As with so many other blogs and websites these first weeks of 2017, we thought we’d take just a few minutes to share our Top Tens of 2016. We’ve seen a lot of changes to the StageAgent site, increased the number of new and updated guides featured on the site, and had some record-breaking traffic this year. And we are looking forward to many new and exciting things in the New Year! So without further ado, here are some 2016 Top Ten Lists, based on the highest number of unique pageviews in each category for the year. Some of the results may surprise you. Read on!
All who appreciate good theatre have been given a once-in-a-lifetime gift in the past 18 months, and that gift is Hamilton. In case you live under a rock, yet somehow are reading the StageAgent blog, Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton, a man who was never President of the United States but was just as influential as any in the birth of our nation. Hamilton created our financial systems, the Coast Guard, The New York Post, and was named the first Secretary of Treasury in the United States. Oh yeah, and about 240 years later, some guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a hip-hop musical about him. And it won all the awards. We’ve made up awards to keep giving to this show, just to show how grateful we are. In the time it took me to write the last sentence, it picked up two more.
I kid, but seriously, the hype is real. A true but mostly-untold story, Mr. Miranda (along with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler; director Thomas Kail; musical director Alex Lacamoire; and author of the book, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow), wrapped a semi-biography in the language of this generation—in rap and hip-hop. And Miranda had the vision to tell the story with actors who traditionally would never cross lines of race or gender, so that it can speak to a contemporary teenager who may feel completely disconnected from the founding fathers. And it works beautifully. The bar for excellence has been raised sky-high in the way that great artists have always done.
Hamilton shows its protagonists not as we idealize them to be, but as what they are: people. Fallible people, honest people, hard-working people, desperate people, hungry people. A group of men and women trying to do something nearly impossible—birth a new nation in a new land, with new rules of governance, without a motherland to support them. The country was founded in blood, sweat, slavery. For better or worse, the freedoms we enjoy today are built on this foundation. We shouldn’t look at the Founders as superheroes in powdered wigs, but as humans, sometimes deeply flawed, sometimes incredibly inspiring. Hamilton gives us this opportunity.
Uh…I thought this was supposed to be about Camelot…
I’m getting there. Camelot arrived on Broadway (the first time) in 1960, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. Written by Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe and Moss Hart, Camelot is the story of Arthur, and his journey from foolish teenager to King. (I don’t really have to give you the plot of Camelot, do I? Moving on.)
Camelot is a story of inspiration, of reaching for the stars. It is widely known that President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of the show, and would often listen to the cast album before he went to bed at night in the White House. He was particularly fond of the closing lyrics:
Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.
The Kennedy Administration was often referred to as the “Camelot Era.” Idealistic, hopeful, ever-striving for the next goal. When America truly entered the “Space Race,” it was Kennedy who said:
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others too.”
King Arthur was idealistic too. Perhaps a bit naïve, but hopeful. In his powerful speech closing Act One, Arthur says:
“This is the time of King Arthur, and we reach for the stars! This is the time of King Arthur, and violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness. We are civilized.”
Camelot, of course, is about some other things that aren’t so inspiring. And it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. Arthur fails his mission to keep the peace in the kingdom, war has come to his doorstep—war caused by an adulterous affair between his Queen and Lancelot, spurred on by Arthur’s bastard son (he was no saint, I suppose). But even as the battle is upon him, Arthur turns to a young boy who has come to join the fight, and instead sends him to hide, to live, and to tell the story that for one moment, however brief, there was a glorious kingdom known as Camelot.
Back here in our universe, it’s been an interesting month or so, to say the least. And many of us find ourselves in an uncertain world. It’s a good time to be reminded that it’s always the right time to do the right thing. Arthur didn’t want to sit at the head of a table, he wanted it round, so that all were equal even though he was King. He wanted a world governed by reason, about what was right, not who was mighty. He had a partner in Guenevere, not a subordinate, but an equal.
Throughout history, art has reflected the time in which it was created, whether it serves as a mirror for the present, a reminder of days long gone, or a glimpse into the future. Those who appreciate art often look to it for guidance, or inspiration. Hamilton gives a gritty edge to what has often been a whitewashed history lesson. Camelot presents a magical, idealistic take on the rules of governance. If ever there was a time to have both shows running on Broadway, I think now is that time.
Besides, who doesn’t want to hear Audra McDonald sing Guenevere?
Even though we are currently in the middle of Autumn, it’s never to early to start planning for the big Spring or Summer musical! If you are working with a large group of performers, it can be a massive challenge finding the right show that provides cameos for everyone, is of the appropriate level of difficulty and entertains the audience.
To help with your search for the perfect big musical with a large cast, here are 10 great musicals that require large casts of talented performers. These shows are all fun, challenging and typically, big audience pleasers! Click on a slide to open up our full guide for that show.
StageAgent members ‘fan’ their favorite shows over 1000 times per week. As a result, we get a good sense of what shows the theatre community really likes. I’ve personally been curious if the same shows that are popular in the San Francisco Bay Area are also popular in New York City and other parts of the country and the world.
The slide show in this post displays the top ten most popular musicals, as voted by StageAgent members. While the current top ten are all certainly well-known shows, it’s impressive to see the diversity of composer and genre. Big-time composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alan Menken and Stephen Sondheim are all represented. But no one composer currently dominates the top eight. Genres run the range from dramas to comedies and everything in-between.
Want your say? Make sure to visit the show database and fan your favorite shows! Without further adieu, here is the list of most popular musicals! Continue reading →
So, you know you want to put on a play. Perhaps there’s a show you’ve been burning to produce. I know I have a list: — anyone who wants a director for Life is a Dream, King Charles III, Cymbeline, The Music Man, or Our Betters, let me know!
