When pop composers become musical composers.
Over the past decade or so, Broadway has had a popular music invasion, as artists like Elton John, Paul Simon, U2, The Eurythmics tried their hand at writing the score to a musical. Some to success, others to not. And this year, we’ve got Cyndi Lauper and Phish (!) joining the ranks, with Kinky Boots (!!) and Hands on a Hardbody respectively.
As someone who develops musicals, I have to admit, having a successful pop artist on the writing team is an attractive proposition. They usually have a knack for melody, and come with millions of fans.
So why not take anyone who has a couple gold albums, right?
Well, like anything else that Producers do, it’s important that you don’t make a choice solely for marketing’s sake. Art has to come first, no matter how tempting it may be. Because as I said in an article about Spider-Man some months ago, “Writing a three minute song is a lot different than writing a three hour musical.”
Yes, memorable melodies and snappy hooks are an essential part of writing a quality score . . . but musicals tell stories, and musicals develop characters . . . and that’s not as easy as coming up with a catchy chorus and couple of words that stay top o’ mind (Taylor Swift’s “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” comes to mind).
So when I’m in the market for a composer that may come from the popular music world, I look for song writers that tell stories in their songs first and foremost, whether or not they’ve got Grammys on their resume. And as luck would have it, there are a few Grammy winners that have the knack (Elton, Paul, Billy, Bruce, Cyndi (!) and I always thought Tracy Chapman would write a great story-show). Find one that can do both, and you could have an artistic and marketing one-two puncheroo.
But go after someone just because their tunes are on iTunes could get you in a lot of Taylor-like trouble, trouble, trouble.
Because just because a composer comes with millions of fans, doesn’t mean those fans will come out for your show.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.