The Elements Of Music Book

The elements of music book

The elements of music book

The book also called the libretto is the least appreciated and yet most dramatically important element of a musical. It is the narrative structure that keeps the score from being nothing more than a disjointed medley of songs. As a result, the books of most Broadway musicals were a series of scenes, jokes and sight gags designed to get from song to song. As long as the script provided excuses for Al Jolson to sing a few hits or Marilyn Miller to do a dance routine, theatergoers were satisfied.

This made for a much more satisfying kind of theatrical entertainment. More than one expert has observed that musicals with great scores and weak books tend to fail, while those with mediocre scores and solid books have a better chance of succeeding. And all this must be done within a script that seems skeletal compared to a full length drama. At least fifty percent of a musical's running time belongs to the songs and dances.

Elements of music

When selecting a story for adaptation, the creative team must first determine that music will add to the effectiveness of the story. Not all stories sing, and relentlessly tragic tales are better suited to grand opera.

The main requirement is to have a situation that allows characters to experience a wide range of emotions. It is in the transitions from hope to joy to despair to hopefully final triumph that characters can find something to sing about. So why bother turning an already effective story into a musical? Since time immemorial people have found it easier to connect with sentiments set to music. Songs help audiences relate to charactersl.

What to Listen for in Music

Getting historical figures to sing can be tricky, since many in the audience approach famous characters with pre-conceptions. British audiences loathed the same show, forcing it to close in just a few weeks.

Successful musicals with truly original stories are few and far between.

The elements of music book

While it is neither impossible nor undesirable to build a musical on a completely original story idea, it is just not done very often.

Many have theorized on this issue, but no one I know of has come up with a convincing explanation. But approximately 9 out of 10 successful musicals are based on pre-existing stories, plays or films.

Some musicals people think of as completely original were actually adaptations. Company was based on a series of one act plays by librettist George Furth.

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Betty Comden and Adolph Green developed the idea for Bells Are Ringing from the picture of an overworked operator on the back cover of a Manhattan phone book. Michael Bennett was approached by two dancers looking to create a troupe of Broadway chorus dancers that could develop new musicals.

Taped workshop sessions with various dancers sharing their memories led to the birth of A Chorus Line. Of course, it helped having Neil Simon shape their stories into a touching but hilarious book. As in non-musical plays, the ending of each scene in a book musical must project the action forward, pointing the audience's interest into the scenes to come.

Since good showtunes often capture a moment of transition, realization or decision, a song or a brief reprise is often used to bring scenes to a neat close. This is why librettists must work in close collaboration with composers and lyricists to determine where songs fit and how to get into song as seamlessly as possible.

Audiences now cringe at obvious song cues "Tell us about it, Jane.


The modern musical libretto is almost always written in a two-act format. Audiences are accustomed to it, and intermission sales refreshments, souvenirs provide theatre owners with crucial income. If nothing else, an audience forced to sit for hours is tougher to entertain.

To put it bluntly, if you don't give audiences a pee break, they will take one in the middle of crucial scenes!

Those who write a one or three act show can rest assured that others will eventually re-format it to two acts. This fact of life has plagued the authors of Man of La Mancha , a one-act that is frequently performed with an unauthorized intermission.

An Introduction to the Elements of Music

The first act does not have to end with a cliff-hanger, but we should be curious to see what happens next. Examples of memorable Act One endings:.

The elements of music book

Louis turned "The Trolley Song" into a dream sequence, robbing it of any significance and doing nothing to point to the next act. Both shows failed despite classic scores, primarily because their cinematic story lines did not adapt well to the two-act stage format. The end of Act Two is even more important. It is what audiences walk out with, and a powerful final scene can make up for a lot of shortcomings earlier in the show.

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Check a dozen of your favorite musicals, and you will find that most offer a solid dramatic or comic kick as part of the finale. All writers had better like rewriting! It is the nature of creation that one has to reshape and polish one's work. This is especially true when a writer has to appease the army of collaborators involved in a musical. With the exception of Kiss Me Kate , every musical that ever opened out of town or in New York previews required book revisions.

Some problems do not become evident until a show gets on its feet in front of paying audiences.

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Keep the plot line clear - People won't sit through a musical if the story does not make sense at all times. Nearly everyone knows the basc plot to Hamlet, but few could make sense of the rock musical Rockabye Hamlet. Although it was directed by the great Gower Champion, this incoherent mess died a quick death. This avoids expensive union overtime charges and gets audiences home at a decent hour.

The elements of music book

When a show is in trouble, it is easiest for those working on a show to blame the book. After all, it costs amazing amounts of time and money to add new songs or replace cast members, while changing the book simply means ordering the author to cut or revise.

Musical Elements: Elementary, My Dear Noah

I once worked on a musical which shall go nameless that was having a disastrous pre-Broadway tour. The book was probably the one solid thing the show had going for it.

Thankfully, the star became ill and the show closed out of town, leaving the book writer's reputation intact for better projects. Now that many musicals are virtually sung through, librettists are less appreciated than ever. The international hit Phantom of the Opera is often thought of as the work of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, while librettist Richard Stilgoe is practically unknown outside of his own family.


Of course, the same can be said for Phantom 's lyricist, Charles Hart. In sung-through musicals like this one, where does the book writing end and the lyric writing begin? The book writer gets almost no credit if a show succeeds, and most of the blame if it fails. So it is not surprising that good librettists are few and far between. Most of the people who might once have worked in musical theatre take their talents to television.

Who can blame them? When writing for a sitcom can bring a six-figure annual salary, why spend years writing a musical that may never make a cent? And yet, the madness still infects a few.

The Elements of Music: Melody, Rhythm, and Harmony

Those of us who love the musical will keep our fingers crossed in the new century and hope that a fresh crop of solid librettists are set to appear.

Key Book Elements A musical book must do the following: Keep the story line clear and easy to follow.

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Create characters that are easy to relate to, without resorting to stereotypes. Good luck! Create situations that call characters into song. Move in and out of songs as smoothly as possible.

The elements of music book

Hand over much and sometimes all of the plot and character development to the songs and choreography. Make the audience care at all times. If the action gets dull, nothing guarantees an audience will stay to learn the ending!

The elements of music book

Originals Successful musicals with truly original stories are few and far between. Scene Structure As in non-musical plays, the ending of each scene in a book musical must project the action forward, pointing the audience's interest into the scenes to come.

Ending Act One The modern musical libretto is almost always written in a two-act format. How will Tevye's family carry on? Its a sensational coup de theatre. Annie has the orphan girl's long-lost pooch Sandy pop out of a gift box on Christmas morning, winning a guaranteed cheer from the audience. Rewrites All writers had better like rewriting! A Thankless Task When a show is in trouble, it is easiest for those working on a show to blame the book.

With the book and score accounted for, who has to come on board to make a musical happen? History of Musicals What is a Musical?