a theatre, film & pop culture review
Joe DiPietro’s book for Memphis certainly doesn’t break any new ground — structurally, thematically, or otherwise. It’s more a retread of of similarly conventional works like Hairspray and Dreamgirls. But it’s by far the most cohesive and serviceable, with defined (if cliched) characters, a distinguishable plot, and quite a bit of warmth and humor. If this appears to be rather lame praise for the predicted Tony-Award winner of Best Book, it’s true: it’s been a sad year for the Broadway musical theatre. Escott and Mutrux’s work on Million Dollar Quartet tells of the single day four music legends meet and hold a jam session, and while the writers work hard to create some drama in between the well-known hit songs, not a whole lot happens, and whatever does is made enjoyable by the hardworking performers — not the work itself. Sherie Rene Scott’s “semi”-autobiographical trifle Everyday Rapture is all over the place structurally and tonally (sentimental to sardonic and back again), though it does contain some true comic gems, such as her ode to Jesus and Judy (Garland). And while Fela! has many wonderful things going for it, the unfocused and overambitious book by Jim Lewis and director-choreographer Bill T. Jones is simply not one of them.
Though the virtues of Adam Cork’s corporate composition for Enron have already been extolled here, it’s hugely important to draw attention to the fact that the best use of music this year was not in fact found in a musical. Not only does this speak to the lackluster offerings of the Broadway musical, but it also serves to highlight the blurred line between musical theatre and theatre with music (what is/should be the difference?). Give me the quirky-techno musical effectiveness of Enron — play, play with music, musical play, whatever you want to call it — any day of the week over such dismal offerings as Andrew Lippa’s Addams Family. A competent composer, Lippa has given us the lovely, chamber musical john and jen as well as the (lesser, but still good) The Wild Party, and now he provides one of the most forgettable, unintegrated “scores” in recent memory (excepts for Uncle Fester’s love song to the moon, which was wonderfully — and absurdly — whimsical). Fences‘s music by Branford Marslais is jazzy and tuneful but entirely misused in the tragedy (read more here), and the Motown-inspired Memphis provided the one competent and conventional original musical score this year — and was written by a member of Bon Jovi. That about says it all.
[Side note: When the award says it’s for “music and/or lyrics”? Does that mean a show be nominated in the Best Original Score category for it’s lyrics alone? Does anyone else find this problematic? If a musical’s categories are to be broken down into Best Book and Best Original Score, shouldn’t there also then be an award for Best Lyrics?]