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Monday, 12 January 2009

Slumdog Singalong

Maybe this sounds strange, but recently, through the dark days that dawn in London in January, I find myself wanting to write a musical. I’ve been told my entire career my songs would fit right in on Broadway, with comments ranging from celebratory to slanderous, mainly the latter. I think the musical may be the most derided entertainment form. One look at the typical fare and you can’t help agree with its detractors. It seems the cheesiest, corniest, most unbelievable subject matter is reserved exclusively for musicals, be it the shameless rehashing of a film in the name of commerce (The Producers and Hairspary are the quality examples, Shrek, Saturday Night Fever and Lord Of The Rings: The Musical scrape the bottom of the barrel) or ridiculous, unentertaining concepts, i.e. Rollerskating in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Starlight Express; I was recently forced to sit through a West End production of La Cage Aux Folles. I can’t believe someone thought men doing cartwheels in drag for 3 hours with no semblance of a story would be interesting. Shame on them.

Other fodder includes songwriters trying to cash in on their catalogs, creating flimsy plots to fill their publishing coffers. Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out, The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, John Lennon’s Imagine are prime examples (they even made a Boney M musical called Daddy Cool). Movies are just as guilty of perpetrating this trend, the High School Musical series an all too familiar reminder (they have confirmed 5 sequels. Someone save us please!). I ask the simple question: What’s so silly about someone stopping in the middle of the street to sing and dance? If Marlon Brando looked cool doing it in Guys and Dolls, it can’t be all that bad.

Back in the 1920’s, and moving well into the 1960’s, the musical was considered a serious art form, attracting the best and brightest songwriters, directors and performers. Virtually the entire catalog of standards, the songs of George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter, had origins in Musicals. Movies studios did their part, producing musical masterpieces like Singing In The Rain and An American In Paris, creating vehicles for song & dance stars Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. There are still serious autuers out there in stage and film who have tried over the years (some more successfully than others) to breathe new life into the genre. Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown on Broadway, and Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Brian De Palma, and Lars Von Trier just to name a few.

Over the holidays in New York, I saw a movie that truly energized me, restored my faith in commercial art (Akon was beginning to look like the Grim Reaper). I haven’t been this excited by a piece of cinema since watching Pulp Fiction at age 15 (saw Tarantino’s masterpiece a total of 5 times in the theater. Only other movie I did that with was Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs are awesome). The film is Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle. It’s a quirky rags-to-riches story told through flashbacks, the pivot point being an Indian version of the melodramatic game show, “Who Wants To Be An Millionaire”. This movie has it all: an inventive (yet totally unbelievable) script, brilliant performances by a cast of unknowns, mainly children, visuals shot at a furious pace with gritty realism, and a rocking contemporary soundtrack (M.I.A. never sounded so good). Mr. Boyle has somehow transmuted child prostitution, poverty, and blindness into a feel good film about destiny and hope, and has done it in less than 2 hours, a refreshing contrast to bloated, award season epics like Defiance and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which was good, but TOO LONG!). And he topped the whole thing off with a slap-happy, Bollywood-style dance number ending. I left the theater buzzing.

Cut to a week later, I’m back in London, eating brunch and reading the Sunday Guardian (as us bourgeois major label musicians do) and imagine my surprise, where in a interview, Danny Boyle states his next project is going be a musical! “The achievement would be to create an entirely original musical rather than film a classic stage adaptation,” he says, continuing “There’s something amazingly cinematic about putting dance and film together – it’s what motion pictures are all about.”

I nearly choked on my Turkish breakfast. Is this man reading my mind? The guy who created 3of my favorite movies of the last 15 years (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, and now Slumdog), a very-arty sci-fi flick (Sunshine), a glorified travel film (The Beach), a Hitchcock style thriller (Shallow Grave), and a beautiful piece o’ shit (Life Less Ordinary) wants to do a musical? Consider this blog my job application, my CV, my ad in the personals – DANNY BOYLE I AM YOUR MAN! If you guys have any ideas on how to pitch me to write the songs for his next movie, if you know anyone who may have his ear, please drop me a line at This needs to happen.

Akon, eat your heart out.

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