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EVER AFTER: The Last Years of Musical Theater and Beyond

Talking about musicals is a thing of the past. Not only don’t people do it much anymore, those few who still bother to speak almost exclusively in the past tense. Books about musical theater’s various “golden ages” revisit compulsively the same distant terrain over and over. Books about the quixotic nature of musicals today – or, at the very least, just yesterday - well, nobody wants to go there.

Nothing more painfully sums up the current state of musical theater than this lack of interest in what is being done now; who has written what lately. And how does it sound?

Handwringing we have in abundance. Where has musical theater gone? The very question traces its own unspoken, backward-glancing spin: Why isn’t musical theater as it once was?

Well, how could it be? Over the latter decades of the last century the whole business was forced to its knees, battered, from without, by radical shifts of taste in popular music and even norms of literacy, and from within by the decimation of so many creative links to its past and future via attrition and premature AIDS-related death. That musical theater managed to survive at all is, in fact, something of a miracle.

Back in the year 1997, my theater editor at the New York Times Arts & Leisure section, Andrea Stevens, asked me a torturous question: “What is the story with musicals today?”

My tentative answer came in at nearly 3,000 words and ran on the last Sunday in August. Trends, such as they existed at all, were noted, the previous season’s musical output was assessed, the forthcoming season’s projected productions were subjectively itemized and a handful of promising young composers were briefly profiled; most of them, for the first time under the banner: All the News that’s Fit to Print.

Thereafter, on the last Sunday in August, for the next four years, Andrea encouraged me to do it again. And again. Gradually, a snapshot emerged of recent musical theater in microcosm. So much detail got left out, though, due to the limitations of space in a daily newspaper. A larger canvas really was needed.

Thoughts about expanding these Times pieces into a book led to a much more daunting realization: no-one had yet written the history of the last 25 years in musical theater, period.

Taking as a not-in-the-least-bit-arbitrary starting point that moment just before the arrival of British mega-musicals in America when a new generation of young theater composers began to stir Off-Broadway, this book now treads where nobody much strolls anymore. My focus almost exclusively? Writers of original musicals. Revivals, I have virtually ignored. Let someone else write that history.

“Ever after,” we all know, is a state of fairy tale bliss; the future reduced to a reassuringly pillowed present, safe as the now vanished past.

Are these the last years of musical theater?

Yes. And no. Let me tell you about them.
--Barry Singer


Articles from The New York Times, The New Yorker and more.
"I cannot imagine a reader who admires Churchill not having a good time with this book. I know I did."
-Michael Korda
Winner ASCAP DEEMS TAYLOR AWARD for Music Writing.
"A superbly written, utterly fascinating survey of the recent, largely unchronicled history of the American musical."
-Robert Kimball
"Should readjust our perspective on the history of American popular song."
Music by Vernon Duke
Book & Lyrics by Barry Singer