All over the place, it's becoming a fiscally and socially relevant form of entertainment again, as popular songwriters like Elton John, Bono, and The Edge are flexing their muscles with written stage musicals and shows like Glee and Smash are bringing you what are essentially hour-long jukebox musicals every week (hell, I'd even bet that Cop Rock could've been a hit this year!). My concern, though, is that there's no inspiration behind any of these musicals; just an excuse to put a recognizable property like Spider-Man or Disney's Newsies onstage. For every quality theatrical product (FINALLY a revival of Merrily We Roll Along!), there's another jukebox musical rehash or movie transferred to the stage...maybe Michael John LaChiusa had a point after all. Musical theatre needs to embrace uniqueness and every piece must have its own voice.
But on May 8th and 9th, at 8 PM in the Waller Hall Studio Theatre, we got it, as two of Indiana's greatest minds transformed an easily-recognizable film property into something of their own...
...Yes, Joe York and Anthony O'Toole got their hands on Die Hard.
You may ask yourself, "Didn't Dundore just say he's not into 'transferring movies and recognizable properties to the stage'? He's a pretentious hypocrite!" To which I'd proceed to make a fist (WITH FISTS!) and floor you with it. Joe York (book and lyrics), who previously brought us the musicals Black Friday and Discovering Eden, was apparently the only person who noticed that Die Hard was screaming out for a musical adaptation, and decided that Anthony O'Toole was the perfect musical collaborator. He couldn't have made a better choice: O'Toole's work is fast and professional, and his tunes are driving and catchy. Most importantly, he speaks Joe's language: As the Glen Kelly to Joe's Mel Brooks, O'Toole takes Joe's chanted lyrics/air guitar solos/whatever else he throws at him and fashions them into a tune...it's an awesomely inspired partnership that come along only once in a while...face it, for every Rodgers and Hammerstein, there are about 10 of the Glory Days guys (which was an interesting flop in and of itself, but that's a story for another day).
The newly minted team of O'Toole and York decided to put on a staged reading of Die Hard, where I and the rest of the audience could see where this differed from most screen-to-stage adaptations. Rather than a transplanted rehash of plot, like the Disney stage adaptations, they took an irreverent tone to the plot, and every member of the cast played the script with tongue firmly in cheek. The spontaneity was such that we expected any random line to lead to a musical number! With the movie's iconic lines, that was what we got, as York employed the catchphrases of John McClane (played by Caleb Feigles, an IUP stage veteran) in loud, boisterous songs.
Not only did the show deconstruct the plot of the movie, but the songs themselves were a near-perfect send-up of current musical tricks (the power ballad, villain song resembling a power ballad, 11-o'clock number ALSO resembling a power ballad...and a rap, courtesy of office pervert Ellis). Joe's goal was to pay his way to NYU's Musical Theatre Workshop, and he's proven that he deserves every cent of it. More importantly, he and O'Toole have proven that there IS legitimately inspired musical theatre out there, no matter what package