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12 Unexpected Subjects for Musicals

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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)


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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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ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 

1. A BEATLES-ESQUE POP SONG

If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”

2. A NOVEL THAT MADE IT PAST THE FIRST ROUND OF A FICTION CONTEST

Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.

3. A 'NEW' REMBRANDT PAINTING

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In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.

4. DREARY LOVE POETRY

What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.

5. A CREEPY CHRISTMAS SONG

Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”

6. A CROWDSOURCED ABSTRACT PAINTING

Art made by a robot.
Instapainter

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”

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