In this week’s Jones for Theater column, I talked with Michael Lerner, (left, with fellow film director Ludi Boeken) son of famed lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi). Though he has spent his career as a journalist and a filmmaker, Michael finally got involved in the family business when he helped revise the book for a touring production of Camelot that pulls into the American Musical Theatre of San Jose season Tuesday (Jan. 30).
Here’s some more of what Michael had to say about musical theater.
I think my father’s a genius. I do like musical theater, I mean, my generation [Michael is 47] is not my dad’s generation. The things that first intrigued me were Sondheim, my dad’s work and, obviously, the classics like West Side Story and the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. I grew up in it and love it all. I think I developed a discerning eye in kowing what I like.
As for modern musical theater, Michael says he is intrigued by the possibilities for musicals in this day and age.
I remember seeing Rent prior to its move to Broadway and knew right away I was seeing something historic. Whether you liked it or not, it was clear it was going to be a phenomenon — it was so impassioned, so appropriate to the moment. But we’re kind of in a dormant phase with musicals right now. The newer stuff on Broadway isn’t working on national tours. People are nostalgic, which isn’t to say you can’t create classics today — it’s just a lot more difficult given the financial necessities and pressures. Investors want instant returns.
Working — quite literally — in his father’s footsteps in re-working the troublesome script for Camelot (below right, with James Barbour and Rachel York), Michael says he was able to revisit his father, though he adds he’s not really looking for work in musical theater. He is intrigued, however, with the notion of creating an original movie musical.
Hollywood is a fickle, fickle lady. If you hit at the right time, and the last two musicals have worked, you might have a chance. Newsies closed the door on movie musicals for years. Then Chicago hit, but then Rent was so awful. Now Bill Condon (director of Dreamgirls, adaptor of Chicago) has come back to us with some pretty amazing work. I’d love to make a movie musical, but getting one of those off the ground…that’s a big bite.
For more information on AMTSJ’s Camelot, visit their Web site.