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Ever wonder if you could write a musical? (Thoughts on JRB’s “13”)
Last Edit: GrumpyMorningBoy 02:41 pm EDT 09/27/22
Posted by: GrumpyMorningBoy (grumpymorningboy@yahoo.com) 02:28 pm EDT 09/27/22

Ever wonder if you could do it?

Like so many of us here, I studied musical theater. I worked in musical theater. I know the genre.

But I also respect the genre too much to ever think I should just sit down and write one myself.

It’s not that I can’t write. I’ve been published here and there, contributed articles to a magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. (although, funny enough, never about theater).

But the ATC contributors here are exceptionally well-versed, and I know some of you have written musicals that have been produced on Broadway and beyond.

What about the rest of you?

What kept you from trying your hand? Did you make an effort and discover just how hard it is?

I’ll tell the truth. Half of what motivates me to try something new is when I see someone else do it poorly. When that happens, I find myself thinking, “well, heck. I can write better than this…

That was my reaction when I finally saw Jason Robert Brown’s “13, the Musical” on Netflix.

I’d never seen the show. I’d avoided the cast recording, in part because I knew I’d see the show someday.

For the record, I really like JRB! I think SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD is great! THE LAST FIVE YEARS is specific and touching and powerful. I saw both PARADE and THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY twice in the theater. To me, they felt like flawed, ambitious, often gorgeous pieces of writing.

I can’t believe the same guy wrote this cliche-ridden Disney-channel knockoff. Even the sequels of “High School Musical” are better than this.

The film certainly has its charms. Young Eli Golden really delivers a natural, effortless lead performance.

But my god these lyrics seemed like they were written by an actual child. They’re absurdly on the nose, with nonstop predictable rhymes. Half the songs just repeat what the preceding scene already told us.

This is not good writing.

And I won’t applaud JRB’s composition, either. When you have to write vocal lines that adolescents can deliver 8x a week — no easy feat — it’s time to step it up with cool rhythms and chord progressions. He does that pretty well in the opening number — which honestly isn’t bad — but the other songs feel half-assed and generic. They’re completely disconnected from the emotional subtext of the scene.

I’d love someone to explain to me why junior high football players worried about their friend getting too close to their class’s main mean girl inspires the blues. The actual blues.

Okay, so… far easier to criticize than to create, yeah?

Of. Course.

Could I pen lyrics? Maybe?!? I’ve never tried to write a single rhyming couplet.

Could I write music? Doubtful. My last piece of musical composition was — funny enough— when I was 13. It wasn’t good.

I could maybe write a book. Maybe.

But the fact that 13 THE MUSICAL is less than JRB’s best works tells me that at the end of the day, writers simply decide how much re-writing and refining and sharpening something needs before you release it out to the world and go work on your next thing.

13 seems like it was probably good enough to get produced at high schools & middle schools around the USA, and make some money exactly as it is.

But do you ever think that YOU could be making that money?

- GMB
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