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Episode 9

LUNCH AT BARRYMORE'S . . .

"Sorry I'm late. Where's our author?"

You just missed him. You bumped into him on your way in.

"The guy who looked like Alex Baldwin, but taller and with more muscles?"

Yes. Where were you?

"I dropped those papers off at the League of American Theatres and Producers over on West 47th like you wanted, then had a meeting with the architect. I guess I lost track of the time."

What did the architect say?

"Looks like we can save and reuse most the mill work and carving at the lodge hall. They're trying to track down the original blueprints for the building to see where the entrances were located. Should have some news in a day or two. And she's getting somebody in next week to test the acoustics of the hall in the current configuration. She thinks you may be right about keeping the balcony fascia."

The fewer changes we make in our new theatre, the better.

"So how did your meeting go?"

There is good news and even better news. Sit. I'm having a coffee. Would you like one?

"Cream and sugar."

The good news is that our author is expanding on the original short story and turning it into a full novel.

"Does he want more money for the rights?"

You know, you're picking this producing thing up a lot faster than I thought you would. No, we have the rights to the original ten chapters. That's all we need. We won't be using any of the new material he's adding for the novel. However, there is a small chance his book will be published around the time the play opens. If so, we have some interesting promotional opportunities.

"Promotional op . . . oh, you mean advertising."

Yes.

"Sounds good to me."

The even better news is that I think we have a hook for the play. And an approach to the original material.

"I'm waiting. What's the hook?"

The dark side of nostalgia.

"I'm still waiting. What the hell does that mean?"

You've read The Return To Neverland. What's it about?

"Well, it's about this kid Billy who grows up to. . . ."

No, not the plot. What is Neverland about?

"I don't understand the question."

The plot is simply a list of the incidents; what happens first, and then what happens and then what happens next and so on and so forth. That's part of how we tell the story, but not what it's about.

"So, what's it about?"

How one person, our main character Billy, deals with pain and loss.

"Pain and loss?"

Yes.

"People are going to pay $45 a ticket to see a play about pain and loss? People are going to pay $80 a ticket to see a musical about pain and loss?"

They already are.

"They are?"

It's a big part of Saigon, Rent, Anne Frank, Phantom, Titanic. You can even see it in Cats!

"Cats?"

Think about the lyrics to "Memories."

"It's so depressing."

I agree. Cats may have been revolutionary back when it first opened. . . .

"Not Cats, Neverland. A play or a musical about pain and loss?"

It's a powerful, universal emotion. Everyone relates to it on a visceral level.

"But, it sounds so depressing."

It all depends on how it's treated, how you present it.

"Okay. I'm almost afraid to ask this, but . . . how are we going to treat it?"

That's perfectly obvious, isn't it?

"Not to me."

The Return To Neverland: A Rollicking, Hilarious Comedy!

"Let me see if I understand this. The Return To Neverland?"

Yes.

"A rollicking, hilarious comedy?"

Yes.

"About pain and loss."

You got it.

"Well . . . Brantley and Simon will love it."

So will you, when you understand the concept.

"And when might that be?"

Let's get some fresh air. Come on, we'll take a walk over to the Drama Book Shop.

"Do you realize what you're doing to my social life?"

I didn't know you had one.

"I did. Once upon a time. But now when I meet an attractive woman and she asks what I do, I can say I'm a theatrical producer. I can say I've got a partner who's a raging bibliophile and we're putting together a rollicking, hilarious comedy all about pain and loss. I'll never get laid again!"

You exaggerate.

"Not by much. So what's this concept thing?"

I'm still working out the details, but this is what I have right now. Neverland has a serious subject.

"Pain and loss."

Right. But it's not a tragedy.

"But, one of the boys, Garrett, dies."

And one of the boys, Billy, survives. It does have tragic elements, and we're going to use them, but we don't want to approach it in too serious a manner.

"Why not?"

Contrast. If we are going to touch an audience on a serious emotional level with the tragic elements, Garrett's death and Billy's lifelong guilt about Garrett's death, then we first must show the audience the boy's loving and boisterous relationship and then the funny, glamorous life in which Billy sought solace. An audience can't appreciate and respond to the serious parts of the story unless they first see the funny and good parts of the story.

"And this is why the play needs to be a comedy?"

Yes and no.

"That answer certainly clears everything up."

Given our material, we only have two choices. Neverland can either be a comedy with serious parts or a tragedy with funny parts. The material works best as a comedy with serious parts.

"Wait a minute. What's the difference between the two?"

In a tragedy you're obviously dealing with a serious subject, right?

"Okay."

Now this tragedy can have lots of laughs in it. In fact, most tragedies do have quite a few laughs in them. But this is the kind of laughter they call "comic relief." It's only present to let the audience sit back, take a deep breath, and expel a little tension before they get even more involved with the serious parts of the story. Understand?

