Monday, 4 March 2019

Preview of Expanded version of A Million Miles from Broadway


As you no doubt know, I have begun a Kickstarter campain to raise £3000 toward the cost of producing a new revised and expanded version of my book A Million Miles from Broadway – Musical Theatre Beyond New York and London.   I have now raised £936 of the minimum £3000 pounds I will need by 23 March.  Please help me reach my goal so that I can finish this vitally important book by going to http://kck.st/2DN3yzx

These are some of the reviews that a previous edition of my book has received:

"His research is monumental... This is an important book on a previously undocumented area of musical theatre." -- Peter Pinne, Stage Whispers 

"There’s never been a better book for the armchair-traveler-theatergoer." -- Peter Filichia, New York theatre critic

"An intriguing and informative work that will help you see the musical in an entirely new light - and make you hopeful for the future."-- Viewsfromthegods.co.uk


I am attaching a preview of the preface for the new book.  Bear in mind, this remains a work in progress.


Overture:

A Search for Signs of Life



For many generations, the world has presumed that the musical theatre is first and foremost an American art form and that all of the great Broadway and Hollywood musicals were the result of uniquely American ingenuity.  Like jazz, the musical is deemed to be America’s gift to the world, and requires American know-how to make it work. 



                Balderdash. 



                Great as the classic Broadway musicals may have been, it’s one thing to say that the musical is an integral part of American culture; it’s quite another to claim that America is an inseparable part of the musical. 



I am not an American.  Nor am I English.  And yet, I write musicals. I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, some three thousand miles away from Broadway; nonetheless even the New York Times has praised my “lovely music”[i].  It may therefore surprise you to learn that my home town was an artistically charged environment.



It is, I believe, signifigant that the first professional musical I ever saw –  in 1967 – was a Canadian show, Anne of Green Gables[ii].  There were lots of other shows too – professional, amateur, movies; it seemed that people everywhere were bursting into song.   



During the next decade, there emerged from this cocoon a remarkable group of people who were evidently drinking the same water I was drinking. These included singer/songwriter Ann Mortifee, director and librettist Richard Ouzounian, composer Marek Norman, actor Brent Carver, actress Ruth Nichol, dancer Jeff Hyslop, singer, songwriter and actor Patrick Rose, producer David Y. H. Lui and future Artistic Director of the Arts Club Theatre Bill Millerd.  They all emerged from the University of British Columbia at around the same time, and had been members of the UBC Musical Theatre Society (Mussoc), an organisation that began in 1916 and whose past members also included actress Margot Kidder.  (They would eventually also include me.)



After graduation, they continued to work together, informally calling themselves the “Movers and Shakers” club.  For a time, they gave Vancouver a unique musical theatre scene.  Several of them eventually rose to international prominence, and you may see some of their names sprinkled elsewhere in this book. For others, their fame remained local. 



I was too young to actually be a part of this group.  I just watched from the sidelines, and got to know each of them personally.  They were my first heroes, and, importantly for this book, they proved that local people could be my heroes. 



Yet, like most of the “Movers”, I had to leave Vancouver, for I wanted to study the masters and to combine the discipline I would learn abroad with the uniqueness that I found at home.  Sometimes it takes an entire lifetime to learn that the first idea you had was the right one.  While I have since then worked in Toronto, New York and London, the influence of the “Movers and Shakers” is still with me.



It wasn’t until the mid 1990s – some twenty years after I wrote my first musical – that I actually saw my first show on Broadway.[iii]  Like The Drowsy Chaperone‘s “Man in Chair” character, I was more familiar with the Broadway cast albums than I was with the shows themselves.  I saw them from a remote distance, and so they were filtered through local perceptions.  New York may have been literally about 3,000 miles away, but it might as well have been a million.



It may come as a shock for some to hear this, but what we now call the musical wasn’t conceived in America. It was the child of a European parent.  Some called this parent “operetta”, while to others it was “opéra-bouffe” or even “comédie-musicale”, a term which pre-dates the American “musical comedy”.  (These terms relate to the musical in the same way as “Gramophone” relates to “record player”.)  That same parent had other offspring as well, and therefore the Broadway musical has siblings.  These siblings have co-existed and borrowed from each other throughout their history, and the musical theatre has benefited from this. However, I have never believed that Broadway is the musical’s ultimate destination.   



