Thursday, July 19, 2012
Discussing Austin's Summer Musicals -- Robert Faires et al., Austin Chronicle
In today's Chronicle, along with reviews of the productions discussed:
Of Thee I Sing (and Dance)
The musical is America's gift to theatre, and here's the local state of the union
What better time to celebrate the musical than the month in which our nation was founded? After all, musical theatre, like jazz, is one of America's contributions to world culture. And having recently noted the Founding Fathers' keen interest in the melodious ("Revolutionary Score," June 29), I feel they'd be particularly proud that this all-singing, all-dancing art form was born on our shores. Though, really, how could they not, when it put them in a musical of their very own?
Sadly (for me, anyway), 1776 is not among the seven musicals you can find on Austin-area stages this July. (Ah well, at least we had a tip of the tricorn to U.S. history with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in June.) Still, the month's unofficial mini-jamboree of show-tuners is worth noting, not because it commemorates the art form's American-ness (you can bet your stars-and-bars the July cluster of musicals has more to do with lighter theatrical fare for the mind-melting summer than patriotic pride) but because of the breadth of the selections and producing companies. This small sampling includes two works from the musical's post-war golden age (1946's Annie Get Your Gun, 1959's The Sound of Music), two from the post-Watergate era of anti-romance (Into the Woods and Chess, both from 1986), and two from our own post-millennium age in which musicals are either so derivative or so self-mocking that they routinely advertise the genre in their titles (Legally Blonde: The Musical and Xanadu, both from 2007). Moreover, the productions run the gamut from all-amateur to fully pro. In this one area in this one month, you can chart the evolution of the musical over six decades and see how it's handled from the Great White Way to Main Street, U.S.A. (Drive a little farther, and you can further your musical education with The Rocky Horror Show [Smithville], Fiddler on the Roof [New Braunfels], and Hello, Dolly! and Hairspray [San Antonio].)
The current cluster of musicals offered an ideal opportunity to check in on the form as it's treated in Central Texas today. After three members of the Chronicle Arts team each reviewed a musical now running – Jillian Owens, The Sound of Music; Dan Solomon, Chess; myself, Annie Get Your Gun), we compared notes on what we'd seen and what it said about the state of the art form in our area.