As Hunter said in [title of show]...
I’m getting nervous that our play is a little doughnuts for dinner.
Is that a show?
No, doughnuts for dinner? you know, it sounds like a good idea but thirty minutes later you’re hungry for something a little meatier.
A little meatier’ Like, a tiny asteroid is a little meatier?
Exactly’ no. I mean I don’t want this to be just sketches and novelty songs linked together. I want there to be substance, not just fluff. Not that there’s anything wrong with fluff, but I wanna strive for something that makes people really pay attention.
You know what I mean?
Uh? I totally stopped listening.
Have you had this feeling? Like... you sat through a musical and laughed, maybe even cried, but nothing really stuck with you after you left the theater?
I've noticed it, a lot. So when I started getting serious about writing musicals, I wanted to make sure that not only were my shows fun and entertaining, but that they also had a great message as well.
Uh oh. Remember "If you want to write a message, send a telegram"
And in the exchange between Hunter and Susan, they've perfectly encapsulated the problem with a musical that has a message. Susan stopped listening.
But I argue that you can send a message without coming across as preachy.
First though, why send a message.
I believe it's the message that gives us the substance of a story. I sat through a performance of Dirty Dancing... it was fun to watch, familiarity and good songs as every good musical has, but they cut out so much of the substance that it really felt more like sitting through a review of the story instead of actually experiencing the story.
At first I thought, well maybe the touring company wasn't very good and that I missed something... but after seeing another and then another... I really think it's the script that is missing something.
After getting a chance to look at the script, I realized the problem. They are so focused on expediency that they gutted all of the emotion from the story - the dialogue is merely a bridge from one song to the next.
Every book, course, workshop and curriculum will tell you that a musical needs to be concise and fast. But there seems to be a glut of shows that took this to the extreme. And I sat through everyone of them wondering why I wasn't enjoying the story.
Back to Dirty Dancing... I sat through it, hating it but figured it must have a good payoff at the end to make it all worth it - otherwise, how did they sell out a 5000 seat auditorium? Right?
Wrong. We got to the end, the Patrick Swazey character caught Baby and lifted her to the sky. The audience applauded. Then there was a little bit of dialogue to wrap up the story and we were into the finale.
I thought, well maybe they were too faithful to the movie, and since I am quite familiar with the movie, maybe that was why I didn't enjoy the stage version. I went home and watched the movie - I had all the emotions that I thought were there, but that I didn't have at the theater.
I think the specific problem with that show is that it didn't give me anything new. Nothing to show me a different perspective from the characters, it was a faithful recreation of the movie, on stage.
The other problem is that they were too brisk with the dialogue. We weren't able to delve into these characters because we weren't given enough about them.
Whoa, Alan. Isn't that what the songs are for?
Yes. And the songs from Dirty Dancing The Musical are the songs from the movie. And those written for the movie don't tell us anything about these characters. The songs, originally written for radio don't go anywhere. They make a statement and never grow from it.
If I had to make a guess, the dialogue is sparse because the producers knew that it was the songs we the audience were there for, and therefore, we have to treat the show for what it really is -- a song cycle.
To bring this entry back around to the whole "donuts for dinner" concept. Dirty Dancing The Musical was a donut for me.
I then caught a production of The Book of Mormon. I was familiar with the writers as I knew they were responsible for South Park, which I stopped watching after episode 6.
I went in knowing nothing about the story and songs except for "Hello" and "I Believe". I also went in believing it would just be a fun night of laughing.
It was. But it was also more.
It was an funny, enjoyable experience and when they began to reach the climax of the story, a thought popped into my mind...
These Mormons came in with the idea that they would teach their beliefs to another set of human beings, but through complications, these humans developed their own religion and isn't that exactly what religions today are? The collection of beliefs held by sets of people based on truths?
Without preaching to us, The Book of Mormon was able to enlighten us while at the same time making us laugh out loud.
That, to me is a show with substance. Otherwise, we are mindless zombies bent on consuming entertainment no matter what its value. Oh wait... I guess Tiger King proved that.
Alan Saunders, WRITEineer.com
Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.
Check out WRITEineer.com for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!