Some people believe that the modern musical reached its zenith on Broadway in the 1940s and 50s, but “the history of the musical theatre”, in the words of New Zealand-born historian Kurt Gänzl (1946-  ), “is no one-nation or one-center affair.”[iv]   Alan Jay Lerner (1918-86), the librettist behind My Fair Lady said, “Broadway cannot live without the musical theatre, but the musical theatre can live without Broadway.  After all, its first home was Paris and then Vienna and then London and then New York.  So changes of address are not uncommon.”[v]  American composer-lyricist Maury Yeston (1945- ) adds, “Broadway is now a very long street running from the Kartnerstrasse in Vienna through Hamburg and Amsterdam, across to the West End, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, L. A., to the Ginza and beyond.”[vi]  



Alas, not everybody sees it that way.



Why else did the late Peter Stone (1930-2003), a former president of the Dramatists Guild best known as the Tony winning book writer of 1776 and Titanic, once claim that no musical theatre existed outside of New York City? 



Stone was not himself a native New Yorker.  He was born in Los Angeles, the son of film writers – (his father John produced Shirley Temple’s Baby Take a Bow in addition to several Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films) – and he even spent thirteen years living in Paris as an employee of an American broadcaster.



However, in 1989 Stone said, “Why doesn’t a musical theatre exist anywhere but in New York?  It doesn’t, you know.”[vii]  In case you don’t wuite believe what you’re hearing, on another occasion, he also said “I always thought the reason [Waiting for] Godot was a hit everywhere except in New York was because we were the only place in the world that had musicals.”[viii] These seem like rather bold statements, given that at the time, Broadway was dominated by Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, with barely an American-written musical to be seen (or heard).



He elaborates, “It is in New York that it is passed along, the lore of it, the craft of it, the technique of it.”[ix]    Now, not everybody these days cares about the lore, the craft and the technique that went into the classic musicals of the golden age, but I do.  I care passionately, and people like me will therefore do whatever it takes to imbibe it, regardless of where we live.  And what I have discovered about the lore of musical theatre would, I aver, surprise even Mr. Stone.    



 He continues: “Musical comedy writing is something that is passed down and around from practitioner to practitioner, so it’s not something you can do in a room in Cincinatti.  New York is the place.  You can see the shows that are working and synthesize what’s to be gotten from them.”[x] 



It’s true that historically the craft of musical theatre was handed down from one generation to another.  Stone was himself mentored in this way by Frank Loesser (1910-69), the composer-lyricist of Guys and Dolls.    But what do you do if living in New York is not, for whatever reason, an option?  How do you learn the technique?  Take a tip from Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin and Charles Strouse. 



Before New York had taken its place at the head of the queue, Jerome Kern studied for two years in Heidelberg, Germany, then moved on to London, where he lived and worked for a further decade.  Ira Gershwin also worked in London with people who had known and worked with his idols Gilbert and Sullivan, while his brother George returned from Paris with suitcases filled with Debussy scores.  A generation later, Charles Strouse studied in Paris under Nadia Boulanger.  Consider also the many Broadway writers, including Victor Herbert, Frederick Loewe and Kurt Weill, who were born abroad and arrived in New York with their studies – and sometimes even their reputations – already a fait accompli.



Some people from New York have also turned their attention to training foreigners.  Lehman Engel (1910-82) taught in Toronto.  “Writers and composers in other countries have made serious attempts to rival the creative spirits of the American musical theatre”, he wrote in 1981.  “There seems to be no reason why they should not succeed.”[xi]  People from Korea come to study at the Tisch School in New York (or Goldsmiths in London), then they go back home to practice – and spread – what they have learned. Others just study the works themselves – the hits and the flops – and read every biography they can get their hands on.  They may also have a chance to see – and learn from – the more than eighty percent of musicals that fail.



In this sense, New York has, in the past, enjoyed an advantage, but does that mean it is really the only place where musicals can happen?  I deeply admire Peter Stone’s work, and there is a great deal to learn from him, but on this one point, I know for a fact that he was wrong. 



Imagine hypothetically for a moment that, at some point, somebody had declared that no musical theatre existed outside of Vienna.  (I have little doubt that at some point in history, somebody actually has said or thought that.)  How would Americans have summoned the courage (and it does take courage) to prove this wrong? 



At the time Stone was speaking of, many of the greats – including even George Abbott (1887-1995) – were still with us and plying their trade.  Now, thirty years later, virtually all of those practitioners – including Mr. Stone himself – have left us.  It is no longer possible to be directly mentored by them, no matter where you live, so we learn from the greats by whatever means are available to us.  That’s what I did – and hence this book.





