I miss live theatre.
To nurse this wound until the Great White Way’s (imminent?) return, I’ve been returning to the musicals of my youth, which — combined with the recent Letterboxding of my brain (where’s live theater’s version of the website? You know, like Show-Score, but like, actually good) — have inspired a few user-friendly queries, such as:
Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of Dirty Rotten Scoundrel‘s Broadway opening, which got me thinking: how many other composers won Tony Awards for one of their middling scores? Obviously this is all subjective, but by middling, I don’t mean the true definition of the word. Rather, in my (not) humblest of opinions, the Tony-winning The Band’s Visit is literally middle of the road for David Yazbek, ahead of his Tootsie (shudder) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (underrated! But maybe that’s the revised London iteration talking, which still paled in comparison to Pedro’s original masterpiece), but behind Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and his true king shit: The Full Monty.
Granted, he debatably shouldn’t have even won for either: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a STACKED year — other nominees: the winning The Light in the Piazza, and the also-rans Spamalot and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — and The Full Monty ran into this little-known buzzsaw by the name of The Producers.
By the by, how many other composers have been nominated for every single one of their Broadway outings?!
Also, how many other cast recordings have disclaimer tracks like this one:
While on the subject of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Producers, the former’s “Great Big Stuff” was a formative show tune for me (true story: I wanted to buy a T-shirt that said “Great Big Stuff” on it, but my mother nixed the idea, perhaps not wanting her 14-year-old son to lie about his bad tiny stuff? What a mean mom!). Along with “Betrayed” from The Producers, they instilled in me that theatre-geek-kid fantasy of a goofy guy (it me) holding court in the spotlight and cracking up the audience again and again and again and again. What are other similar songs from musical theatre history??
Speaking of Norbert Leo Butz and Nathan Lane, I’ll always remember their valiant efforts to throw the corpses of mediocre musicals over their shoulders and fucking lugging that dead weight to a somewhat and somehow enjoyable finish line. I’m of course referring to Big Fish (again, underrated! FIGHT THE DRAGONS!!!) and The Addams Family. What other DOA musicals were singlehandedly elevated by their leads? The Boy from Oz comes to mind…
We’ll end with a note about how the meaning of lyrics can change over time, sometimes only personally, other times globally.
Personally, when I first saw The Producers at the ripe age of 11, my pre-Bard brain never understood “I feel like Othello / Everything is lost / Leo is Iago / Max is double-crossed!”
(This is totally off-topic, but reading through the lyrics reminds me how much Mr. Robinson ruptured my spleen with this one, from rhyming the elongated “BOOOOY” with “OOOOOY”, to the rushed Sparknotes-recap of the whole show, to perhaps my favorite punchline ever: “Wait a minute! My name’s not Alvin! That’s not my life! I’m not a hillbilly! I GREW UP IN THE BRONX!!! Leo’s taken everything; even my past!”)
As for globally-reoriented lyrics, here’s an easy one from “Great Big Stuff”: “I’m tired of bein’ a chump / I wanna be like Trump / Two hundred pounds of caviar in one gigantic lump.” Perhaps Yazbek already knew the wisdom of his lyrics at the time. I mean, a conman who looks up to Trump only to realize later that money doesn’t save him from being the same old chump he always was…maybe Davey was on to something!
Anyways, sorry, must run, Ulla’s waiting, IT’S ALMOST 11!!! Wish you were here…
And I hope to see you back on the Great White Way sooner than later!
P.S. Lest you doubt my history bonafides, regarding the title of this article: let’s pray that live theater’s return fares better than Little Sheba’s!