Weekend Plans Post: Musical Theater Theory
Last weekend was chock-full of stuff. One of the items doing the chocking was a high school musical. “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”.
Now, growing up near Detroit a million years ago, we were close enough to the big city to see a couple of plays and see them we did. We saw Annie back over the Christmas break from school that was either in December of 1980 or January of 1981 at the Fisher theater. We saw The Wiz at the Masonic Temple back in February 1984. I saw Little Shop of Horrors at the Orpheum in NYC in 1987… and countless musicals done by enthusiastic amateurs. Superman (The Musical!), Guys and Dolls, and I don’t even know how many times I saw Godspell. Each and every one of those was a treat and I felt like people were doing something magical.
I eventually found my courage to be in one myself and Once Upon a Mattress was the high school musical that I was in. And, yeah, when I was in it, it felt magical too. I only had a couple of lines. I didn’t have a solo. You know the people with the big roles bow by themselves? I was part of a group of four people bowing. Even so, it felt like something big. Even though it was merely a high school musical.
This is the first high school musical I’ve seen since back in 1991 and there have been some minor changes but, other than those, they remain pretty much exactly the same.
Being a high school musical, you can tell that the props budget was somewhere around $100, it bought paints, particle board, and the materials to make a hat that looked like a fire hydrant. Logistics-wise, the play itself seems to be set up to be a play that could be done with six people (if you absolutely had to do a play and you only had six people) but it could be done with twelve or eighteen if you had more kids show up.
Now, some context for what might sound like a criticism: Fiddler on the Roof was a hit on Broadway in 1964. Oliver and Camelot both had their first productions in 1960. The 1950’s had The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Darn Yankees, and South Pacific. So, like, the thing where you’ve got overtures and undertures and straight narratives and themes that you wander away from and then return to was a pretty well established formula.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, didn’t do any of that. It felt like a minimalist play that was deliberately abandoning the stuff that had come before. I mean, the original performance was in 1967 and there wasn’t an overture, there wasn’t an underture. There wasn’t really a straight narrative. You’d have the kids come out, they’d recreate a couple of strips from the funny pages, they’d split off and new kids would come out and then they’d sing a song.
All in all, it was a fun musical that felt like it was created before they’d developed Musical Theater Theory. Ah, but the kids were delightful and you could tell that they were all excited to be there and having a blast and, at the end of the day, I was pleased to have gone.
And watching a high school musical as a grownup who was in one a million years ago feels 100% different than watching it as a kid wondering if, someday, I might be in one.
All that to say: go see what’s playing in your neck of the woods. Drop $10 at your local high school. You might find yourself delighted. This weekend might even be the last weekend for some of the musicals playing locally for you.
So… what’s on your docket?
(Featured image is “osb and particle board” by Design Build Love. Used under a creative commons license.)