The arrival of Hair on the Broadway – and later London – stage was akin to the arrival of Bill Haley and his Comets on the world of pop music. Broadway took time in recognising that the world of pop music had changed from the days when it had provided many of the pop hits of the day and change only started when it was proven there was an audience for it in main stream theatre. Hair opened the door for musicals with music reflecting the younger set – musical that became known as rock shows.
One of the first rock musicals after Hair was also successful in New York. It was Your Own Thing – an Off-Broadway show that knew its limitations and did not venture to Broadway. It is fifty years since it opened on 13 January 1968 at the Orpheum Theatre where it played 937 performances.
Your Own Thing was loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It had a charming soft rock score and imaginative staging using back projection in place of sets. The music and lyrics were by Hal Hester and Danny Apolinar who also starred in the show. During its run many actors who were to become ‘names’ appeared such as Marcia Rodd, Raul Julia, Leland Palmer and Sandy Duncan.
The London transfer went the way of most Off-Broadway transfers in not being successful. It opened on 6 February 1968 with Palmer, Apolinar and Rodd recreating their New York roles but ran for only 42 performances.
The Beatles brought the centre stage of the pop industry to Britain and it was here that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were experimenting in their revolutionary change in the sound of musical theatre. It is not surprising that Jesus Christ Superstar was at first a concept album and not then even considered as a stage show. It was the American live concerts and then the Broadway production that brought that. Their Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat had been written for children but when recorded with adult actors the album found another audience and the show itself developed again in a modern (rock) mode.
In the States, the take on the Bible was Godspell and that was a deserved hit, again with a score of the day. Both this and Jesus Christ Superstar are still very much with us having made quite an impact on the musical stage. Two others were purely American successes, Salvation in 1969 and Soon in 1971 – both have disappeared.
But why has Two Gentlemen of Verona not been revived? This show was successful in New York and London and boasted a score by Hair’s Galt MacDermot and it won the Tony for Best Musical. Another Shakespeare spin-off, it was an inventive, tuneful and had a charm that crept over the stage.
By the early seventies there was an acceptance of popular music on the world stage. Hit shows that could boast of modernity such as Pippin, Promises, Promises and Grease in the States and endlessly popular Rocky Horror Show emerging from London’s fringe. Also shows like the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and I Love My Wife would open up to the new sound as well as the changing sexual attitudes in the world of popular musical theatre. Naturally there would be major failures like Rock Carmen and Catch My Soul.
Musicals of today generally bow to the sounds of today and we have also got used to the juke-box musicals actually cashing in on the musical successes of our time. The revolution has happened and there is doubt that it is here to stay.
A listen to the CD’s of Your Own Thing and Two Gentlemen of Verona is a fond way to remember the start of this musical theatre revolution.
RSB Illustrations from the Overtures Archive