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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical

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missthemountains
Broadway Star
joined:9/13/11
Broadway Star
joined:
9/13/11
White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#1
Posted: 8/10/20 at 8:08pm

I was thinking about this musical recently and had only ever heard a few songs, but noticed a lot of it has been pulled from YouTube. I had heard about it a few years ago, and I can't tell based on the plot summary if it has aged wonderfully or terribly. What is the general consensus around this one? 

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The Distinctive Baritone
Broadway Legend
joined:8/28/04
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joined:
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#2
Posted: 8/10/20 at 8:25pm
I saw it in Chicago. The reviews were mixed to negative if I remember correctly, and that was my reaction as well. The cast was excellent but the material was problematic. It would require a lot of rewrites.
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temms
Broadway Star
joined:7/21/04
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#3
Posted: 8/11/20 at 9:16am

Oh, man. How much time ya got? I was one of the original writers. It remains one of the most ridiculously handled projects I've ever been a part of but it was all just so stupid that I feel no bitterness I just laugh at what a Kafkaesque industry this is.

The show was conceived by the director Ryan Davis and the idea was, what if a wholesome white supremacist pop band made it to the top of the charts with their catchy, innocuous singalongs about the coming race wars? It was loosely based on a real-life group called Prussian Blue, two pretty teen sisters from Oregon who performed in coffeehouses and were briefly famous for the novelty, not their musical ability.

The playwright/composer Joe Drymala wrote the book and the book songs, the concert songs were written by an assortment of composers including Larry O'Keefe, Pasek & Paul, Glen Kelly, Eric Svejcar, Rick Crom, Ben Cohn & Sean McDaniel - I think that's everyone. We did some readings, somehow got some national press (we were on Good Morning America and ABC Primetime) and then we did the NYMF and it sold well and got some decent reviews and a couple of awards.

The producer Mitchell Maxwell decided to pick it up and do a commercial production, which I thought was a strange idea because it didn't strike me as the kind of piece you drop $100 bucks on for a fun night out, but what do I know? Then things happened and he fired the entire creative team, threw out the book and score, promoted the former Assistant Director to bookwriter, and brought on board a new songwriting team to have them write a new show called "White Noise" with the same character names and same basic idea but different. I won't go into detail but I wasn't even angry, it was all just stupidity on a grand scale.

The new version added a pair of black rappers for some reason, and the new version did a tryout in New Orleans (because of post-Katrina tax incentives) where Mitchell was bought out of the production by the other producers after a physical altercation at a post-performance production meeting and barred from the theatre. At some point Whoopi Goldberg somehow became involved and decided she wanted to produce it, and then Sergio Trujillo ended up the director of this book musical about American black-white race relations and the pop music industry. They did a "pre-Broadway" production at the Royal George in Chicago, it ran for a brief bit and got mostly negative reviews, and that was that.

I didn't see the new version but I read some of the drafts. The show would absolutely not fly today and I'm glad all actual recordings and traces are gone because it could easily be taken out of context and used a form of satirical humor that would not mesh with today's sensibilities. My song in praise of James Earl Ray, which seemed so ridiculous to be absurd in 2006, today would resonate in a very different way. In some ways the world White Noise prophesied has come true; what we thought was impossible has turned out to be very, very real. The original version had them performing a song on a Sesame Street-style kids show about separating your laundry ("Put the whites over here/and the colors over there/before it's too late, separate/do the laundry!"White Noise: A Cautionary Musical and performing the half-time show at the Super Bowl. It was intended to be satire. We were naive.

Ultimately the original version of the show was about the Hate Industry appropriating pop music to sell its product. The revision, which added the character of the girls' pushy stage mother, was more about the Music Industry appropriating hate to sell records. I personally think the former is a much more interesting concept, while the latter is just "Gypsy" but Rose is a Fox News racist.

I think it was interesting and relevant and maybe even a little brave and edgy in 2006, and I think it would absolutely be excoriated today and I am ultimately glad my material was written out of the piece and I watched from the sidelines. We thought we were making of fun of something that would never happen by showing how absurd it was, only to see it pretty much actually happen. Life's weird.

Alex Kulak2
Broadway Legend
joined:9/11/16
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#4
Posted: 8/11/20 at 11:28am
^that’s it. This is the best post on this site.

I’d never heard of this show, but it sounds like utter insanity. Glad you dodged that bullet, temms.

Did you write one of the concert songs? I’d be interested to see what songs about white supremacy by a bunch of white Broadway composers would be like...
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darquegk
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#5
Posted: 8/11/20 at 11:45am
Side note: I’m betting the long-gestating musical of “The Wall” is dead in the water for the same reason. A liberal Boomer dealing with postwar angst by sliding into (ludicrous satirical) fascism and white supremacy was absurd and shocking in a “punk rock” way when The Ramones did it, but people were starting to question that appropriation by the time Pink Floyd did it. And forty years later it feels like a movie and an album explicitly about Trump.
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fashionguru_23
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#6
Posted: 8/11/20 at 1:48pm

I remember being interested in this show from hearing about it. It might have even been on this website where I heard about this new musical trying out in Chicago about race relations, produced by Whoopi Goldberg. There was a commercially released single of one of the songs that you could download for free. I downloaded it, listen once. Hated it and moved on.

"The 54th Street[theatre] had a rep as. . .where old musicals went to die." -Smaxie
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The Distinctive Baritone
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#7
Posted: 8/12/20 at 1:34am

temms - thank you for this! Fascinating stuff. Glad you got out unscathed!

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missthemountains
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#8
Posted: 8/14/20 at 1:18am

darquegk said: "Side note: I’m betting the long-gestating musical of “The Wall” is dead in the water for the same reason. A liberal Boomer dealing with postwar angst by sliding into (ludicrous satirical) fascism and white supremacy was absurd and shocking in a “punk rock” way when The Ramones did it, but people were starting to question that appropriation by the time Pink Floyd did it. And forty years later it feels like a movie and an album explicitly about Trump."

Have been listening to this album a lot and have been thinking about how it eerily predicted this. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see this as a musical once this is all said and done, but it might just be too painful. I did learn there was an opera of it which sounded particularly insane and a horrible interpretation of their work, but then again, I don't care for opera. You can listen to some of it here.

Thanks for the story. What a ride to say the least.

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darquegk
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White Noise: A Cautionary Musical#9
Posted: 8/14/20 at 10:51am
I went to a major Pink Floyd tribute group probably in 2014, and the audience ALREADY had mixed feelings about audience participation doing the “Hammer! Hammer! Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” chanting at the climax.

I imagine there would be either much more reluctance today... or much less.