In the middle of watching the witches of Oz all-singing and all-dancing their way through their musical adaptation last night I couldn’t but think: this is a musical based on a book based on another book. What a strange trajectory, none that any could have foreseen.
Yes, the fam went out to the theatre last night, the first night ever the girls have seen a true musical performed live on stage. I was trying to remember the first time I saw a road show production of a Broadway musical and I’m fairly certain it was at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles, a revival of Annie Get Your Gun starring Debbie Reynolds. “I can’t believe you’re old enough to have seen her while she was still performing,” says my Suze. Thanks, hon, for making me feel so damn old.
The girls have been in drama productions locally these past two years, and their school puts on an annual musical that they participate in, so they are familiar and comfortable with the form. It was a real eye-opener for them and, as I suspected, they totally got sucked into the story the way you should when you’re young and at the theatre.
Me, I’m thinking about other things. I’m trying to compare the story on stage with my memory of the book. I’m thinking about the family-friendliness of modern American musical theatre — helped along by the good folks at Disney — who have reconditioned audience expectations toward happy endings on even the most dour of stories. I’m seeing an auditorium full of money, tickets and concession items and employees and performers with salaries, all generated from a book. Ten year ago did Gregory Maguire look at his manuscript and even dare to imagine all this? One person, sitting along with their words, thinking: perhaps one day this will be seen by thousands of people, five shows a week, multiple city tour, Grammy-winning soundtrack.
But what writer doesn’t think of things like this every once in a while. We play the game of “what if” in creating our fictions, why not use a little of the same for the possabilities in our future, for our work? My YA novel as a musical? A TV series, perhaps, but with a load of caveats. Even then I’d have to be deeply involved. But there is this one story that would lend itself to the stage, a nautical epic, with all the right kind of drama suitable for banter and duets and the occasional dance sequence.
What if, indeed. Best to put those thoughts aside and do the serious work of finishing the manuscript at hand. No one ever made a name for themselves with half-finished stories.