A couple weeks back we learned that what the world needs now, in addition to “love, sweet love,” apparently is a Broadway adaptation of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 magnum opus, Jagged Little Pill. Two questions immediately sprang to mind: 1) How did we as a species survive the last two decades without this, and 2) what could Jagged Little Pill the musical possibly be about? In response to the latter, thoughts immediately jumped to one of those I Love the ’90s VH1 specials, where they speculated that the vitriolic “You Oughta Know” was all about Morissette’s soured relationship with Dave Coulier. But surely even the most seasoned Broadway director couldn’t craft two hours of singing and dancing solely around Joey Gladstone. Uncle Jesse, maybe.
So, while we may skip Morissette’s musical and hold out for Jagged Little Pill on Ice, she did get us thinking about what records we’d be curious to see adapted to the stage in grand Broadway style. Consequently, the last couple of days sort of resembled that scene from The Producers where Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder sit amid a slush pile of manuscripts: Androgynous rock star Ziggy Stardust acts as alien conduit sent to warn earthlings of their planet’s final days… Damn, it’s too good. Next!!! But after days of digging and mulling, we finally settled on 10 records we’d gladly pay to see performed as Broadway musicals; and what’s more, we even volunteered some legwork to future producers by concocting potential plots for these non-narrative albums.
Now, we just need to sit back and wait for that phone call from the Tonys. Curtain up.
Tom Waits presents Rain Dogs
Press: “You’ll howl. You’ll whimper. You’ll spend the night with your head in a toilet!” — The Kennel Club
Characters: Charlie, Frank, Lucinda, and Big Black Mariah
Setting: A rainy night on 9th & Hennepin (where all the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes)
Plot: Charlie, an out-of-work accordion repairman, and his buddy Frank, a part-time dive bar piano player, crave the 9th & Hennepin nightlife of booze, broads, and betting shops (“Rain Dogs”). But when Charlie comes under the thumb of local bookie Big Black Mariah (“Diamonds & Gold”), he’s forced to break the news to his steady gal, Lucinda, that he’s skipping town in the morning (“Hang Down Your Head”). Lucinda’s plea for Charlie to stay and settle down with her (“Time”) echoes in his mind as he takes to the night to settle the score with Mariah (“Midtown [Instrumental]”) and decide whether he’s destined to be a husband or a rain dog (“Anywhere I Lay My Head”).
Showstopper: “Downtown Train” finds Charlie on an empty subway car in the early morning dreaming about seeing Lucinda waiting for him on one of the station platforms. It’s his attempt to reconcile the possibility of his wild nightlife and her tender home life, but the dream never materializes. —Matt Melis
Radiohead presents Kid A
Press: “Heartbreaking and tragic, with a dance number in the middle!” – Newsweek
Characters: Jonny, a dying man who doesn’t know how to love. Thom, a failing robot that does. And Maria, the woman for whom they both pine.
Setting: In an automated hospital, where human interaction is kept to a bare minimum to reduce the number of accidental deaths. The future is sterile, near-humanless, and perfect.
Plot: Brought in by a neighbor after collapsing in his apartment’s stairwell building, former flautist prodigy Jonny is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer during the sarcastic number “Everything in Its Right Place”. Unable to convince the hospital’s all-robot staff to leave him to any other fate than being humorlously taken care of during his final days, Jonny resigns himself to his fate and begins taking it out on all visitors while he deals with “How to Disappear Completely”. When a malfunctioning robot, Thom, begins to try to make a connection with Jonny, the two butt heads during the cacophonous “National Anthem” but are eventually brought together (and torn apart) by the lovely Maria, a regular, charitable visitor to the hospital (“Morning Bell”). The play’s emotional climax comes when Jonny flatlines after seeing Thom and Maria holding hands, and his pre-death delusions are scored to “Idioteque”. Does the Ice Age come for Jonny?
Showstopper: The frantic mix of death, love, sex, and fear in “Idioteque”‘s dystopian nightmare. —Chris Bosman
Mountain Goats present We Shall All Be Healed
Press: “Just try not to tweak after hearing these addicting songs!” – The Christian Science Monitor
Characters: John, Martin, and Carrie
Setting: Pomona, CA. Early 1990s.