[i] Laurel Graeber, “Family Fare”, New York Times, 7 November, 2003.
[ii] Many years later its writers became my mentors.
[iii] I had already seen a number of London shows during visits, beginning in 1969 with Fiddler on the Roof starring Alfie Bass.
[iv] Kurt Gänzl, The Musical – A Concise History, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1997, p. xi.
[v] Alan Jay Lerner, The Musical Theatre: A Celebration, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1986, p. 236.
[vi] Scott Brown, “How Can Musical Theater be Saved?”, Vulture.com, 24 May 2012, accessed 21 July 2012.
[vii] Peter Stone, “The Musical Comedy Book” in Dramatists’ Guild Quarterly, Vol. 25 No. 4, Winter 1989, p.13.
[viii] Patsy Southgate, “Peter Stone: Musical Titan Writes the Book”, The East Hampton Star, 29 May 1997.
[ix] Stone, ibid.
[x] Stone, p. 23
[xi] Lehman Engel, Words With Music, Schirmer Books, New York, 1981, p.6.

Monday, 11 February 2019

A Search for Signs of Life


The following is an excerpt from the preface of the revised and expanded version of my book, A Million Miles from Broadway -- Musical Theatre Beyond New York and London.  It is a work in progress, so I will encourage comments.

For many generations, the world has presumed that the musical theatre is primarily an American art form: like jazz, it is America’s gift to the world. 



                Balderdash.  It’s one thing to say that the musical is an integral part of American culture; it’s quite another to claim that America is an inseparable part of the musical. 



I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, some three thousand miles away from Broadway, yet it was a musically and theatrically charged environment. The first professional musical I ever saw was Anne of Green Gables in 1967[i].  Even before that, whether through local amateur productions, movies or the odd touring show, there were people everywhere bursting into song.   



During the next decade, there emerged a remarkable group of people who were evidently drinking the same water I was drinking. These included singer/songwriter Ann Mortifee, director and writer Richard Ouzounian, composer Marek Norman, actor Brent Carver, actress Ruth Nichol, dancer Jeff Hyslop, singer and actor Patrick Rose, producer David Y. H. Lui, writer and director John MacLaughlin Gray and actor Eric Peterson.  They all came out of the University of British Columbia at around the same time, and all but the last two had been my fellow members of the UBC Musical Theatre Society (Mussoc), an organisation that began in 1916 and whose past members also included actress Margot Kidder. 



These were my early influences.  After graduation, they continued to work together, informally calling themselves the “Movers and Shakers” club.  For a time, they gave Vancouver a unique theatre scene, especially for musical theatre.  Several of them eventually rose to international prominence, and you may see some of their names recurring elsewhere in this book. For others, their fame remained local. 



I watched from the sidelines, and got to know all of them personally.  They were my first heroes, and, importantly for this book, they proved that local people could be my heroes.  While I have since then worked in Toronto, New York and London, the influence of the “Movers and Shakers” is still with me.



Yet, like most of the “M and S’s”, I had to leave, for I believe in learning from the masters.  Sometimes it takes an entire lifetime to learn that the first idea you had was the right one. 



It wasn’t until the mid 1990s – some twenty years after I wrote my first musical – that I actually saw my first show on Broadway.[ii]  Like The Drowsy Chaperone‘s “Man in Chair” character, I was more familiar with the Broadway cast albums than I was with the shows themselves.  I saw them from a remote distance, and so they were filtered through local perceptions.  New York may have been literally about 3,000 miles away, but it might as well have been a million.



Some people believe that the modern musical reached its zenith on Broadway in the 1940s and 50s, but “the history of the musical theatre”, in the words of New Zealand-born historian Kurt Gänzl (1946-  ), “is no one-nation or one-center affair.”[iii]   Alan Jay Lerner (1918-86), the librettist behind My Fair Lady said, “Broadway cannot live without the musical theatre, but the musical theatre can live without Broadway.  After all, its first home was Paris and then Vienna and then London and then New York.  So changes of address are not uncommon.”[iv]  American composer-lyricist Maury Yeston (1945- ) adds, “Broadway is now a very long street running from the Kartnerstrasse in Vienna through Hamburg and Amsterdam, across to the West End, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, L. A., to the Ginza and beyond.”[v]  The musical wasn’t born in America, and I do not believe that Broadway is its ultimate destination.



The American musical may have been the child of a European parent, but that same parent had other offspring as well, and therefore the American musical has siblings.  These siblings have co-existed and in fact borrowed from each other throughout history. 