As we set about producing a play in today’s day and age, I think we must ask ourselves, “Why this play? Why now? Why this medium?”
Why do we need to hear this story, told in this context with these words? And, especially in an age in which many stories can be told on television and film in a very compelling fashion, “Why do we need to see this story told as a play?” These are questions I continually ask myself and my collaborators throughout our rehearsal process. They are the questions that drive me to create theatre – this transient experience, created in a singular moment in time.
Sometimes, the play itself seems to answer these questions immediately. Sometimes, it’s more of a challenge. Producers selecting plays may also use this criteria to drive their lists of dream shows – and yet sometimes logistical factors, a desire to put together a season of plays in dialogue with one another, or the desire to find the perfect play for an ensemble of artists you love set producers on a more directed, play-specific hunt.
Choosing a Season
Producers often organize seasons of plays based on themes, burning questions, time periods or even as a profile of a single playwright. If you know there’s a playwright you like, it might be worth checking out his or her lesser-known works. If you’re organizing a season thematically, you might also want to check out the ‘search by tag’ feature in StageAgent’s show guide search. Each play and musical is tagged according to its theme, so if you want to find plays about love or plays about war or plays about longing, a good place to start is by searching by that tag.
If you’re doing plays in repertory with one another, that opens another entire realm of considerations. How will you double the casting for the two pieces? Is there a way to put different plays in dialogue with one another? I’ve been dying to do Much Ado About Nothingand Othelloin rep for quite a while. A suspected (and false) adultery plot lies at the heart of both plays, and producing them in rep would provide an opportunity to explore these different worlds in conversation with one another. Creating fantasy rep seasons is a hobby of mine – perhaps you can make the fantasies come to life!
Particular artists can also inspire play selection. If you’re looking for a great role for your favorite leading lady, for example, it might be helpful to view her resume on StageAgent for roles she’s recently knocked out of the park. StageAgent lets you read analyses for those characters and see what other characters are similar. For example, if you recently produced Taming of the Shrewwith a phenomenally feisty Kate, you might consider producing Love’s Labour’s Lost and casting this actress in the role of Rosaline.
Want a great ensemble show? Search on StageAgent with the tag “Ensemble Cast” and shows like Rent, Next to Normal, and Clybourne Park will come up. There’s also an opportunity to create a more ensemble feeling to casting by doubling roles. For example, if you reduce the number of actors playing the roles in Twelfth Nightfrom 25 or so (including extra attendants) to twelve, the balance of the cast shifts significantly, giving each member of the ensemble a significant amount of stage time and text, and an critical role to play in the storytelling.
Working within a Budget
And then there are, of course, budgetary constraints. The ever-present reality dictating many of the choices – including the artistic choices – made in the theatre. Myriad factors go through the producer’s mind when examining his or her budget. Here are a few that are generally at play:
Cast size. Small casts are in. Why? It creates an intimate feel and a tight ensemble – but also you have to pay fewer actors, create fewer costumes, etc. Again, you can hunt for the perfect small cast piece using the StageAgent show guide search, which has a filter for cast size. Here are five musicals with small casts that you might want to consider producing.
Time period. Period costuming is expensive, and so setting plays in antiquity can be costly, indeed. That being said, sumptuous costuming can also be an audience draw, so it’s a tricky balance. Depending on the directorial vision and that of the designer, there also may be a away to update the costuming for a period piece – I recently saw a production of David Ives’ adaptation of School for Lies that very effectively preserved the period flavor of Moliere’s piece while updating a significant amount of the costuming (“Frank” wore a black leather jacket and black jeans, for example, and Celimene had the full period skirt bustle, but wore tight, contemporary pants underneath.)
Rights cost. Rights for plays still under copyright must be procured in order to produce. You can browse shows on different licensors websites, directly, such as Samuel French, MTI, and Dramatists Play Service. Some plays, however, were written early enough that they are now in the public domain (for example, all of Shakespeare, Noel Coward and Moliere are now in the public domain.) Another way is to collaborate with a new playwright, who might charge you less to produce his or her play. Directly contacting talented but currently not-very-well-known playwrights Oren Stevens (http://www.oren-stevens.com), MJ Kaufman (http://mjkaufman.com), Marjuan Canady (http://www.marjuancanady.com), and Gary Jaffe (http://www.garyjaffe.net) is a start.
Elaborate design requirements. A play with multiple settings that requires a flying chandelier (ahem, Phantom) or a helicopter flying in (ahem, Miss Saigon) can be MUCH more expensive to produce – though, again, these elements can be a huge audience draw. Some plays, however, have unit sets or require almost no setting at all. For example, Our Town is often staged with nothing more than a ladder and a handful of simple tables and chairs and The Fantasticksmay not even need that. This is another opportunity, however, for directorial and design ingenuity to come into play. David Cromer’s brilliant production of Our Town required a fully equipped and working kitchen, complete with a stove to actually fry real bacon, and he made a very compelling case for this costly addition to the production’s design (a moment involving this was one of the most moving I have ever spent in the theatre.) On the other end of the spectrum, a play that traditionally has rather elaborate sets might be incredibly compelling when paired down by a skilled collaboration between a director and a designer.
Resources Beyond StageAgent
Another great resource for finding plays that might be worth producing is drama critic Terry Teachout’s blog, About Last Night, where he mentions:
I also have a select list of older shows I’d like to review that haven’t been revived in New York lately (or ever). If you’re doing The Beauty Part, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, The Iceman Cometh, Loot, Man and Superman, No Time for Comedy, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit, or just about anything by Jean Anouilh, Bertolt Brecht, T.S. Eliot, Horton Foote, William Inge, or Terence Rattigan, kindly drop me a line.
Of course, these are only places to start. The possibilities are infinite. Let the dreaming and scheming and playing begin!