Plot: Childhood friends John and Martin are a troublesome bunch, petty thieves and vandals that are convinced they’ll live forever (“Slow West Vultures”). They’ve also got a nasty addiction to crystal meth and spend the better part of a summer fucking shit up and getting paranoid in a seedy Travelodge (“Palmcorder Yajna”). One night on the town, John meets Carrie and falls in love (“Linda Blair Was Born Innocent”). Heroin enters the picture and so does a horrible car crash. Martin escapes on his own, John is left without a scratch, and Carrie dies in the hospital (“Mole”).
Overcome with guilt, John endeavors to get clean. He does, then gets an honest job in a liquor store (“All Up the Seething Coast”), but he can’t stop thinking of Martin and the old days (“Quito”). One day, he sees Martin on the street, but pretends not to see him, knowing he needs to leave that old life behind (“Cotton”). That night, a gun-toting robber enters the liquor store, and John shoots him dead (“Against Pollution”). He pulls back the assailant’s mask to reveal it was Martin. Though he’s absolved by law enforcement, John knows he’s eventually going to pay for his crimes (“Pigs That Ran Straightaway into the Water, Triumph Of”). He spends his nights alone, waiting.
Showstopper: “Palmcorder Yajna” scarily, hilariously chronicles the paranoia and terror John and Martin experience as they tweak out in the Travelodge, tearing open the TVs and digging through the dressers for hidden cameras. —Randall Colburn
Bright Eyes presents I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Press: “A heady dose of bright-eyed optimism!” – New York Times
Characters: Conor (a small-town teen who dreams of fame and fortune in the big city), Cheryl (an aspiring artist), and an ensemble of artists, musicians, and poets.
Setting: 1960s New York
Plot: We open in a 1960s classroom on the last day of school, with our protagonist, Conor, in the midst of one of his usual, thrilling daydreams about a plane crash. As the dream (told in monologue under spotlight) reaches its conclusion, “At the Bottom of Everything” kicks in, and the bell for the end of the day rings; we follow Conor as he walks home to his small-town life with his parents, realizing that it’s time for him to move to the city to find his fortune as a musician. We then see Conor, full of steam as he sings the rambunctious “Another Travelin’ Song” on his way to start his new life of independence in the city. Once there he quickly falls in love with city life and a beautiful artist name Cheryl, to whom he writes and dedicates the song “First Day of My Life”. With Cheryl guiding the way, Conor gets swept up into the heady, bustling adventure of city life; through “Old Soul Song”, we see an eventful day of meeting other creative people, staying out all night at parties, and watching New York’s vagabonds and rioters on the street, all of which is new and inspiring to wide-eyed Conor.
After the interlude, we find Conor singing “Lua” alone in his desolate apartment–broke, pale, and sick from too many drugs and not enough nourishment. He stays locked up in his apartment and won’t even let Cheryl in to see him, as he starts to accept his failure as a musician and contemplates suicide. In his darkest hour, he reflects on the death of his long lost brother, finding inspiration in his memory and writing his best and most heartfelt song to date, “Poison Oak”. Slowly he starts to regain his vitality and channels the grief of recent weeks into “Landlocked Blues”, realizing that narcotics and alcohol are just “a liquid cure.” He realizes that inspiration was within him all along and that he has to get out of the city; he concludes the song with “I know I’m leavin’, but I don’t know where to.”
In the finale, we see Conor moving on from the city, his only belongings are his guitar and the clothes on his back, but he is triumphant and full of belief as he catches a ride on the way out, playing “Road to Joy” for all those he passes to hear, concluding with the fearless exclamation: “I could have been a famous singer, if I’d had someone else’s voice, but failure’s always sounded better, let’s fuck it up boys MAKE SOME NOISE!”
Showstopper: The end of act one, “Old Soul Song”, where we finish with Conor screaming, “Yeah they went wiiiiiiiild!”, inspired by the rioters on the streets. The ultimate triumphant, defiant finale “Road to Joy”. —Rob Hakimian
10cc presents How Dare You!
