Friday 19 February 2021

How About This Idea

 I read it in this morning's Globe & Mail, the story of POWs assigned to a minimum security camp in the boreal forest of Manitoba. No one bothers to escape, but the POWs slip away at night through the bush to town dances a few miles away. There it is--love, music, chorus of characters, subtext, humour, passions, journey, landscape. One of the POWs meets someone in town. A fraught relationship ensues. Community prejudices activate; time and world events intervene; individual passions prevail, or not. There's a stand-off, a burial, an ultimate celebration (not necessarily in that order . . .).

Oh yes, one of them gets the idea to order watches from the Eaton's catalogue, out of which they make the compasses they need to find their way through the bush to town.

Thursday 11 February 2021


Continuing along the lines of matters raised in the previous entries--thank you for sticking with me, aunt Taco and uncle Bean--I'm setting aside my Charlotte and Wilbur again.

For one thing, I've got the forthcoming production of "Wilbur's Tale" (Tic Toc Ten Performance Festival, streaming April, 2021), co-created with Sarah Bergbusch, to give me my Charlotte's Web kick. For another, I read about the production of Charlotte's Web, the Robinette adaptation, that Alberta Theatre Projects staged for their Christmas show, 2017. (That production featured a web made of circus rigging, over which a human Charlotte in harness climbed and crawled--Charlotte played by Manon Beaudoin, whom I would meet two years later during her turn as Golem in Globe Theatre's The Hobbit.) While I'm no fan of the Robinette, the fact that it was so recently done by one of the major regional theatre companies tells me it's unlikely another would be interested in even a better adaptation of CW at this time.

So it's on to other things. I intend to re-open this blog to other than musical theatre concerns that have taken up the last hundred or so entries. 

These may include: the way they call hockey games on tv these days, how to succeed at being my mother's table without even trying, that time the river rose so fast we had to wait eight hours, or who might live in that third-floor room.

Tuesday 19 January 2021


 Yesterday I read Charlotte's Web again and, for the first time, the adaptation by Joseph Robinette. 

E.B. White's novel presents the darkness and light of human experience from birth to death through the hours, days, seasons, years. Its presents ways of knowing beyond science and religion. It honours language by making Charlotte a writer and everybody else a reader. It illustrates the constraints we live within and the wonders that can release us. It offers characters of mystery and depth and profound simplicity. It does all this with wit, with love, and with exquisitely quiet prose that utterly rehabilitates the worn-out sentiments of trust, friendship, terror, hope, and despair.

I want to adapt the story not to change it, but to present it in a new way: sung, danced, staged. My assumption, as I've said in this blog before, is that the power of White's novel would be enhanced by the power of musical theatre. 

There's little magic in the Robinette adaptation. It reads like a mediocre sitcom, or mediocre MGM drama circa 1948. It attempts to accommodate as many moments from the novel as possible. In doing so, it flattens the magic.

If I'm going to pursue my adaptation and, say, apply to an arts granting agency for funding, I would make my case along the lines sketched in this blog entry. I would say "adapt" does not mean simply "change the story." In this case, it means change the medium in which the story is presented. (Even at that, changes are made: selection of details, revising dated racial or gender references, inserting bits of my own brand of wit and wisdom (if any).) It means making the case for musical theatre which, for me, comes from this simple realization: that the deepest emotional engagement I feel while experiencing any form of art comes as a musical theatre audience member. As an artist, what I want most is to create such an experience for others.

Monday 18 January 2021

Hiatus Hiatus

 Dedicated readers of this blog (good sunny morning to you, Uncle Satchell and Aunt Paige) will have deduced that my work on Charlotte and Wilbur, a musical adaptation of Charlotte's Web, has not been happening lately. (True, though an All Terrain Theatre production of "Wilbur's Tale," a different adaptation, for one actor, of the same book, is underway for the Tic Toc Ten Short Performance festival in early April.)

Now it's time to either extend the hiatus, give up on the project altogether, or get back to work on it. To help me decide, I've been listening my way through a stack of musical cast recordings, an excellent podcast series called "Piece By Piece" (not the Kelly Clarkson single), and my own piano stylings via songbooks from the library. Today I'll read Charlotte's Web again to gauge the current status of my commitment to it. 