Why then did the late Peter Stone (1930-2003), a former president of the Dramatists Guild best known as the Tony winning book writer of 1776 and Titanic, once claim that no musical theatre existed outside of New York City? 



Stone was not himself a native New Yorker.  He was born in Los Angeles, the son of film writers – (his father John produced Shirley Temple’s Baby Take a Bow in addition to several Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films) – and he even spent thirteen years living in Paris as an employee of an American broadcaster.



However, in 1989 Stone said, “Why doesn’t a musical theatre exist anywhere but in New York?  It doesn’t, you know.”[vi]  That seems like a rather bold statement, given that at the time, Broadway was dominated by Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, with barely an American-written musical to be seen (or heard).



He continues, “It is in New York that it is passed along, the lore of it, the craft of it, the technique of it.”    It may be that Stone did not forsee the extent to which audiences – and thereby some creators – would stop caring about the lore, the craft and the technique that went into the classic musicals of the golden age.  On the other hand, people (like me) who do care passionately and are really dedicated will do whatever it takes to find a way to learn about it.  And what I have discovered about the lore of musical theatre would, I aver, surprise even Mr. Stone.    



 He goes on: “Musical comedy writing is something that is passed down and around from practitioner to practitioner, so it’s not something you can do in a room in Cincinatti.  New York is the place.  You can see the shows that are working and synthesize what’s to be gotten from them.”[vii] 



It’s true that historically the craft of musical theatre was handed down from one generation to another.  Stone was himself mentored in this way by Frank Loesser (1910-69), the composer-lyricist of Guys and Dolls.    But what do you do if you’re not an American, and living in New York is not an option?  How do you learn the technique?  Take a tip from Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin and Charles Strouse. 



Before New York had taken its place at the head of the queue, Jerome Kern studied in Germany.  Ira Gershwin worked in London with people who had known and worked with his idols Gilbert and Sullivan, while his brother George returned from Paris with suitcases filled with Debussy scores.  A generation later, Charles Strouse studied in Paris under Nadia Boulanger.  Consider also the many Broadway writers, including Victor Herbert, Frederick Loewe and Kurt Weill, who were born abroad and arrived in New York with their studies – and sometimes even their reputations – completed.



Some people from New York have also turned their attention to training foreigners.  Lehman Engel taught in Toronto.  People from Korea come to study at the Tisch School in New York (or Goldsmiths in London), then they go back home to practice – and spread – what they have learned. Others just study the works themselves – the hits and the flops – and read every biography they can get their hands on.  They may also have a chance to see – and learn from – the more than eighty percent of musicals that fail.



In this sense, New York has, in the past, enjoyed an advantage, but does that mean it is really the only place where musicals can happen?  I deeply admire Peter Stone’s work, and there is a great deal of merit in what he says, but on this one point, I know for a fact that he was wrong. 



Imagine hypothetically for a moment that, at some point, somebody had declared that no musical theatre existed outside of Vienna.  (I have little doubt that at some point in history, somebody actually has said or thought that.)  How would Americans have summoned the courage (and it does take courage) to prove this wrong? 



At the time Stone was speaking of, many of the greats – including George Abbott (1887-1995) – were still with us and plying their trade.  Now, thirty years later, virtually all of those practitioners – including Mr. Stone himself – have left us.  It is no longer possible to be directly mentored by them, so we learn from the greats by whatever means are available to us.  That’s what I did – and hence this book.



Make no mistake – musical theatre certainly does exist outside of New York.  I’m not talking about the many franchised versions of Les Misérables and  Hamilton that have played everywhere from Tel-Aviv to Abu Dabi.  Like the “Movers and Shakers”, I’m referring to indigenous musical theatre created in places other than New York by people other than New Yorkers and drawing on traditions other than just those of Broadway. We are now in the world of what Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan (1911-80) called the “global village”.[viii]



Preface: A Search for Signs of Life

[i] Many years later its writers became my mentors.
[ii] I saw my first London show, Fiddler on the Roof starring Alfie Bass, in 1969.
[iii] Kurt Gänzl, The Musical – A Concise History, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1997, p. xi.
[iv] Alan Jay Lerner, The Musical Theatre: A Celebration, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1986, p. 236.
[v] Scott Brown, “How Can Musical Theater be Saved?”, Vulture.com, 24 May 2012, accessed 21 July 2012.
[vi] Peter Stone, “The Musical Comedy Book” in Dramatists’ Guild Quarterly, Vol. 25 No. 4, Winter 1989, p.13.
[vii] Stone, p. 23
[viii] Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1962, p.31