How to write a musical for fun and profit

Check THIS shit out. I’ll wait.

It could be fantastic. Seriously, it could. One of the great things about playwriting is that, in theory, anyone can do it. We’ve all seen plays, we’ve all had conversations, and to quote Captain Stillman, the only way to learn is to do it. And look who we have here: Stephen King, storyteller extraordinaire. John Mellencamp, who…ah…well, “Uh Huh” was a great album. And a bevy of talented and semi-hip singers. Should at least succeed as a great curiosity, right?

Of course, the playwright/composer in me is feeling a sensation of rueful laughter, dread, and out-and-out contempt (imagine Whatever Happened to Baby Jane-era Bette Davis chuckling over her fourth Rob Roy – that’s the feeling) that these non-theater punks think they can just waltz into my medium and cash in. After all, just because anyone can write a play doesn’t mean they should – playwriting is littered with failure, with unseen and unheard plays, with wonderful pieces of work that find themselves in a corner three pages from the ending with no way out. It’s taken years of mistakes for most of us to begin to understand the mysteries of the stage, to learn how to adapt story structure, to write dialogue that make actors look good, to use the very limitations of the stage to create worlds far larger than one can imagine – and the best of us STILL struggle to turn in a decent script.

Besides, look how many non-theater pirates have fallen on their rich little faces while trying to craft a play. Look at Tim Robbins – his satire Embedded is, by most accounts, a cartoonish bore, which came as happy news after I saw his obnoxious comments about theater on The Daily Show. And let’s not forget how Paul Simon turned himself into a theatrical cautionary tale with The Capeman. And while hiring Bono to write the music for a musical about Spider-Man SOUNDS like a great idea (if you’re on peyote, that is), early reports and delayed openings hint that epic disaster might be in the cards for Julie and the gang (the jury’s out, of course, but they’re salivating). It’s enough to make one treat themselves another Scotch. (Ah, Mr. Morangie…you beat out Miller, Close, and garry/ross as my favorite Glen.).

But still and all, I wish King & Kompany well. I’m not one of those who laments the brand-naming of Broadway – honestly, it would have died completely without Disney, so if Mel Brooks and big green ogres keep people buying tickets, so be it. Besides, sometimes our beloved boards DO need a good shaking up – look at Passing Strange and, before that, Hedwig and the Angry Inch – two shows that genuinely shook our idea of how to tell a story through music. Just because many of us find Stew’s contempt of musicals obnoxious doesn’t mean the man’s not a genius.

Still, though, I reserve my right to schadenfreude if Stephen and John discover that proficiency in one or two artistic mediums doesn’t necessarily translate to the stage. Besides, if it does fail, you know Uncle Steve will write a fantastic essay about it.