There's one other item that has been haunting my work on this project for a year: the Joseph Robinette musical called, yup, Charlotte's Web. This is the version that has been around for a couple of decades. I've had a copy for months but until today have refused to open it for fear of (1) copying it subconsciously and/or (2) finding it so good that how could I possibly attempt something better.

If I'm going ahead with my own musical adaptation, I must come to terms with why, especially since one already exists.

Today I'll decide.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Phone Book, the Musical

 It's often said of great singers that they could sing the phone directory and make it work. If they were pros, they could.

But why not make the directory more singable for them with, say, a story. There would be songs about numbers, about the alphabet. Voices would speak with varying purpose. The fate everyone faces is extinction. Someone, or maybe two, would emerge from the anonymity of listings and define a new form.


Thursday 22 October 2020


 I just watched Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, a film of that show's closing night. I've been touting the pandemic appropriateness of Charlotte's Web. After Rent, set amid AIDS in NYC, I'll renew my efforts to deliver the complex solace of Charlotte's and Wilbur's story. 

This work has taken a new turn: a one-woman version I'm creating with Sarah Bergbusch while my Charlotte and Wilbur musical is in hiatus. 

Whatever the version, whatever the story, it must give us life exposed, threatened, affirmed--characters in the light of the stage darkness.

Monday 28 September 2020


It is common knowledge, in the narrative of musical theatre history, that Oklahoma changed everything. No longer was a collection of clever songs enough. Now they had to serve the story. The story for Curly is to attract Laura. This is his pitch: 

When I take you out tonight with me

Honey, here's the way it's gonna be

You will sit behind a team of snow white horses

In the slickest gig you've ever seen

So goes the intro bit. 

Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry
When I take you out in the surrey
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top

Consider the rhyme. The repetition of "surrey" works because we get the tag "with the fringe on top."

Watch that fringe and see how it flutters
When I drive them high steppen strutters
Nosy pokes will peek through their shutters and their eyes will pop!

How gorgeous is that. We get the three -utters, then the tag that closes the -op rhyme.

The wheels are yellow, the upholstry's brown
The dashboard's genuine leather
With eisenglass curtains you can roll right down
In case there's a change in the weather

Oscar Hammerstein had the knack for making the rhyme seem natural, effortless, perfect for the moment of the story.

Two bright side lights winkin' and blinkin'
Ain't no finer rig I'm a thinkin'
You can keep your rig if you're thinkin that I'd keer to swap
Fer that shiny little surrey with the fringe on the top

Winkin, blinkin, thinkin, thinkin "that I'd keer to swap."
And now we're ready, having been cued back to "pop," for the closing "top."

Would you say the fringe was made of silk?
Wouldn't have no other kind but silk
Has it really got a team of snow white horses?
One's like snow, the other's more like milk

Here we're back to the intro melody. In the most recent revival of Oklahoma, the potential self-consciousness that might scuttle the silk/milk rhyme is avoided by drawing out the mmmmmm-ilk. By the time it lands, we're into the rhythm of the next verse.

All the world'll fly in a flurry
When I take you out in the surrey
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top
When we hit that road hell-for-leather
Cats and dogs will dance in the heather
Birds and frogs will sing all together and the toads will hop!

Again, a-a-a-b, c-c-c-b. The natural world falls into line.

The wind'll whistle as we rattle along
The cows'll moo in the clover
The river will ripple out a whispered song
And whisper over and over

With that, permission to repeat:

Don't you wish you'd go on forever
Don't you wish you'd go on forever
Don't you wish you'd go on forever
And you'd never stop?
In that shiny little surrey with the fringe on the top

Heading for lullaby now . . .

I can see the stars gettin' blurry
When we ride back home in the surrey
Ridin' slowly home on the surrey
With the fringe on top
I can feel the day gettin' older
Feel a sleepy head near my shoulder
Till it falls kerplop

The sun is swimming on the rim of a hill
The moon is taking a header
And just when I'm thinking all the earth is still
A lark'll wake up in the meader

Hush, you bird. My baby's a sleepin'
Maybe got a dream worth a keepin'
Whoa, you team and just keep a creepin'
At a slow clip clop
Don't you hurry little surrey
With the fringe on the top

The rhyme always gets where it needs to be.