Press: “How Dare You! Megalomania for schizophrenics” – The New York Times
Characters: Mandy Lifejacket (poster model and wannabe air hostess), Arthur R Sake (a schizophrenic filmmaker), The Biggest Boss (power-crazy media mogul), and Trashman (narrator).
Setting: How Dare You! tells the story of two people who collide one evening in Central Park, NY, in 1976 and find their relationship revealed through song. The meeting is heralded by the title instrumental (“How Dare You”) as Arthur looks up to see a billboard of Mandy and then across to the park bench where the real Mandy is sitting forlornly.
Plot: Mandy Lifejacket always dreamed of being an air hostess (“I’m Mandy Fly Me”), but the closest she’s gotten to blue skies is on a modeling assignment, posing for a budget airline billboard campaign. Arthur R Sake is a filmmaker battling schizophrenic desires to, on the one hand, make unsuccessful, if worthy art house movies and, on the other, make tons of money from shooting porn (“Art for Art’s Sake”). He’s pursued by megalomaniac The Biggest Boss (“I Wanna Rule the World”), who offers Arthur untold riches for the latter. “Lazy Ways” indeed. As Arthur and Mandy become lovers, Trashman is on hand to link their “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lullaby” to their fear of salad (“Iceberg”) and close encounters of an oral kind (“Head Room”).
Showstopper: The lovers’ relationship finally unravels with an unanswered telephone call in “Don’t Hang Up”, as Arthur relives his life with Mandy, his anxieties, and his shortcomings. “I know I never had the style or the dash of Errol Flynn, but I loved you,” Arthur pleads while the Trashman delivers the ultimate put-down: “You got a dustbin romance, it’s going down the drain/ You got a low impedance, she’s got a rocky terrain.” When the barman asks, “What’re you drinking?” Arthur replies, “Marriage on the rocks.” And with that the couple’s “bum Guatemala Pensione” comes crumbling about their ears. —Tony Hardy
The Replacements present Let It Be
Press: “Let’s just say… Gary’s not the only one with a boner.” –Star Tribune; “It’s like RENT, but without AIDS!” — Highlights Magazine
Characters: Alex, Dick, Dolly, Donna, Gary, Jane, Otto, and Tommy
Setting: 1980s Minneapolis and St. Paul
Plot: Each character is in their respective apartments, getting ready to go out: putting on their makeup, lacing up their sneakers, or doing their hair — only to sit on the couch and opt for the television (“I Will Dare”). We then meet Otto, who walks around the city streets as he screams his head off about his own teenage angst over Donna (“Favorite Thing”), which is quickly followed by a gang led by Tommy. As they prowl those same streets (“We’re Comin’ Out”), things are abruptly stopped when a heavyset mother grabs Tommy by the ear and drags him to the dentist (“Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”), immediately silencing him. His scene ends with Dolly coming to ask him out, only he’s unable to respond. She sits and pouts on the sidewalk, as we watch two other confused lovers — Dick and Jane — lost and confused (“Androgynous”), singing together on the street corner. A garage door opens up shortly after, revealing a small garage band called “Intermission”, donning KISS makeup and singing, “Black Diamond”.
The show’s second half takes a more personal twist, reintroducing several characters and focusing on their respective demises. We meet Alex, who sits on the stoop of his apartment, as his wife can be seen cooking inside. He tallies off his problems and finally comes to a conclusion (“Unsatisfied”), which ends with him going back inside and hugging his wife. We’re then taken to a club where several scenes are laid out at once: Dick is buying Jane drinks, Donna is fighting with Otto, and Tommy’s sitting alone drinking. Several youngsters are screaming at the band (“Seen Your Video”), and amongst them comes a leather-clad Gary, who “serenades” Dolly, much to Tommy’s chagrin (“Gary’s Got a Boner”). The lights go dark, and the set changes to an empty city street, complete with moon lighting, where Tommy is walking and finally starts to sing again (“Sixteen Blue”). A light comes on in one of the buildings, revealing Dolly and Gary together. He finds a trampled guitar on the ground and starts to strum while leaning on a payphone (“Answering Machine”).
