Broadway Story

Students – and my own children – respond so passionately to musical theatre music. Many of them live and breathe it.

(Judging from the increasingly dysfunctional college audition process, this is true across the country. I’m told it’s harder to get into a top 10 music theatre program than it is to get into Harvard!)

I think I know one of the reasons. We are hardwired for story. As humans, we crave storytelling and gravitate to a well-crafted story.

Broadway in the post-Rodgers & Hammerstein area has prioritized storytelling at multiple levels, from the plot of the show to the individual song. A well-crafted contemporary “show tune” conjures up an entire world with its storytelling. Among his many skills, Stephen Sondheim is a master storyteller.

It’s ironic that as Broadway has evolved to more storytelling, my favorite music, jazz singing, has evolved away from storytelling. Billie Holiday was nothing if not a storyteller. But we use songs from the pre-storytelling Broadway era (Gershwin, Porter) and focus increasingly on harmony, improvisation, intellectual games.

Is it any wonder that it’s harder to sell students on Jazz than on Broadway?

I leave you with a fully-conjured world in four minutes, from an old friend and brilliant storyteller, Celia Keenan-Bolger.