Friday, November 15, 2019

Plotting the Musical by Warren Bull

Plotting the Musical by Warren  Bull

Image from Alex Zamora on Upsplash

I have written before about plotting a song, i.e., identifying the motivation and aspirations of the character in a song and following the journey of the character during the events depicted in song. Right now I am planning to write and direct a comedic political musical skit with a number of songs and characters as part of the local fringe festival.

I find writing the explanatory scaffolding is easier than plotting a novel and harder than plotting most short stories.  It does not make sense (to me) to have one character after another simply stand up and sing. Admittedly some quite successful musicals have skimpy plots. Others toss any coherent story out the window in favor of a musical extravaganza. For example, in the old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney “Lets put on a show” movies, the show starts in a barn or a backyard and ends in a flashy finale that could take place only in a film studio set.

I have written parody lyrics to seven tunes sung by or about political figures. That was the easy part. The mood I want is more playful than condemning. I have references to the President, the Vice President, two Supreme Court Justices, and two Senators. 
I think I need to add an emcee to introduce the event and a piano player to comment musically and ironically on the action. The President is the protagonist. Because I’m writing the show and directing it and producing it, I get to play that part. It seems to me that the most effective presentation would be to stay in character until the very end when, like Judy and Mickey, I drop out of character. 

Two wonderful singers have agreed to participate and I persuaded a great jazz pianist to join us.

My tentative outline of the event starts: An introduction by the emcee with some humor; the President appears sings and rushes off; the piano makes a musical comment by playing a few bars of Hit the Road, Jack.

Then two characters each give a brief statement of their interaction with the Commander in Chief and then sing a song followed by a musical commentary.
The Prez reappears sing and dashes off again. Another musical riff.
Two more characters repeat the actions above. The man in the White House sings his swan song. The singers croon along with him.

I step out of character (somehow.) The singers join me in a joke song. Then we engage the audience in a final farewell tune.

Of course I am still changing lyrics and sharpening the spoken parts at the moment. 
It sounds complicated as I read over this. Thanks for helping me think about the process. I think I’ll go lie down for a while. Mental exercise wears me out because I rarely do it. 

What do you think? 


  1. While I love musicals, I have to admit I've never given much thought to how they work.

    Now you've given me a lot to think about.