Showstopper: The very Once-like duet of “Androgynous” should elicit tears, in addition to Tommy’s two-hit gut punch of “Sixteen Blue” into “Answering Machine”. —Michael Roffman
Godspeed You! Black Emperor presents F#A# Infinity
Press: “As prophetic and ominous as a looming storm cloud!” — Anarchist News
Characters: The Cowboy, His Lost Love (Industry), The Faceless Man (Capitalism), and A Chorus of Addicts.
Setting: Post-apocalyptic Vancouver, where the sewers are muddied with a thousand lonely suicides and a dark wind blows.
Plot: The Cowboy, clad in hat, bandana, and holster, patrols the city’s scorched Downtown Eastside. A street preacher’s manic cries clamber down East Hastings, echoing off the faded billboards and blown-out skyscrapers. This is a broken world, but a peaceful one. Drug addicts huddle in doorways, warily eyeing The Cowboy, who they fear out of respect. They know he keeps the peace, or whatever is left of it in this once-thriving metropolis. Periodically, The Cowboy sees visions of His Lost Love in the rubble, whose downfall coincides with the decline of industry, having been undone by the gentrification and Big Business that eventually brought about the city’s end.
When a ghostly steam train barrels through the city, it drops off a Faceless Man in a bowler hat and crisp business suit. He goes about recruiting the addicts throughout the streets, building an army to usurp The Cowboy and take control of the city. The Cowboy makes a valiant stand, unloading his six-shooters on the approaching horde, but in the end he’s bested. Visions of His Lost Love and the city’s bygone magnificence flood his dreams, and upon awaking The Faceless Man offers him an ultimatum. Help me rebuild the city again, The Faceless Man says, and I will make you part of the oligarchy, the ruling class. The Cowboy refuses. The Faceless Man rebuilds the city. The addicts remain addicts, still living in squalor, but now working miserable menial jobs. The Cowboy’s body is strung in the town square. Hope is lost.
Showstopper: The chugging strings, drums, and electric guitar squalls that climax “East Hastings” underscore The Faceless Man’s army as it marches down the titular street towards the lone Cowboy, his six-shooters drawn. —Randall Colburn
Elvis Costello presents My Aim Is True
Press: “A sure shot of music, murder, and madness” —Better Homes and Gardens
Characters: Declan MacManus, Declan’s Wife, Alison, Alison’s Husband, Lieutenant Officer Detective Inspector Stevenson, and Oswald
Setting: the small town of High Infidelity, U.S.A., in the 1950s
Plot: Red-shoed, spectacled factory worker Declan MacManus has grown increasingly frustrated with his lot in life (“Welcome to the Working Week”) and the pains he must undertake to provide for his spoiled, henpecking wife (“Miracle Man”). When Declan returns to his hometown, High Infidelity, U.S.A., to take a job as foreman in the local vanity factory, he learns that his old high school flame, Alison, has married his boyhood best friend. Declan’s prior infatuation returns as he sees more and more of Alison (“Sneaky Feelings”). When Alison gets into a violent argument with her husband at the annual town sock hop (“No Dancing”), Declan offers her a ride home and confesses his true feelings (“Alison”). Alison promises Declan that she’ll make it worth his while if he returns later that night. When Declan arrives home to find his own wife in bed with another man (“I’m Not Angry”), he actually sees it as a chance to escape his loveless marriage and drives off in high spirits to meet Alison (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”).
The next morning Declan awakens barefoot and without memory of the previous night’s events. He soon learns that Alison’s husband has been murdered and that local law enforcement official Lieutenant Officer Inspector Detective Stevenson is launching a full investigation (“Mystery Dance”), with Declan as the chief suspect (“Blame It on Cain”). The plot thickens when an alleged eye witness with a swastika tattoo named Oswald fingers Declan as the killer (“Less Than Zero”) and the murder weapon turns up alongside Declan’s red shoes (“Watching the Detectives”). Is Declan really a killer or just a pawn in Alison’s cruel game of manipulation and murder?
Showstopper: “Watching the Detectives” marks Alison’s fall from grace in Declan’s eyes. Her husband is dead, Declan is suspected of murder, and she files her nails with indifference while the detectives drag the lake near her home looking for the murder weapon. “Watching the detectives. He’s so cute,” sneers Declan, scorning the thoughts he assumes are running through a twisted, feminine mind like Alison’s. —Matt Melis
Kanye West presents My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Press: “We feel the character of West was treated unfairly in this otherwise spectacular odyssey.” – Misogynist Monthly
Characters: West, a self-obsessed self-help guru who can’t stop sleeping around. East, West’s polar opposite and the woman who wants to help West become a better man. South, the destructive woman that West can’t stop seeing.
