Chicago has bred many incredible talents that are making their way to the world stage, but one man's light shines brighter than the other lights from other people. His name is Paul Oakley Stovall. He is known as a director, actor, playwright, composer, dancer, fry cook, and activist and he is the real fucking deal.
If you haven't seen him in a show at Steppenwolf or seen a play he wrote at the Goodman, then you have probably seen him in the national tour of Rent.
We had a chance to meet Paul and listen to an essay he wrote recently at The Paper Machete one afternoon, and we asked him if he wouldn't mind letting us throw his essay up on the website, and he not only obliged, he also gave us both kisses.
Here is Paul Oakley Stovall's unedited essay on the state of the Broadway Musical:
EXTRA EXTRA HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEWS(IES)? BULLETS take a LEAP OF FAITH with SPIDERMAN over the ANIMAL HOUSE on BROADWAY...ONCE. i feel like i’ve just seen a GHOST.
yes, it’s true. another crop of wonderful movies are ready to bore (or are already boring) you to death as broadway musicals. or piss you off. or drive you to pills and booze. or MAYBE encourage someone to ...gasp... come up with an original idea and write and original musical...with original music even!!
don’t hold your breath.
over the past few years we’ve been assaulted with Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer, The Little Mermaid, Jekyll and Hyde (which is possibly coming back with Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame--more on that later), The Color Purple (oh the colored people), How the Grinch Stole Broadway, er, Christmas, Wonderland (wonder why land), Big, Mary Poppins, Hairspray and the Lion King, to name, sadly, just a few.
We could throw in Wicked, Seussical and Spamalot, as they are based on source material....exquisite source material.
To be fair, now and then, this rejiggering of a hit film or not such a hit film can work. Beauty and the Beast is faithful to the story and wonderful for kids. But it was kind of a musical already. Victor/Victoria is another example that comes to mind. however it was set in a musical milieu. the STUFF was already there.
But the jukebox musical--Good Vibrations anyone? All Shook Up? -- and the film “adaptation”, or rather reduction, is becoming the norm, while the BROADWAY MUSICAL, could you feel the all caps in the way that was said?, is an American art form. an original american art form. one of the few that we can really claim... why is it being tossed away? why are we more interested in developing Sleepless in Seattle the musical? yes, that’s happening. the two leads don’t see each other until the end...and yet there is confusion as to why the workshops are fizzling...oy.
Whose bright idea was it to make CATCH ME IF YOU CAN into a Broadway musical?!?!
Leave me alone! I’m not interested in catching you. Stay in hiding. Or better yet, stay on celluloid, where a film like that had a least modest success in what it was aiming for.
So whose idea was it?
it was the idea of someone who wanted to make money. it was the idea of someone who was falling right in line with those who now see dollar signs rather than rallying cries of social change when they think of this pure American art form called the Broadway musical.
The new American musical, created lately by artists like Stew, a tony award winner for his book of Passing Strange, or the revered Tony Kushner, who, with Jeanine Tesori, created Caroline, or Change are sadly few and far between these days. And when we do get something original, the best of them, usually don’t make it to the big time, to make room for.....13....about a bunch of 13 year olds.....singing about....things that 13 year olds care about....but not written by 13 year olds....which could be interesting.
However, artists like Stew and Kushner and Tesori are pushing the form forward...now admittedly, neither of those aforementioned projects turned a profit BUT Caroline has had an extremely healthy regional life and Stew is prolifically creating new projects. That’s neither here nor there. The argument that is thrown out is that, “Hey, we gotta make money! And we gotta give the people what they want!” pfft. the people don’t know what they want. they know that they want to be ENTERTAINED! let me say that again. they want to be ENTERTAINED. and not by the latest American Idol runner up. See Maroulis. Or Diana DeGarmo, or Ace what’shisname, or....yeah.
SHREK the musical, sorry Jeanine, ain’t it. It might illicit some silly giggles... but true entertainment includes an enriching of the soul, a lifting of the spirit, a challenge to the brain, a massaging of the heart. 9 to 5? Young Frankenstein? Xanadu? High Fidelity? Urban Cowboy? Chitty Chitty Gang Bang, Bang Bang? Those films were just fine the way they were. Entertaining classics that spoke to their genre in a very specific way. But Gone With the Wind, the musical? That ain’t it kid. That ain’t it kid. Give me A Chorus Line. Carousel, Gypsy, Porgy and Bess, South Pacific, Avenue Q, Ragtime, Anything Goes, RENT...but Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown almost made me have one....
This lack of effort really, on the part of producers to seek out original material, on the part of artists to insist on bringing original and CURRENT and POLITICALLY RELEVANT material to the table, and on the part of the general public, the consumer, to demand better quality material--and frankly, to say, “hey, I already love Animal House, it’s a classic; i can recite every line in Bullets Over Broadway; Desperately Seeking Susan ain’t Shakespeare but it’s quirky and perfect just as it is-- this, my friends, this signals a malaise that frankly goes deeper than the rash that accompanies the news that Footloose and Flashdance are being developed for the Great White Way.
FIlm is not a literary medium. It doesn’t want lots of words...and rarely does it want songs....and even rarer does it need a dance number.
Fixing this will take a digging in of the heels. The great work begins. The American Musical represents something purely american and it should be protected and nurtured and brought back to life....like the White House garden.
-Paul Oakley Stovall