ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST, A REVIEW

There’s far too little musical theatre-type television.  Probably most successful was FOX’s long-running Glee.  But maybe the best show was NBC’s Smash, which dealt with the production of a fictional Broadway show, and ran for two seasons.

This spring’s best bet has been Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which recently concluded its first season on NBC.  The show, featuring Jane Levy, is about a young woman, Zoey, who develops an unusual condition.  After she is placed in an MRI during an earthquake in her hometown, San Francisco, Zoey comes to hear the most intimate feelings of people through the song and dance numbers they perform for her view alone.

In the early episodes, Zoey sees this bizarre ability as an annoyance.  She is, after all, a practical, analytical young woman who works for a software company.  But she eventually comes to see this power as a gift.  For through her insights she finds ways to help people.

It may seem strange that Jane Levy, who is not known for singing or dancer, has been cast as the lead in this musical show.  But the former star of Suburgatory sings and dances well in the numbers she performs.  And her co-stars, including Alex Newell, Skylar Astin and Peter Gallagher, are outstanding performers from musical theatre.  Even the actress Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), as her boss, is an engaging singer.

The story lines in this show are much better than the tired ones used in Glee.  Zoey is confronted with real problems, including her inability to decide romantically between two men she works with.  She must also deal with the disabling illness of her father, played by Gallagher.  The combination of story substance and song gives the episodes a poignancy.

Considering the shortage of musical theatre-related TV shows, we should cherish the well-done ones.  I’m hoping to see Zoey back in its second season.

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MEANINGLESS THEATRE

So many people in theatre disregard the basic rules of good writer.  The theatre still host new good plays, even some great plays.  But such plays happen despite the best efforts of many in the theatre.

Perhaps the first rule of good writing requires the writer to deal with things he or she has some personal knowledge of.  It follows that the writer who knows his or her subject matter will also write on matters he or she cares about.  Substance and depth of writing will follow.

But many budding playwrights in recent years have been encouraged to ignore these rules.  A number of playwriting courses have mainly featured playwriting exercises.  In such an exercise, the student is encouraged to write a scene on a situation provided by the instructor.

The result is that the playwrights form the habit of writing on matters they have no personal connection with.  Their plays therefore are forgotten as soon as they are performed.

And if playwriting exercises weren’t enough, many theatres have come to feature such features as the twenty-four hour play.  Competing playwrights are compelled to write their plays within twenty-four hour spaces.  The plays then performed by these theatres thus lack both consequence and the integrity of craft necessary for good theatre.

A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to take what was essentially a master class in playwriting with the late Romulus Linney.  The session occurred through Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) back when EST had a theatre lab in the Catskills.

Linney, who had taught at Columbia and NYU, discouraged developing playwrights from doing exercises.  He encouraged playwrights rather to write plays on matters they cared about.

He also valued Aristotle’s rules of dramaturgy.  In recent decades, Aristotle’s principles have been all but ignored by playwriting teachers.  Only some top screenwriters, such as David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin, have paid attention to them.  As a result so many playwrights have not advanced in their craft.  They lack the level of craft that successful film and TV writers possess.

For with the decline of the theatre of meaning has been a decline in craft.  I was at a one-act play festival a while back.  During one particularly endless play, I overheard a fellow audience member say, “Just shoot me now!”

If audience members are tortured by a play, it should be because the playwright is forcing them to deal with life’s difficult issues.  It should not from lack of craft, or because the playwright is rambling on with nothing of substance to say.

The theatre will not be truly vigorous until playwrights are again encouraged to follow the basic rules of writing.

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TIME PASSING

A college actress, on playing a

Medieval woman, recently said

she had not thought medieval people

Human in the modern sense.

 

But faces reconstructed from

Five thousand years ago appear

As people we would meet today.

 

The sun sets.  The frost comes.

Troy’s towers burnt

Not long ago.

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A GOOD READ FOR THE QUARANTINE

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NATURE FOOLED

Flowers can be fooled

By signs, as can

Smooth-sailing birds.

 

Birds this year

Came early to

A late frost.

 

Flowers opened only

To be buried by

A not untimely

Snow.

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MUSIC PLANS

While we’re all in seclusion my thoughts are concentrating on the task of finishing the recording of what would be my first music CD.  One room in my house works would make a decent recording studio, so I’d like to go ahead with the project.

The CD would be my public debut (outside of productions of musicals) as a composer/pianist.  A while back I recorded the D Minor Piano Sonata.  Now I’m hoping that by the end of May I will have recorded the rest of it: another piano sonata and my Tin Whistle Suite.

Here, as a sample, is the second movement of my D Minor Sonata.

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A READ FOR PEOPLE COOPED UP

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