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Thursday, March 9, 2006

A thumbnail history of the rock musical


Special to The Japan Times

"Bye Bye Birdie" (1961)

The songs aren't rock, but it was the first Broadway show to address rock 'n' roll: an Elvis-like singer (actually based on singer Conway Twitty) stages a big publicity event before he enters the army.

Most famous song: "Put On a Happy Face"

Legacy: The 1963 movie version marked the screen debut of Ann-Margret, who would play Mrs. Walker in the movie version of "Tommy."

"Hair" (1967)

"The American Tribal Love/Rock Musical" glorified the hippie movement and took half-a-stand against the Vietnam War. The songs have held up well over the years, though they aren't really rock.

Most famous song: "Aquarius"

Legacy: The first Broadway musical with nudity, which some cynics claim was the reason for its success.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" (1971)

Critically trashed at the time, it nevertheless trumps "Tommy" as a meditation on charismatic power. Ian Gillan parlayed his Christ role on the original album into pop fame for his group Deep Purple.

Most famous song: "I Don't Know How to Love Him"

Legacy: People who would never be caught dead reading the New Testament know the Passion of Christ by heart.

"Two Gentlemen of Verona" (1971)

Galt MacDermot, who wrote the music for "Hair," teamed up with playwright John Guare for this rock musical adaptation of Shakespeare's sex comedy.

Most famous song: "Love, Is That You?"

Legacy: The first interracial cast in which characters played by black actors wooed characters played by white ones and vice versa.

"Grease" (1972)

More like a revue of '50s music styles and youth-movie cliches than a genuine musical, but never underestimate the power of nostalgia: It ran on Broadway for eight years.

Most famous song: "Summer Nights"

Legacy: The John Travolta-Olivia Newton John version was, at one time, the third highest-grossing film of all time.

"The Rocky Horror Show" (1973)

This cross-dressing, horror-movie-spoofing glam-rock musical was a stage hit in London. In the United States, the film version was more popular, mostly as a midnight movie.

Most famous song: "The Time Warp"

Legacy: A cult that attends screenings dressed as characters in the film and shouts out lines on cue.

"The Iron Man" (1989)

Pete Townshend's adaptation of poet Ted Hughes' sci-fi children's story didn't make it to the stage until 1993, and then quickly vanished.

Most famous song: nothing, but "I Eat Heavy Metal" is the best title.

Legacy: Everybody remembers "The Iron Giant," the nonmusical animated movie it inspired; nobody remembers the musical.

"Rent" (1996)

When it opened, Jonathan Larson's rock version of "La Boheme," set among starving artists in late '80s lower Manhattan, was considered revolutionary. Now it seems more dated than "Hair."

Most famous song: "Seasons of Love"

Legacy: The East Village is no longer affordable.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (1998)

John Cameron Mitchell's off-Broadway show demonstrates the best use of rock in a traditional musical format, and his story about a transgendered rocker is funny, intelligent and a great conversation piece.

Most famous song: "Wicked Little Town"

Legacy: Indie rockers work in legitimate theater.



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