February 1, 2018
I was always in love with the music of the 1950s and 1960s. And suddenly, it came to me a few weeks ago while watching an advertisement on the great love songs of the past. I thought: How about a musical play on the great music of the 1950s and 1960s era? After some thought, I decided to put together an outline for a Broadway play concerning the musical hits of that period, focusing on (but not limited to) country plus rock and roll music. And, that is what this piece is all about…a Broadway play titled: The Music of the 1950s and 1960s Revisited.
In terms of introduction, music is the organized movement of sounds through a continuum of time. It plays a role in all societies and exists in a large number of styles, each with special characteristics. Music is generally used to accompany other activities, e.g., dance. The association of music and poetry is so close that language and music are widely believed to have had a common origin in early human history.
A musical play of theatrical music involves vocal and instrumental music forming a part of a theatrical presentation. The music may be restricted to the background, as in most television productions, or it may be the principal focus, as in opera or a musical play. Thus, a musical theatrical production is one in which songs and choruses, instrumental accompaniments, and interludes are integrated. It can also include dance and a dramatic or comedic plot. The genre developed and was refined during the first half of the 20th century, particularly in the theaters along Broadway in New York City. The musical has origins in a variety of 19th century theatrical sources, including the operetta, comic opera, pantomime, the minstrel show, vaudeville, and burlesque. In 1913, the composer Jerome Kern began to produce a series of shows in which all the varied elements of a musical were integrated into a single fabric. This old musical formula began to change and new American musical elements, such as jazz and blues, were utilized by composers; in addition, singers began to learn how to act.
In the late 1920s, satire, ideas, and wit had been the province of the intimate revue. These and other innovations altered the familiar face of musical theater forever. Although the changes have been rapid, startling, and at some times confusing since that time, the music of the 1950s and 1960s have somehow managed to survive the relentless passage of time and the dynamics of not only the latter half of the last century but also the present century. However, from earliest times, most theatrical performances were accompanied by music that was produced solely by live musicians.
Regardless of the type or complexity of a production, all theater performances – including musicals–also have similar requirements. For a small, noncommercial production, most of these requirements may be met by two or three people; a Broadway show however requires dozens. The staff may be divided into administrative, creative (or artistic), and technical personnel. The administrative group includes the producer, box office and publicity personnel, and front-of-house staff (house manager, ushers, and others responsible for the audience). The artistic staff consists of the director, designers, performers, and, if applicable, playwright, composer, librettist, choreographer, and musical director. Technical personnel include the stage manager, technical director, and various construction and operating crews, all working backstage.
The director and cast of modern productions generally rehearse from two to six weeks. If a new play is being rehearsed, as in the case of musicals, songs and dances may be added or dropped; the choreographer rehearses the dancers, and the musical director rehearses the singers. Lighting design, a more ephemeral art, has two functions: to illuminate the stage and the performers, plus to create mood and control the focus of the spectators.
On to the musical itself. Keep in mind that I am not a producer or director, and have attended only 15 (my best guess) Broadway plays and 5 (my best guess again) off-Broadway plays. Most have been of a musical variety. My first play was Grease and remember becoming mesmerized on entering the theatre and hearing the piped-in music prior to the play. I also remember Dream Girls and Jersey Boys. Interestingly for me, the plot never came into “play”; it was strictly the music. Based on all of this, here is what I’ve come up with for a Broadway play on the music of the 1950s and 1960s.
Three things come into mind: the music/score, the singers/musicians, and the presentation/production. Each are detailed below.
The Music/Score: The music would be primarily based on the hit songs of the 1950s and 1960s. Here are some of my favorites:
Be My Baby
Beyond the Sea
Georgia on My Mind
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Johnny B. Good
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
Whole Lotta Lovin’ Going On
All My Lovin’
You Belong to Me
Some, but not all, of the above would be part of the play for a given night, details of which are provided in Presentation/Production section.
The Singers/Musicians: This should consist of a 5-10 person band with excellent singers and music playing abilities. A no-name group – that are true fans of the songs of the 1950s and 1960s – would be preferred. At a minimum, the band would consist of a drummer, guitarist, keyboard player, violinist and horn. The band members would be male but a female singer/musician would be a plus. Other musicians could also be included in the band.
The Presentation/Production: Here is what I envision for a typical performance. The band opens up with a medley of 5 or more country music songs from the past. This would be followed by ACT I which would consist of 15 songs selected randomly by the Director from a list of 75 hits of the 1950s and 60s, almost all from a different artist. The 75 songs would initially be selected by the Director. Each song would be preceded by a short one-minute commentary on the songwriter and/or singers. ACT II would follow after a 15-minute break. This last act would consist of 10 songs that would be randomly selected by the audience. The play would conclude with another medley of songs of a rock-and-roll variety. The band would have to rehearse all songs early during the production stage of the play.
The aforementioned 15 songs would be randomly selected from the “bank” of 75 songs for each performance. Songs would also be randomly selected from the 60 songs that were not selected that previous evening for the following (next) performance. The next performance would then be selected from the remaining 45 songs. Etc. Etc. The cycle would therefore be repeated after every five performances, being careful that the songs are randomly selected each night and each cycle.
The ACT II songs would be selected by the audience each night on entering the theatre from the 60 songs remaining in the pool of songs not included in ACT I for that evening. The selections from the audience would be computerized, with the results of the top 10 choices determined during ACT I and the break. These songs would then constitute the 10 songs for ACT II that night.
The opening (prologue) and closing (epilogue) melodies would be the same each night.
A typical performance could consist of the following:
INTRODUCTION: Lead member of band
OPENING MELODY (COUNTRY MUSIC; my selections)
Someday Soon (my favorite)
Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue
Rocky Mountain High
These would be selected from the pool of 75 songs. For example, the 15 selected earlier could be chosen.
INTERLUDE/BREAK (15 minutes)
You pick them.
CLOSING MELODY (ROCK-AND-ROLL; my selections)
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Sweet Caroline (audience participation)
CLOSING REMARKS: Lead member of band
Finally, three points need to be made. First, I must inform the reader that I have never written a song, sung a song professionally, played a musical instrument, written a play, or understand the various ramifications associated with a musical play. Second, each performance would be different and thus could be attended numerous times by a theater-goer. (This is similar to Louie Prima’s shows in Las Vegas where – due to Prima’s insanity – the audience was treated to a different show every night.) Third, the above outline and details of the proposed musical play are dynamic in nature and could be “tweaked”, e.g., more or less selections, elimination of random selections, different musical categories, and any potential and/or special accommodations to the performers, audience, societal interests and problems, etc.
©Theodore Tutorials, 2017.
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