12 Unexpected Subjects for Musicals

Apparently, on Broadway and elsewhere, one can break out into song over any topic imaginable, no matter how odd. Here are a dozen real-life musicals covering such weird and improbable subjects as Jerry Springer, Hannibal Lecter, and public restrooms.

1. Octomom! The Musical (2009)


Photo courtesy Octomom! The Musical

Shamelessly satirical, this retelling of modern celebrity Nadya Suleman and her famed octuplets’ rise to fame debuted in Los Angeles. But was the real Suleman invited? “We have a whole row of seats—14 of them—reserved just for her,” said director Chris Voltaire. It's no longer playing, but you can see the whole show on YouTube.

2. Moby Dick (1992)

A musical adaptation of the classic novel? Not by a long shot. Instead, we get phallic puns. A handful of scantily-clad schoolgirls plan to rescue their struggling academy by staging the Herman Melville story in a local swimming pool. The title lends itself to plenty of unfortunate innuendos and this production left no double entendre unexplored.

3. Urinetown (2001)

Proof that a weird musical isn’t necessarily a bad one, Urinetown took home three Tony Awards. That’s quite impressive for a show about a city in which private toilets are outlawed and the citizenry is forced to utilize pay-toilets instead.

4. Ben Franklin in Paris (1964)


Image courtesy
Amazon.com
Ben Franklin in Paris tracks the beloved founding father’s diplomatic efforts in Europe and includes such musical numbers as “I Invented Myself” and “God Bless the Human Elbow."

5. Charles Darwin: Live and in Concert (2001)

Think Benjamin Franklin’s an unorthodox subject for a musical? Try Charles Darwin. This one-man show features what star and lyricist Richard Milner (a singer/anthropologist) describes as “antiquarian rap.”

6. Carrie (1988)

Stephen King on Broadway? Based on the novel of the same name, Carrie herself is an awkward teenager with an abusive mother, telekinetic powers, and a violent menstruation phobia. Predictably, it didn’t fare well: The New Yorker even asked various playwrights if Carrie was “The Worst Musical of All Time.” Ouch! An Off-Broadway revival this year didn't fare much better.

7. Silence! The Musical (2005)

“Hello, Clarice!” This foul-mouthed off-Broadway farce bills itself as “the unauthorized parody of The Silence of the Lambs" and sports a biting sense of humor. Included are gratuitous violence, songs about nether-regions, and tap-dancing sheep.

8. Via Galactia (1972)

Via Galactia was intended to be a landmark in theatrical special effects and included UFOs and lasers with a plot set 1000 years in the future. Yet this strange show was the first Broadway production to lose over $1 million. In the words of one witness, “Via Galactica seemed plagued from the start. For a moment the show was to be called up, but when posted next to the Uris [the theater it debuted in] name on the marquee, it sent an unfortunate message.”

9. Hope! Das Obama Musical (2010)

It’s a German musical about the political rise of President Obama. Need I say more?

10. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane… It’s Superman! (1966)

Spider-Man wasn’t the first superhero to get the Broadway treatment. That honor goes to the man of steel himself, Superman. The show was adapted into a TV special in 1975 and the clip above has to be seen to be believed (“Oh, Superman, you’re WONDERFUL!” “Yeah, I know.”)

11. Jerry Springer: The Opera (2003)

Despite the title, this show does include spoken dialogue. Unsurprisingly, however, it does not include any semblance of class. Even less startling was the inevitable controversy this musical caused when BBC opted to air a staging of it in 2005 (The Daily Mail newspaper counted “8,000 cases of swearing”).

12. Triassic Parq (2012)


A phony Morgan Freeman narrates the dramatic story of a Tyrannosaur sex-change. I am not kidding one bit about this. This parody of Jurassic Park is told from the perspective of some genetically-revived dinos dwelling on a tropical island who hail the local laboratory as their deity. Live actors in colorful clothing bring these singing saurians to life.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]

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Why Do Orchestras Tune to an A Note?
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iStock

When orchestra members tune their instruments before a performance, it almost always sounds the same. That’s because across the world, most orchestras tune to the same A note, using a standard pitch of 440 hertz.

This is the result of international standards that have been in place since the 19th century, according to WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York City. Currently, standard tuning frequency is set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international group that makes recommendations on everything from what safety labels should look like to how big the hole in a pen cap should be. A standard called ISO 16, first recommended in 1955 and confirmed in 1975, “specifies the frequency for the note A in the treble stave and shall be 440 hertz.”

The ISO didn’t pull that frequency out of thin air. During the Industrial Revolution, a rush toward standardization and universality led to multiple international meetings that aimed to bring orchestras all over the world to the same pitch. Standardizing pitch had important ramifications for the international music scene.

Historically, the pitch that orchestras tuned to could differ wildly depending on where the musicians were playing. “In the course of the last 400 years in Europe, the point that has been considered ideal for a reference pitch has fluctuated by some 5 or 6 semitones,” musicologist Bruce Haynes explained in his book, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of ‘A.’ In the 17th century, a French performer might tune his or her instrument a whole tone lower than their German colleagues. The standards could even change from one town to the next, affecting how music written in one location might sound when played in another.

As a writer for London's The Spectator observed in 1859, “It is well known that when we are performing Handel's music (for example) from the very notes in which he wrote it, we are really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G.”

In the 19th century, a commission established by the French government tried to analyze pitch across Europe by looking at the frequencies of the tuning forks musicians used as their reference while tuning their instruments. The commission gathered tuning forks from different cities, finding that most were pitched somewhere around 445 hertz. Over the years, due to bigger concert halls and more advanced instruments, pitch was rising across most orchestras, and instruments and voices were being strained as a result. So the commission recommended lowering the standard to what was known as “the compromise pitch.”

In 1859, the French commission legally established diapason normal, the standard pitch for the A above middle C, at 435 hertz. (The music world would still be debating whether or not pitch had risen too much more than a century later.) Later, 435 hertz became enshrined as a standard elsewhere, too. In 1885, government representatives from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Württemberg met to establish their own international standard, agreeing on 435 hertz. The agreement was eventually written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But not everyone was on board with 435 hertz. The Royal Philharmonic Society in London believed the French pitch standard was pegged to a specific temperature—59°F—and decided to adjust their pitch upward to compensate for their concert halls being warmer than that, settling on 439 hertz. Meanwhile, in 1917, the American Federation of Musicians declared 440 hertz to be the standard pitch in the U.S.

In 1939, the International Standardizing Organization met in London to agree on a standard for concert pitch to be used across the world. A Dutch study of European pitch that year had found that while pitch varied across orchestras and countries, the average of those varied pitches was around 440 hertz. So it made sense for the ISO to choose A 440. Furthermore, radio broadcasters and technicians like the BBC preferred A 440 to the English A 439 because 439 was a prime number and thus harder to reproduce in a laboratory.

World War II delayed the official launch of the 1939 ISO agreement, but the organization issued its A 440 decision in 1955, then again two decades later. A 440 was here to stay. That said, even now, pitch does vary a little depending on the musicians in question. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra notably tunes to 443 hertz rather than the standard 440 hertz, for instance. While A 440 may be the official “concert pitch” across the world, in practice, there is still a little wiggle room.

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