My Complicated Relationship With Musicals

The Temptations

Not, obviously, the band The Temptations. This is not going to be a long review of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, a musical I have not seen. No, I’m talking about how many times I’ve been tempted to jukebox up a play I wrote.

Seems obvious to me, at least, that this all goes back to Pride and Prima Donnas. Remember that one? No? Because I wrote the blog piece on it in… 2013!? How long have I just been ranting about pop culture? I hate you, forward momentum of time!

Well… and apologies to anyone who said “yes” just then… it was the story of a theatre company’s attempts to put on “Dance Into the Fire: The Duran Duran Rock Opera.” And so the climax became a medley of Duran Duran songs formed into a crude narrative. Which, for those who had no plans to click that link and read the post, was a bit of a blown call. What I should have done is pepper the songs in throughout and let the audience imagine how well the show ended up going by which I mean I didn’t use copyrighted music in my play there was no play don’t sue me I have no money this blog isn’t even monetized

There was, once the show went up, a push from company members to actually make the rock opera. To which I had to point out, we do not own the rights to the greatest hits of Duran Duran. “So ask for them,” they said. “Maybe they’ll let you make it.” And I replied, “Or maybe they’ll get Ben Elton to write it, he seems to write every band-centric rock opera.”

Let’s move on before I start giving a synopsis. Suffice to say, the company’s producer and I did not agree about how to use “Notorious,” but if “Union of the Snake” isn’t the sex scene I don’t even know what we’re trying to accomplish.

From there… every now and then I’d be working on a show, and some song would seem just perfect for it. Lyrics that seem to underline a moment, only in a peppier, more dynamic way.

When we did Supervillain! the first time, I got as far as blocking the musical curtain call in my head, figuring out which character would sing each line of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” leading up to bows. Well, each line up until the first time someone says “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I didn’t mention this to anyone, of course. No matter how neat the idea seemed to me, I was not convinced anyone else would see it that way, least of all the cast. Also the rest of the show was not a musical so everyone singing an 80s pop song during curtain call made no sense. Which meant I was really stuck with the notion in the back of my mind for a while.

The Course of True Love and the Curse of the Jade Monkey did have one brief, aborted attempt at a musical number, a self-indulgent joke right in the middle of probably the worst scene in a bad script, but deep in the back of my mind, a second one existed. In which someone (probably reporter Travis Thompson, who spent a lot of the show pointing out its plot holes, possibly as a subconscious warning) would ask Manservant, the, well, manservant of villain Helena Von Drax… god damn it, I am having PTSD just summarizing this thing… someone would ask Manservant why he was so loyal to the clearly terrible Helena, and s/he would step forward, take a deep breath, and with all the gravitas and conviction of an Aaron Sorkin character defending either the pillars of American democracy or the works of Gilbert and Sullivan*, s/he would sing…

“UPTOWN GIRL. She’s been living in her UPTOWN WORLD…”

(*Aaron Sorkin characters all love Gilbert and Sullivan. I don’t know what to tell you.)

Look, it wasn’t dumber than anything else that happened in the play. But since there weren’t other songs, it wouldn’t exactly make sense to just drop that in. Wouldn’t make any sense. Actually it would be dumber than other things in that play, and damn that is bleak.

So I’ve been working on something lately, no I’m not going to discuss it here, but some songs drift into my mind. As possibilities for the curtain call or intermission or pre-show. You know, in a hypothetical situation where we played copyrighted music during shows. Which we do not.

A playlist was forming. It started with thinking that the core concept was well suited to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Especially if Robyn Adele Anderson could put an appropriate period spin on it (which she can, for $500 on her Patreon, a little out of my price range but not impossible). An amusing thought to me, but one easily discarded.

“The Warrior” by Patty Smyth would fit too. Not as well, but “heart to heart you’ll win,
if you survive” does match a couple of key arcs. But, again, easy to dismiss.

And then a YouTube playlist brought me to “Invincible” by Pat Benatar.

Daaaaaaaaang

First of all, can we admit that Instagram filters were invented to help people look more like Pat Benatar in this video? Is that clear?

Second, this song slaps.

And third… the lyrics are basically a perfect rallying cry for the heroes as they move into the climax, when victory seems impossible but they’re determined to go down swinging…

“What are we running for?
When there’s no where we can run to anymore
We can’t afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It’s a do or die situation
We will be invincible!”

Trust me on this, it. Is. Spot. On. That has been a harder one to let go.

At this point I’m on the way to being a jukebox musical, especially if I could find a cheaper source for making period covers of the songs, but… no. Obviously I’m not putting this song in the script. Obviously. As previously stated, licensing the rights to include songs in a performance is complicated, expensive, and seems to be a one-time deal. Which makes it a little tricky to shop the script around. “Hey, here’s this thing I wrote, you just need to contact a bunch of people to get the rights to the songs.” Madness.

Still… even if nobody who reads it ever knows… that song is embedded into this script for me. The text won’t show it, any potential performance probably won’t show it… but I’ll know. When those ladies take the stage, deep down, I’ll know: with the power of conviction, there is no sacrifice. It’s a do or die situation.

They will be invincible.

Maybe someday I’ll give musicals a try. With a co-writer who’s good at melodies. But in the meantime, there are reasons that two recent scripts involve the words “Similar to but legally distinct from [song title].”

I’m good at what I’m good at.

Anyhoo… we will be going back to comic TV soon, but maybe there’ll be more of these more personal blogs to come.

(Wait… does filling this blog with embedded music videos make it a jukebox musical? Am I that subtly clever? …Doesn’t sound right but maybe.)

‘Til next time.

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