How to write a musical

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How to write a musical
NOT a definitive guide!
The Showtune Structure

Verse and chorus (refrain) structure (such
as the title song of Oklahoma!)
Brand new state!
Brand new state, gonna treat you great!
Gonna give you barley, carrots and pertaters,
Pasture fer the cattle,
Spinach and termayters!
Flowers on the prarie where the June bugs zoom,
Plen'y of air and plen'y of room,
Plen'y of room to swing a rope!
Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope.
Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin' lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!
We're only sayin' you're doin' fine,
Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K.
Showtune Structure - AABA

Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ from Crazy for
You)
A – main melody (repeated)
 B – ‘release’ or bridge – contrast
 A – with a twist at the end

A
I got rhythm, I got music
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
A
I got daisies, in green pastures
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
B
Old man trouble
I don't mind him
You won't find him 'round my door
A
I got starlight
I got sweet dreams
I got my man
Who could ask for anything more ?
Who could ask for anything more?
Twist
Song Types in a Musical

Transition songs

Realisation songs

Decision songs
Song types in My Fair Lady

Ballads – love songs (‘On the street where
you live’) and emotional songs (‘I’ve
grown accustomed to her face’)
Charm songs (‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’)
 Comedy songs (‘A little bit of luck’)
 Musical scenes (‘You did it’)

Bob Fosse’s three song types
‘I am’ songs

‘Jet Song’
When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.
When you're a Jet,
If the spit hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You're a family man!
You're never alone,
You're never disconnected!
You're home with your own:
When company's expected,
You're well protected!
Then you are set
With a capital J,
Which you'll never forget
Till they cart you away.
When you're a Jet,
You stay a Jet!
‘I want’ songs

Love songs like ‘Something’s coming’

Dramatic songs like the ensemble reprise
of ‘Tonight’
(see next slide for words)
RIFF
The Jets are gonna have their day
Tonight.
BERNARDO
The Sharks are gonna have their way
Tonight.
RIFF
The Puerto Ricans grumble: "Fair fight."
But if they start a rumble,
We'll rumble 'em right.
BERNARDO
We're gonna hand 'em a surprise
Tonight.
RIFF AND JETS
We're gonna cut 'em down to size
Tonight.
BERNARDO AND SHARKS
We said, "O.K., no rumpus,
No tricks."
But just in case they jump us,
We're ready to mix
Tonight.
ALL
We're gonna rock it tonight,
We're gonna jazz it up and have us a ball!
They're gonna get it tonight;
The more they turn it on the harder they'll
fall!
RIFF AND JETS
Well, they began it!
BERNARDO AND SHARKS
Well, they began it!
ALL
And we're the ones to stop 'em once and
for all,
Tonight!
ANITA
Anita's gonna get her kicks
Tonight.
We'll have our private little mix
Tonight.
He'll walk in hot and tired,
So what?
Don't matter if he's tired,
As long as he's hot
Tonight!
TONY
Tonight, tonight,
Won't be just any night,
Tonight there will be no morning star.
Tonight, tonight, I'll see my love tonight.
And for us, stars will stop where they
are.
Today , The minutes seem like hours,
The hours go so slowly,
And still the sky is light . . .
Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night!
RIFF
I'm counting on you to be there
Tonight.
When Diesel wins it fair and square
Tonight.
That Puerto Rican punk'll
Go down.
And when he's hollered "Uncle"
We'll tear up the town!
RIFF (MARIA sings ‘Tonight’)
So I can count on you, boy?
TONY
All right.
RIFF
We're gonna have us a ball.
TONY
All right.
RIFF
Womb to tomb!
TONY
Sperm to worm!
RIFF
I'll see you there about eight.
(JETS, SHARKS, MARIA,
TONY, and ANITA sing simultaneously)
SHARKS
We're gonna rock it tonight!
They're gonna get it tonight,
They began it,
They began it,
The began it.
We'll stop 'em once and for all.
The Sharks are gonna have their way,
The Sharks are gonna have their day,
We're gonna rock it tonight. Tonight!
JETS
We're gonna jazz it tonight!
Tonight!
They began it,
And we're the ones to stop 'em
Once and for all!
The Jets are gonna have their way,
The Jets are gonna have their day.
We're gonna rock it tonight.
Tonight!
ANITA
Tonight, tonight,
Late tonight,
We're gonna mix it tonight.
Anita's gonna have her day,
Anita's gonna have her day,
Bernardo's gonna have his way
Tonight, tonight,
Tonight, this very night,
We're gonna rock it tonight!
MARIA
Tonight, tonight, I'll see my love tonight.
And for us, stars will stop where they are.
MARIA AND TONY
Today the minutes seem like hours.
The hours go so slowly,
And still the skiy is light.
Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night,
ALL
Tonight!

