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Mellencamp: the musical

February 27, 2008
The long-discussed John Mellencamp/Stephen King stage musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” at last has an opening date.

It’s scheduled to premiere in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre in April…of 2009. (The Alliance, FYI, won the Tony Award for Oustanding Regional Theatre in 2007).

While the pair and their collaborators (including director Peter Askin who staged “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” off Broadway) take the time to do what they do, we who are awaiting a look and listen can consider the history of big name rock and pop songwriters who have attempted to create original musicals.

Sure, Burt Bacharach and Hal David did fine with “Promises, Promises” in 1968, but since then, things have been a bit rocky.

Prior to scoring with the retreat tunes in “Mamma Mia!”, the ABBA guys had great success in London with their original musical “Chess.” That success, though, wasn’t matched in a rewritten Broadway version (which was again rewritten for a road tour).

Paul Simon’s “The Capeman” famously crashed and burned on Broadway, although having seen it, I’d argue that the problems lied in the concept and book more than the strong music.

Harry Connick Jr.’s “Though Shalt Not” didn’t fare any better: Its bad reviews combined with bad timing—it opened in September of 2001—make it barely a Broadway footnote.

Jim Steinman—who penned most of Meat Loaf’s hits—penned the over-the-top lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Whistle Down the Wind.” The Brits know it, but it has never made it to Broadway. A short U.S. tour just ended.

Skipping over the previously written songs for “The Lion King,” Elton John had a mid-size hit with “Aida,” a London smash (soon opening in New York), “Billy Elliot” and a bomb with “Lestat.”

Which leaves us with Duncan Sheik, whose outstanding “Spring Awakening” won last year’s Tony Award for Best Musical and is in the midst of a healthy Broadway run. See, it can happen.

So what’s the secret in transitioning from popular songs to Broadway?

Your thoughts?
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