Setting: The back alleys of the 1990s Chicago club scene, grimy and gritty and usually cold, only warmed by two (and sometimes more) bodies finding heat in each other.
Plot: To the tune of “Dark Fantasy”, we meet West, a self-proclaimed lothario who meets and seduces women with steps he’s perfected through the writing of his own self-help manual, ‘Man-pocalypse Now!’ (the presentation of which is scored to “Power”). He ends up running into East and South, two women who don’t fall for his practiced charms. In a classic case of wanting what you can’t have, West chases after both women simultaneously while also keeping up his promiscuous ways (“Hell of a Life”). Eventually, he wins both of them over and begins dating both women. But things take a turn for the worse when East gets pregnant and finds out about South all in the same day. Both women leave West behind, to his crushed chagrin (“Runaway”).
A year passes between Acts I and II, and it opens with West reaching out to South first (“Devil in a New Dress”, “Blame Game”), a decision that causes problems for West’s relationship with East and her child (“All of the Lights”). After months of trying not to decide between the two women (and thus the two parts of his personality) to the tune of “Lost in the World” and, trying to end it all (“Monster”, into a reprise of “Power”‘s coda), West realizes who he is supposed to be with. He tries to mend bridges with East (the “All of the Lights” interlude), but finds her having moved with no word of where she went. As the lights go down, West wonders to himself, “Who Will Survive in America?”
Showstopper: The ghoulish self-hate of “Monster” as West contemplates himself and his life, before he thinks about attempting suicide by jumping off the Sears Tower. —Chris Bosman
Al Stewart presents Past, Present & Future
Press: “I could dig it more with a De Lorean in it” – Rolling Stone
Characters: Dr Who, Clara Oswald, Nostradamus, Napoleon, Hitler, and The Kennedys
Setting: It’s 2013. Soon to hand the Doctor Who baton to Peter Capaldi, present incumbent Matt Smith prepares for one last trip in the Tardis. Pointing to a long shelf of dusty vinyl sleeves, the good Doctor tells his comely assistant, Clara, to pick any album at random and he will take her song-by-song to anywhere featured on the record. Uncannily, Clara plucks out Al Stewart’s 1973 time travel history lesson, Past, Present & Future. “Oh dear,” sighs Clara. “Looks like period costume again. How come I never get to dress like Barbarella?!” “Sorry. No budget,” chimes in the producer. “This time we’ll be onstage, not on celluloid.”
Plot: In Past, Present & Future, the Doctor and Clara traverse the 19th and 20th centuries, taking tea with British First Sea Lord John Fisher in 1914 (“Old Admirals”), calling in on a lonely Warren Harding, the 29th US president inaugurated in 1921 (“Warren Harding”), and cruising the streets of London’s Soho district in 1970 in search of bad fashions (“Soho (Needless to Say)”). The time travelers’ odyssey bookends the buildup to World War II (“The Last Day of June 1934”) and the fallout from war (“Post World War II Blues”). A further diversion finds them unable to penetrate a frozen Russia (“Roads to Moscow”), and the Doctor reveals a penchant for Beatles-inspired psychedelia, which may end in blindness (“Terminal Eyes”). Finally, they land in the mid 1500s to kidnap the French seer Michel de Nostredame and spirit the reluctant clairvoyant away to confront the subjects of many of his prophecies.
Showstopper: The Tardis is put through its paces in the final act as major events, including the Great Fire of London, death of Charles I, coming of Napoleon, rise of Hitler, death of the Kennedys (“three brothers born in the New Land of America”), and fall of the Berlin Wall, are decoded from the writings of Nostradamus through the extravagant song of the same name. Each verse takes the travelers to a new time and space, leaving the Doctor and Clara quite exhausted and a bemused Nostradamus chilling out at Berlin’s famous nightspot Berghain in a now unified Germany. —Tony Hardy