- Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from Show Boat to Sondheim and Lloyd Webber, and: Off-Broadway Musicals, 1910–2007: Casts, Credits, Songs, Critical Reception and Performance Data of More than 1,800 Shows, and: "No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance": A History of the American Musical Theater, and: Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers
Julia A. Walker, Editor
Toward the end of his textbook, "No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance," Sheldon Patinkin includes a quote from Stephen Sondheim about the state of the Broadway musical: "You have two kinds of shows on Broadway—revivals and the same kind of musicals over and over again, all spectacles. You get your tickets for The Lion King a year in advance, and essentially the family comes as if to a picnic, and they pass on to their children the idea that that's what the theatre is—a spectacular musical you see once a year, a stage version of a movie. It has nothing to do with theatre at all. It has to do with seeing what is familiar. We live in a recycled culture" (516). I don't think it is entirely a function of senescence that I, like Patinkin and the Great Sondheim, lament the current state of the musical. I can count on less than the fingers of one hand the good new musicals I have seen in the past decade: Spring Awakening; Caroline, or Change; Next to Normal; The Light in the Piazza. None of these shows began in the commercial theatre, and none was a big commercial success. What they share are strong, character-driven narratives, excellent scores, and intelligent lyrics that are specific to character and situation. They are in the Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim tradition. All of them center on generational conflict that might appeal to both older and younger audiences. I might add to this list Avenue Q, which is a musical comedy for the twenty-first century—original, witty, topical, and tune-filled, and not an exercise in nostalgia.
One's defining moment for the end of the musical contains within it one's definition of a good musical. Some say that the health of the musical as an art form went into intensive care when the cost of producing a musical became so high that a show had to run for years to recoup its investment. With that economic fact came the family-oriented blockbuster, guaranteed, if it succeeded, to run for years in New York and on tour. Why gear a show to adults when you can bring in the entire family at $135 a seat? Why try for something original when a title already familiar from film or television or a golden oldie hit compilation will sell better? Why worry about excellence when everything gets a standing ovation? Sheldon Patinkin opines that the so-called Golden Age of the Musical ended with Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, before the great Sondheim musicals (he is not a great fan of Sondheim or of powerful concept musicals like Cabaret—he doesn't like shows that aren't upbeat). For him, the end of the Golden Age came at that critical point when the musical and the great tradition of American popular song parted ways. Patinkin sees long-running megahits like The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables as merely "tourist attractions." The new, updated edition of Geoffrey Block's...