Wizards and Villains and Playbills, Oh My!: The Niche Musical and the Internet
In the study of current-day musical theatre, it is easy to see the staggering range of specific topics used as the subject of new musicals. For example, Avenue Q, a loving parody of “Sesame Street”, and Wicked, an adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, which is an adaptation in itself of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, are two massively different shows which premiered in the same year. These are two shows with fairly specific subject matter built with a fairly specific audience in mind that managed to do well, critically and financially, on Broadway. However, not all shows with specific subject matter are destined for Broadway: some may have too limited an audience to make a Broadway premiere seem feasible or are simply not designed with a Broadway audience in mind, and yet ‘niche musicals’ like this may still manage to find a large national audience. [title of show], A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog are all ‘niche musicals’ that have been able to find greater audiences than they would have with simply a stage production through the connectivity of the Internet.
Of these shows, [title of show] is the only show to have a premiere on Broadway, which it did in 2008 after a successful run off-Broadway in 2006. The show, with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and book by Hunter Bell, first came into being when the two friends decided to write a musical for the first ever New York Musical Theatre Festival with only three weeks of notice. They had wanted to write an original musical but found that none of their ideas were working. However, they eventually realized that their conversations about writing the show were more interesting than any of the ideas they had, and so they decided to instead make the show about writing the show and invited Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, two actress friends of theirs, to help them. The show is very much a ‘niche musical’ because it is full of references that would only be understood by major Broadway musical fans. For example, one of their songs, “Playbills and Monkeys”, lists the names of several Broadway shows which bombed terribly. [title of show] was successful at the Festival and in its run off-Broadway, due in part to its interesting meta-theatrical concept: all of the actors in the show play condensed versions of themselves, with their lines and jokes based on their own behavior, and Bell and Bowen continued to add material to the show as it progressed through each stage of production about that progression.
One of the most interesting facets of this meta-theatricality, however, is not present in the show itself, but rather in “The [title of show] show”, a video series on YouTube detailing [title of show]’s road to Broadway. This ten-part series features entirely new material with the same cast as the stage production, using the same kind of humor...