that is the case. However, Jerry Zaks is taking over the reigns for Broadway, so we shall see how it all turns out in the end. The London production closes Oct. 30. The new musical is rumored¬† to replace Promises, Promises at the Broadway Theatre, with previews starting in March. Opening night has yet to be announced.

Wonderland – I don’t like to think of myself as a negative person. Cynical on occasion, yes. But let’s just say I’m for the most part cautiously optimistic. This is a show I just have no interest in whatsoever. Of all the new musicals opening this year it’s the one I’m least interested in seeing. Frank Wildhorn just doesn’t do it for me. Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War and Dracula are all lackluster musicals and his track record – even though he managed to have three shows running simultaneously¬† – is quite disappointing. The musical is a revisionist take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But like I said, I’m cautiously optimistic and perhaps my instincts on this will be wrong. The musical opens April 17 at the Marquis.

Yank! has been pushed off for a year to overhaul its libretto, which I think is for the best. The show has promise but in its off-Broadway berth, I felt it really need work. Bobby Steggert remains attached, with David Cromer now directing (which should prove interesting). Love Never Dies is postponed again indefinitely. For now. It continues to run in London, though most people I know disliked it immensely. The score is drab; the title song sounds like the theme to The Apartment and its story is in a word, pathetic. Work continues on the show in London and plans for a Toronto run are underway. Broadway isn’t in the sights at the moment, but something tells me that unlike Whistle Down the Wind, this show may see the light of Broadway.

One thought on “New Music”

  1. i saw both jackson & scottsboro off-broadway last year and either one would have easily won best musical at the tonys this past year. two of the most exciting new musicals i’ve seen in a long time. jackson has real pathos and dynamic, raw energy, whereas scottsboro is a powerful blend of satire, politics, and collapsed elegance. looking forward to seeing both, along with women on the verge.
    and, as much as i enjoyed the emotional resonance of yank!, it really does need that extra year of development to land soundly. perhaps a longer off-broadway run at signature or playwrights will do it well.

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