What is the Broadway Songbook?
Michael Waterston, Ordway 9/21/15
The 1970s were a formative period in American history and culture. Equality and human rights movements, a maligned war effort, and a turbulent economic landscape had led to increasing social and political unrest.
The angst was shared across the country, but an increasingly frustrated populace was ignored and forced to watch as the course and content of the social dialogue was controlled by a small segment of powerful and influential figures who refused to accept the changing landscape.
During this time, there was a marked shift in the music industry. Artists began writing extremely personal, introspective songs that spoke to the current state of our society. Some toed the line, while others were unapologetically blunt in sharing their views on everything from women’s rights and race equality, to anti-establishment and anti-war protests.
There was a different feeling to music in the 1970s. The emotions and the stories became more intimate as musicians began adding an extra dimension to their work. Mesmerizing melodies and catchy lyrics were bolstered by the message they communicated, the stance they took, and the meaning behind them. This approach was quickly adopted in the way that Broadway framed their performances. The narrative focus began to shift away from the plot and onto the characters themselves.
We sat down with Broadway Songbook’s James A. Rocco (Writer, Director, Host) and Jeffrey P. Scott (Writer, Producer) to discuss what inspired the series and how it will explore the stories behind Broadway and mainstream music’s relationship.
What is the Broadway Songbook?
JEFFREY: The Broadway Songbook is a series of musical theater concerts that explore the history, meaning, and effect of Broadway on popular American culture. The two-hour shows are equal parts entertainment and education. In the past, we’ve focused on master composers (Rogers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc.) and distinct periods in the development of the American musical (the early years, the 1950’s, Broadway and Rock and Roll, etc.)
What was the inspiration behind Broadway Songbook’s creation?
JEFFREY: The inspiration for the Broadway Songbook mostly came from James’ vast knowledge of Broadway and his love of sharing it.
JAMES: I’ve worked in theatre basically since I was three years old. I directed my first show at 16, and have been performing on Broadway, writing, directing, and producing musical shows worldwide for over 50 years. So the Broadway Songbook really grew out of the frequent, intimate conversations I would have with friends and family.
How is Broadway Songbook different from typical musical productions?
JAMES: These shows present highly polished musical numbers, but we perform them in a much more intimate, cabaret style, which allows us to explain the background and influence of the songs and shows.
JEFFREY: The audience for the Broadway Songbook is one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen. It crosses age and socio-economic categories, it appeals to those who already love Broadway, and to those who are entirely new to it. The vast majority of audience members are repeat ticket-buyers, many of whom proudly proclaim that they’ve seen all 10 shows produced to date!
Why do you think the artists and songs featured in Broadway Songbook: The ‘70s Songbook had such an impact on Broadway, and vice-versa?
JEFFREY: The singer-songwriters of the 1970s expressed a new introspection in their popular songs. Suddenly, the singer’s state of mind and emotions were all important, and singers like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, Laura Nyro, and many others moved our awareness to ourselves. The 1970s has been called the “Me Generation” and this new style of music expressed that perfectly. The “turning within” movement affected Broadway, too, and the “non-linear” or “concept” musical was born. Many composers rose to acclaim with shows that had little traditional plot line, focusing instead on the characters’ inner states, grappling with questions about self-fulfillment. Shows like Follies, Company, and A Chorus Line are perfect examples.
What can ticket buyers expect to see at Broadway Songbook: Songbook of the 70’s?
JAMES: A one-of-a-kind evening filled with great performances of some of the all-time best songs and Broadway shows of the 1970s. And an inside explanation of what happened musically and theatrically during the 1970s.
JEFFREY: There really is no other show quite like Broadway Songbook. This isn’t your typical, passive theater experience. You’ll actually feel like you’re a part of the performance, and that you’re engaging with the performers.
What do you hope people will feel when they watch the Broadway Songbook and after they leave the theater?
JEFFREY: We hope they will feel like they’ve just had a fantastic night out. That the evening was great fun, enjoyable, and enlightening. We’re sharing our love for these artists and the stories behind their most beloved songs, so we hope that everyone will enjoy the journey with us.
JAMES: And they can’t wait to attend the next show in the series!