On Hal Prince and Making Sausage

I am procrastinating.  But I am doing so by reading a book on the theatre that wasn’t assigned, that is completely enriching, and that is unrelated to the research paper I need to write in the next week.  I have picked up Contradictions, a book of musings by producer and director extraordinaire Hal Prince.  Next to the reading assignments for Research & Bib, this book feels like fluff.  But it is the heavenly hash of theatre anecdotes:  Prince drops prominent names in the midst of discussing landmark musicals as a confectioner might stud his marshmallow and chocolate delight with peanuts.  And the result for a musical theatre nerd is, well…heavenly.

This afternoon, I read about three cups of coffee worth of the book, and I found myself with a slew of ideas for blog posts.  Closing a book and saying, “I need to write,” is high praise in my mind.  With that, here’s a big announcement.  It’s no secret, but I have not yet trumpeted it from the rooftops:  I AM WRITING A MUSICAL.

I did tweet about this fact so perhaps I have trumpeted the news after all, but the masses might have missed the memo.  Mr. Orin Johnson and I are crafting a work for Youth Sing Praise (check them out here) based on the book of Esther called Just Pretend (check it out here).  It is set to premiere June of 2015.  We began meeting in November 2013 to discuss story, plot, and concept, and the actual writing of it began in March of 2014.  We are a little under two months away from its workshop in St. Louis in January 2015.  We have some really clever and beautiful material so far, but I, in particular, have a great deal of work to do on the book.  Officially, Orin is “music” and I am “lyrics and book”, but we have both made contributions to the other.  I have found it enjoyable that we aren’t strict about who is Rodgers and who is Hammerstein.

On the occasion of this news, I want to share two brief thoughts about creating new works.

I have taken a lot of heart in something our professor—Rob Meffe—has told us in recent weeks about musical development.  “Making a musical,” he states, “is messy.  It is like making sausage, and nobody really wants to know what goes into sausage.”  While I don’t think Orin and I have gotten to the gruesome Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle-esque parts of the process yet—check back with me after the January 10 workshop—there are times when my stomach has churned over it.  Up to now, the main work has been pouring over a lyric, sitting at the piano with a draft of a song, and praying to the muses.  Up to now, we have been blessed with some nice filets and some decently tender cuts.  I predict that after January 10, we will get out the cleavers and grinders.  And while I can’t speak for my partner, my foray into meatpacking is seasoned with just a dash of self-doubt.  What will Orin think of this lyric?  Will YSP participants take to this show?  Did Irving Berlin have this much trouble writing a musical?

I’d like to take a stab at that last question and say, “Yes, he did…at least when he started.”  After having just finished eight amazing presentations on heritage composers in history class and now taking a first-person look this afternoon at the early career of Hal Prince, I think it’s safe to say nobody making musicals really knows how to do it when they start.  Or put another way, I don’t think the musical theatre butchers really know how to make sausage when they set out at the meatpacking plant.  But the crucial thing is that they started doing it.  Eventually they create something that’s palatable, or, if they’re lucky, downright tasty.

And so, my name is Brad, and this is my friend Orin, and we are the newest butchers in town.

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One thought on “On Hal Prince and Making Sausage

  1. Pingback: ‘Just Pretend’ Is Officially Official | 7 1/2 Cents: Musings on Musical Theatre

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