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Letter from the Director: New Line adds thinking to singing

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 8, 2008 - Once upon a time, musicals were about all-American boys and girls falling in all-American love. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Right?

Well, no, that's not really true. Even as far back as the 1920s and '30s, there were lots of other musicals about American materialism, the growth of unions, war, politics, sex, race, class and much more. And that's where New Line Theatre, "the bad boy of musical theater," comes in, now in our 18th season of making intelligent, provocative, adult musical theater.

The New Liners honor the Rodgers and Hammerstein school of musical theater but we believe that, after more than 60 years of that model, it's time to move forward and explore new models and new paths. We like to joke that we make musical theater for people who hate musicals - shows like Assassins, Bat Boy, The Rocky Horror Show, Urinetown, Reefer Madness, High Fidelity, Johnny Appleweed, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and many others.

When we were deciding on our 2008-09 season, there was really only one show for our fall slot. Knowing that we would be part of the St. Louis Political Theatre Festival again, and watching America's thrilling political season unfolding, we knew only the American tribal love-rock musical Hair could open our season right. Never before have there been more meaningful parallels between today and that pivotal year of 1968, when Hair opened on Broadway. And still today, the show retains what the Rev. Martin Luther King called "the fierce urgency of now."

Written by theater rebels Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot, Hair is full of drugs, rock and roll, free love, frank sexuality, a surprising sense of spirituality, plenty of politics and great songs like "Aquarius," "Let the Sun Shine In," "Easy to Be Hard" and "Good Morning, Starshine."

Drawing from the anti-war movement, the hippie culture, the experimental theater movement, the drug culture, acid rock, the Beat poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Eastern philosophies and so much more, Hair emerged in 1967 and 1968 as one of the towering achievements of the 20th century, a work of theater so fully realized, so culturally significant, so shockingly real and honest - and so iconically American - that it still packs the power to move and shock audiences, and to change forever the lives of those who work on it.

We hope you'll share this amazing experience with us. For more info about the show, visit www.newlinetheatre.com/hairpage.html .

New Line's season continues in the spring with the perfect show for those who like a little rock and roll with their sci-fi. Yep, that show could only be Shakespeare's forgotten rock and roll masterpiece, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Bob Carlton's outrageous take on the famous 1956 film Forbidden Planet (the first big-budget studio sci-fi flick) and on Shakespeare's The Tempest. This smart, rowdy, hilarious show throws together Shakespearean bombast, 1950s science fiction (and Cold War paranoia), with rock and roll classics like "Wipe Out," "Born to Be Wild," "Great Balls of Fire," "Good Vibrations," "Gloria," "Pretty Woman," "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" and others. Believe it or not, the show actually won the 1990 Olivier Award (the British Tony Award) for Best Musical, beating out Miss Saigon. Don't ask me how it works. It just does.

Return to the Forbidden Planet takes us on a routine survey flight under the command of Captain Tempest and his crew, as their spaceship is drawn mysteriously to the planet D'Illyria where mad scientist Doctor Prospero and his lovely daughter Miranda are marooned, along with Prospero's trusty robot, Ariel. Rock and roll ensues. For more info about the show, visit www.newlinetheatre.com/rttfppage.html .

Our season closes in the summer with the first St. Louis production of the brilliantly subversive Broadway musical comedy, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with a book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain), based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original play created by Rebecca Feldman and originally performed by The Farm, a New-York-based improvisational comedy troupe. The show places us at an actual spelling bee, surely among the fiercest and cruelest of America's gladiatorial arenas, complete with a few audience members among the spellers. But underneath the sharp, biting comedy, there's an insightful, sometimes difficult look at the dark side of American ambition and competitiveness, and the insecurities and fears we all face every day. We are these kids, we finally realize, always being tested one more time, never able to rest on our laurels. You'll laugh your ass off and then spend the next week on your therapist's couch. For more info, visit www.newlinetheatre.com/spellingbeepage.html .

If you haven't been to New Line before, give us a try. I promise it won't be what you expect.

2008-09 season

New Line Theatre

www.newlinetheatre.com

Hair  - Sept. 11-Oct. 18

Return to the Forbidden Planet - April 30-May 23

The 25th Annual Putnam Co. Spelling Bee -

July 16-Aug. 8

Where: Washington University South Campus (formerly CBC High School)

Also check out: Night of the Living Show Tunes Jan 5-6 at the Sheldon Concert Hall 

Scott Miller is artistic director of New Line Theatre. 

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