"I think so. You're saying that in tragedy you put in the laughs to give the audience the chance to gradually become more and more involved with a serious dramatic subject. You're letting them buy into your story in small steps."

Correct. If you don't, they will sit there and stubbornly refuse to get involved with what is happening on stage.

"And the other way?"

Comedy deals in hope, with the possibility that everything will turn out all right in the end. At the core of every great comedy is a serious problem or question. Comedy can address this subject in a way that allows for, but does not demand, a happy ending. Somebody once said that comedy is the drama of survival. Any idea what that means?

"I'm not sure. Every life has its ups and downs. I don't know. Would it have anything to do with that cliche that no matter how bad things get, you'll be all right if you can find something to laugh at?"

Being able to laugh at yourself is supposedly one of the hallmarks of a well-adjusted individual.

"Like at a wake. Everybody always seems to end up telling funny stories about the departed."

Exactly. Laughter, comedy, doesn't deny pain and loss, it's a coping mechanism that lets you process and deal with the bad things that happen to you. Without laughter life would be one long chronic depression. I think everyone understands and accepts this at some level, conscious or not. That's why comedy, as a dramatic form, is so powerful and appealing. Comedy lets an audience see and laugh at itself on a stage. And, in doing so, as a group, we affirm our ability to survive no matter what happens.

"And tragedy doesn't?"

Not as easily. Tragedy is what happens to other people. Tragedy works because the audience can have empathy with, but divorce themselves from, what's happening on stage. Comedy works because it shows us how to survive and triumph.

"So Neverland is going to be a comedy."

A rollicking, hilarious comedy.

"Okay, I'll buy we need to make it funny. But why rollicking and hilarious? Isn't that a bit much for the material we have to begin with?"

We want to do the play in a presentational style so it -

"Presentational? What's that?"

You can put every play and musical ever written in one of only two categories; representational or presentational. The simplest way to explain the difference is to say that in the representational performance the actors never acknowledge the audience. In a presentational style they do, and may even speak directly to the audience.

"Which is better?"

There is no better. We're discussing two different styles of performance. One style may be more appropriate to a given piece of material, but both styles are equally valid. Never listen to anyone who tells you that representational or "realistic" theatre is better than presentational; they simply don't know or understand what they're talking about.

"So why are we going with presentational?"

Most musicals are presentational by their very nature. An actor turns and sings a song directly to the audience, that's presentational. We know Neverland the musical is going to be presentational. Neverland the play could go either way. So why not save some time and effort by making the play presentational right from the beginning? It's appropriate to our material and will make things a lot easier later on.

"Give me an example of how this all works."

I'll do better than that. I'll give you a book.

"So that's why we're standing here in the middle of the Drama Book Shop."

Get that thin green book on the shelf right behind you. That's the one.

"Making Musicals: An Informal Introduction to the World of Musical Theatre by Tom Jones."

It's one of the best books about the musical theatre ever written.

"And short too!"

I particularly want you to read the chapters on the Portfolio theatre. It'll give you a good idea of what you are going to be going through the next couple of years.

Tom Jones, the lyricist/librettist of The Fantasticks, the longest-running show in the history of the American theatre, here takes on a new role as guide through the magical world of the stage musical. He begins his tour with a brief history, tracing the musical's origins to the variety shows and operettas of the early 1900s, from which gradually emerged the works of such masters as Kern, Berlin, Gershwin and Porter, and a tradition best exemplified by the mid-century classics of Rodgers and Hammerstein. A break-up of that tradition, reflecting the immense changes in every aspect of postwar American life, was inevitable. So, gradually new forms evolved, and today we have the "Dance Musical," the "Concept Musical," the "Rock Musical" and the "Sung-Through Musical," all running alongside shows, some hugely successful, that revive or try to reinvent the past.

How to create a musical, whatever its style, is Tom Jones's concern in the longer second part of this book. He draws generously upon his own experience, with composer Harvey Schmidt, in creating not only The Fantasticks but all their other shows. Together these musicals become a constant frame of reference as Jones explains how to get started, how to work with composers, set designers and other collaborators, how to find the spark for an effective lyric, how to create a musical rather than a play with music and how to go about getting produced.

Neither preachy nor pedantic, always ready with an illuminating anecdote, Tom Jones has produced just the book - warm, charming, funny, useful - that we would expect from the man who wrote the words of The Fantasticks, 110 in the Shade and I Do! I Do! among many others.


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CLICK TO PURCHASE


Making Musicals:
An Informal Introduction to the World of Musical Theatre

by Tom Jones
List: $16.95
Published by Limelight Editions
ISBN: 0879100958


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