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Study Musicals

Successful musicals, from 1776 to Wicked, teach us about the form. Here we feature comments by composer-lyricist Noel Katz and others, as they offer insights on the writing. You'll also find DVDs and music. Musicals A to F . G to L . M to R . S to Z

Learning from Great Musicals

Noel KatzIntroduction by Noel Katz

People go to musicals to be entertained. But the writer of musicals, on some level, also goes to learn something. To see what works, and what doesn't work. To avoid the mistakes the musical makes; to emulate its successes.

If you don't like any of the musicals you see, you probably shouldn't be writing musicals. If you like every musical you see, you need to develop some critical acumen. But when you study the great musicals, examining them carefully, and discern what attracts you and what repels you, you'll develop an aesthetic that will guide you towards (or away from) certain choices in the writing of your own musicals.

In the period following World War One, musicals were pretty weak. And a new generation of songwriters started asking questions: Why can't musicals be about normal middle-class people? Jerome Kern's shows at the Princess Theatre provided an answer. Why can't musicals incorporate jazzy harmonies and rhythms? The Gershwins provided an answer. What would happen if complex rhyming were matched with straightforward and singable melody? Rodgers and Hart answered that one in spades.

All the great writers knew their musicals. Ira Gershwin and E. Y. Harburg had all of Gilbert and Sullivan memorized. Conversely, no great musical has been written in a vacuum. People don't suddenly spring forth and write a successful musical. It's the writers who turn a keen eye to the existing repertoire who create the hits that will be tomorrow's great exemplars.

Links to commentary

Musicals A to F . Musicals G to L . Musicals M to R . Musicals S to Z

About Noel Katz

Noel Katz writes musical comedies: The most recent, Our Wedding, was actually his wedding, got full page coverage in The New York Times and the CD sells at www.weddingmusical.com. Murder at the Savoy (or, Pulley of the Yard) sold out at the 50th Edinburgh Festival, got five stars from The Scotsman, and is one of four productions he's had in Great Britain. Spilt Milk was spotlighted in The New Yorker and Popsicle Palace was well-reviewed in The Los Angeles Times.His other musicals include Area 51, The Christmas Bride, On the Brink, The New U. and The Heavenly Theatre.

Noel Katz teaches improvisation: For years, he's been a highlight of Artistic New Directions' Summer Improv Retreat. He's done the scores for a variety of Second City (NY) improv-based revues, including We Built This City on Rent Control, A Time For Heroes and Hoagies, Generation F'd and the all-improvised revue, And Then He Wrote. He's utilized song improvisation at Fairlegh-Dickinson University, Circle-in-the-Square and National Dance Institute.

Noel Katz songs are often heard in cabarets and at auditions.The New York Sun praised his incidental songs for the play, Couplets, at Collective Unconscious, as did Talkin' Broadway for his title number for Cloud Nine.Lunatics and Lovers was a recent revue of his songs at The Triad including "Fugue For Cell Phones," "How Could They Have Missed?" and "She Smelled Like Chocolate."

To send suggestions, comments, or questions write to carol@musicalschwartz.com

Recommended book


"Beating Broadway" A recommended book with analysis and "how to" advice

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