HOW MUSICALS WORK (and how you can write your own): Julian Woolford
Nick Hern Books

Pub: 2012
Rec Price: £12.99

Review: Alexander Ray, 30 08 12

Informative in its theory, practical in its information. A seminal examination.

Julian Woolford unpicks one of the great theatre mysteries in this informed HOW MUSICALS WORK – which is subtitled and how to write your own. The thing about the great (and even good) musicals is that they look so easy. A big story is told in broad sweeps in a seamlessly joined narrative with a succession of entertaining songs.

What’s not evident when enjoying one are the many skills required in putting one together – you can’t, for instance, write the ‘play’ and drop songs in when it seems right. Because the works are multi-layered – structure, lyrics, music, choreography – you have many elements to consider; and that’s before you start thinking about characterisation, motivations, themes and so on. And then ensuring you vary regularly the tone or pace of the songs . . . keep your protagonist to the fore with songs . . .

Woolford analyses all main constructional elements in great detail; but he’s always practical and always readable.

For the person approaching writing a musical it’s all laid out, with regular exercises which themselves reveal a pile of information. For the more experienced writer, wanting to develop their skill, there is the detail, much food for thought, and again the exercises to really sharpen up the much needed techniques.

The sections dealing with structure (the hidden framework for all musicals) are vital for potential creators and extraordinarily informative for those who want to understand the form better. Woolford puts much store by the idea of the monomyth and explains this with clarity and infectious enthusiasm; usefully warns us, too, that we should never use this idea as a means of creating a story – create the story first and structure it with an eye to the monomyth.

Woolford also outlines plans for setting up first readings and development beyond and after first performances.

HOW MUSICALS WORK serves both as an absorbing book to read and a handy reference tool for specifics. As useful to people who want to study (and even review) the form as well as those who want to create works, this book is crammed with theory but never leaves the practical behind.

2012-08-31 10:27:26

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