Another type of ‘I want’ song is ‘A boy like
that’, where Anita and Maria clash, only to
wind up in harmonious agreement on the
power of lov

New songs which serve special dramatic
needs (such as light relief, in ‘Gee Officer
Krupke’)
Song placement in
a show

Emotional high points
– when dialogue isn’t
enough (such as in
‘Hello Dolly’)

Characterisation – making stronger points
than mere words can (such as ‘Pineapple
Song’ in Cabaret)
Important points in a show

Opening number (an example of a
‘Production Number’) – either to wow the
audience, or to set the scene (such as
‘Tradition’ in Fiddler on the Roof)

The main ‘I want’ song – usually early in
Act 1
such as ‘I have confidence’ from The
Sound of Music
or ‘King of Broadway’ from The Producers
MAX:
I used to be the king...
WORKMAN, BUM, BAG LADY:
The King?
MAX:
The king of old Broadway...
My praises they would sing
A Ziegfeld so they'd say
My shows were always filled with class
The best champagnes would fill my glass
My lap was filled with gorgeous ass
You couldn't call me crass in any way!
We
We
We
We
believe
believe
believe
believe
you, thousands wouldn't
you, ev'ry word
you, thousands couldn't
each word we've heard
MAX:
There was a time
When I was young and gay...
But straight
There was a time when I was bold
There was a time
When each and ev'ry play I touched
Would turn to gold
CHORUS:
There was a time
He wore the finest clothes
His shoes were always new
Ahh!
MAX:
Now I wear a rented tux
That's two weeks overdue!
CHORUS:
Poor Bialy, what a shmoozer
Poor Bialy, what a shame
Poor Bialy, what a loser
Poor Bialy, goodbye fame
The ‘Ten o’clock number’ – towards the
end, in order to keep audience interest
(ballads such as ‘Memory’ in Cats or
comedy showpieces like ‘Brush up your
Shakespeare’ from Kiss me Kate)
 The Finale - an emotional wallop,
leaving a powerful last impression (often a
reprise, like ‘Old Man River’ in Showboat)


The reprise – when all or part of a song
is repeated to make a dramatic point
(such as ‘I don’t know how to love him’ in
Jesus Christ Superstar)
(see video clip)
Composers’ considerations

Composers must be careful to make sure
they do not mask the lyrics (listen to the
clarity of ‘Mix Tape’ from Avenue Q)

Showstoppers – all musicals must have
one! Sometimes these will be a chart hit
and earn more money for the show.
Often, they can make or break a musical
(e.g. ‘The Circle of Life’ from The Lion
King)
To rhyme or not to rhyme?

Rhyme is one of a lyricist’s most potent
tools

Watch to the clever internal rhymes in
‘You won’t succeed on Broadway’ from
Spamalot
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHwjmyGP1N4
ROBIN:
Well...let me put it like this.
In any great adventure,
that you don't want to lose,
victory depends upon the people that
you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to this
news:
We won't succeed on Broadway,
If you don't have any Jews.
You may have the finest sets,
Fill the stage with penthouse pets,
You may have the loveliest costumes
and best shoes.
You my dance and you may sing,
But I'm sorry, Arthur king,
You'll hear no cheers,
Just lots and lots of boos.
ENSEMBLE:
Boo.
ROBIN:
You may have butch men by the score
Whom the audience adore,
You may even have some animals from zoos,
Though you've holes and krauts instead,
You may have unleavened bread,
But I tell you, you are dead,
If you don't have any Jews.
They won't care if it's witty,
or everything looks pretty,
They'll simply say it's shitty and profuse.
Nobody will go, sir,
If it's not kosher then no show, sir,
Even Goyem won't be dim enough to choose!
Put on shows that make men stare,
With lots of girls in underwear,
You may even have the finest of reviews.
The audience won't care, sir,
As long as you don't dare, sir,
To open up on Broadway
If you don't have any Jews.
You may have dramatic lighting,
Or lots of horrid fighting,
You may even have some
white men sing the blues!
Your knights might be nice boys,
But sadly we're all goys,
And that noise that you call singing you
must lose.
So, despite your pretty lights,
and naughty girls in nasty tights,
and the most impressive
scenery you use...
You may have dancing mana-mano,
You may bring on a piano,
But they will not give a damn-o
If you don't have any Jews!
Once in every show
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song
That goes like this?
Where is it? Where? Where?
A sentimental song
That casts a magic spell
They all will hum along
We'll overact like hell
For this is the song that goes like this
Yes it is! Yes it is!
Now we can go straight
Right down the middle eight
A bridge that is too far for me
I'll sing it in your face
While we both embrace
And then
We change
The key
Now we're into E!
*hem* That's awfully high for me
But as everyone can see
We should have stayed in D
For this is our song that goes like this!
I'm feeling very proud
You're singing far too loud
That's the way that this song goes
You're standing on my toes
Singing our song that goes like this!
I can't believe there's more
It's far too long, I'm sure
That's the trouble with this song
It goes on and on and on
For this is our song that is too long!
We'll be singing this til dawn
You'll wish that you weren't born
Let's stop this damn refrain
Before we go insane
For this is our song that ends like this!
END
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