The Playgoer: The New Musicals

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Friday, June 27, 2008

The New Musicals

Until recently I imagined the Broadway musical locked inside a museum, at which a superannuated curator in a seersucker suit, bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses politely welcomed guests to the tea party. But not anymore. Once that curator extended a trembling hand to eager new faces, fresh air wafted in; the tea and cucumber sandwiches were supplanted by beer and pizza, and the music blasted all night.
From Stephen Holden's expert musical analysis--and appreciation--of a slew of new cast albums now being released of musicals both new (In the Heights, Passing Strange) and revived/old (South Pacific). Interesting for its perspective so firmly rooted in the classic musical. But while a traditionalist, Holden digs the new stuff, with some notable observations. Such as:
The influence of rap is the underlying story of the past Broadway musical season. Words, either rapped or sung in variations of the traditional patter song, are loosening the grip of traditional melody on Broadway. Lament it if you will, but stand-alone songs have a way of interrupting the narrative. Even in musicals without hip-hop, recitative and songs flow into each other more smoothly nowadays; the story is the thing, and language the vehicle.
I like the connection of rap to the "patter song." Of course, Grandmaster Flash, I'm sure, couldn't have cared less about Rex Harrison's renditions of My Fair Lady songs. But once rap struts onto a Broadway stage, it encounters and merges with that tradition nonetheless, consciously or not. (Especially in the mind of the older B'way audience.)

But it's also worth noting how rap has crept into the musical for a few years now--in David Yazbek's scores, for instance. But I think it's still been white dudes doing it until now, no?


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Garret, Interesting that you should mention Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. As Gratuitous Violins recently pointed out, when asked to name their favorite musicals, Stew and Heidi Rodewald named My Fair Lady because Rex is their favorite rapper.


Not necessarily only white dudes...if you ever caught "The Seven" over at NYTW a few seasons ago, there were people of different nationalities spewing "rap-sodies" about Oedipus.

'Twas awesome, in my opinion.