by Tess Lynch
Everybody knows that musicals are among the easiest things to write and produce. The only things you need to create a successful musical are: the ability to make music out of nowhere, without cribbing from songs you’ve already heard; a flair for drama and a deep understanding of the human condition; and, lastly, a rhyming dictionary. Writing a brilliant musical should take anywhere from one to three hours, by my mathematical calculations. If it takes you longer than that, you’ve over-thought it. I’ve already written sixteen musicals, I’m just fine-tuning them and waiting until the world is ready to receive them before I let those babies fly. I have all the music and stuff, it’s written down in a spiral notebook. I basically took notes and put them together in ways that made brand new songs that sound nothing like anything you’ve ever heard. It’s not as though I ripped off Xanadu, not even a little bit. In fact, I used notes that don’t even exist yet, like R flat. Coming up with an original musical score was actually easier than all of the other complicated technical details I’ve figured out, such as where to put lights or who will play Dr. Snood in my apocalyptic tour de force, Cannibal Apocalypse: 2012: The Musical.
The other day it occurred to me that I might die tomorrow and my musicals might sink into obscurity. Perhaps nobody would find the spiral notebook labeled “Life’s Work,” what with everyone being too busy mourning and crying and divvying up my belongings. The thought of a world that would never know the joys and sorrows expressed so eloquently through my songs, like the haunting ballad “Garbage Smell” or the uplifting chorus of “Olives, Please!”, horrified me. What if future generations built their dreams on tripe like The Phantom of the Opera instead of absorbing, sponge-like, the messages embedded in my stupid musicals instead? This fear drove me to do something I swore I never would: I’ve decided that it’s time to share four of my musicals with you, for the first time ever.
Infection: The Musical
Statistically, your average theater-goer is between 90 and 150 years old (double this for matinees). Taking this into consideration, I developed a musical around a popular topic of conversation among the older set: who has died, who might be next to die, and whether or not the last flu season has resulted in a serious infection. To amp up the drama, this being a rather tragic musical, I’ve decided to focus my attention on a mysterious illness the main effect of which is that it makes you feel moderately lousy. Not terrible, just perhaps a bit tired, fighting a sniffle that won’t go away, worrying over that tickle in the back of the throat.
The opening number is set in the doctor’s office. The doctor tells our protagonist, Greg, that he’s suffering from a low-grade respiratory infection. I would characterize Greg as a hypochondriac, so Greg addresses the audience woefully as he sings about his resistance to azithromycin (“and I’ve tried Niacin/enough to treat a bison”). Gradually, Greg infects his entire social circle, and Act One culminates with a group number around a dinner table littered with used Kleenex. It’s called “Vaccine.” Greg’s friend Cindy, upon realizing that he’s the one who infected everybody else, cries “If there’s no vaccine/We’ll throw Greg in the ravine!” Curtain. Act Two opens with Greg in the ravine, infecting a pair of wayward orphans, who then deliver the duet, “So Cold & Homeless.” Things get worse before they get better as Greg scratches his leg on barbed wire crawling out of the ravine and develops a second infection (“Neosporin Makes It Worse, I Hear”).
Eventually Greg dies. Not from the infection, actually, he’s just eaten by bears (who are resistant to the infection, so it’s kind of heartwarming when you hear the finale, “Natural Immunity”).
Spider Village: The Musical
First of all, this musical is nothing like Cats. It’s hard to think about musicals without thinking about Cats, which I think is unfortunate. I’ve spent my entire life trying to forget sitting in a theater and wondering how a human being made millions of dollars off of making actors wear whiskers and scamper around talking about coming alive at night to train the cockroaches to dance. Spider Village is an imaginative romp through a quaint town of spiders who have lived there for generations, fashioning linen tunics to sell at Eileen Fisher. They’re industrious critters. They don’t just sit under street lamps complaining about “no wet food this, no wet food that.”
We open on beautiful Mavel Merriwood, a dancing spider, who completely entrances us with her tale “I Caught a Gnat.” Gradually, other spider-actors come down from the rafters, suspended by cords that effortlessly form a beautiful web (the LED lights attached to the cords will spell out SPIDERS). They join her in singing about the predator/prey relationship, the beauty of a short life span, and biting the ankles of humans who disturb their grassy dell.
Unfortunately for our arachnid friends, there’s trouble in the ranks: evil Harry Darvinwheel, a recluse, forms a union to demand higher wages from Eileen Fisher by kidnapping an innocent market researcher, Kevin. Kevin’s heart-wrenching number, “I’ve Been Kidnapped (by Spiders),” hints at the inter-species tension that is so socially and politically relevant right now. Of course, Kevin escapes unharmed when Mavel Merriwood decapitates Harry Darvinwheel, but unfortunately Mavel loses three legs in the scuffle, damning her to life in a wheelchair.
The finale, “A Day Late and Three Legs Short,” is a study in optimism. The play ends when all of the spiders in the village ascend their cords back into the rafters, and Mavel sits on stage alone, twiddling her mandibles, happy merely to be alive.
Cannibal Apocalypse: 2012: The Musical
I have never been genuinely terrified by a musical, which seems odd to me since some actors have the ability to sing extremely loudly and dance in a way that makes me uncomfortable; it seems so easy to use this rare ability to intimidate and alienate an audience, and yet nobody’s taking advantage of it. Well, that’s about to change when you go to see Cannibal Apocalypse: 2012.
If you haven’t heard, the end of the world is going to happen in about a year and a half. It probably takes six months to stage a musical, and I’d like to plan CA’s debut so that it can run for three months before the earth explodes. That means that somebody’s got to grab this gem now, before it’s too late. We open on a stark stage with some references to Soylent Green tossed in for good measure. Our hero, Annabel, is stirring a giant pot on her stove and crying. She cries for a good four minutes to disturb everyone thoroughly. After she’s finished crying, she launches into a very loud number called “PEOPLE IN MY POT.” This musical sounds nothing like Sweeney Todd. It’s not funny like Sweeney Todd, it’s fucking scary as hell like the film American Gothic. Nobody can refrain from screaming their lines or hollering their songs, and sometimes someone will just stand in the middle of the stage and shriek.
Absolutely everyone gets eaten in this musical. Annabel is eaten by her lover, Carles; Carles is eaten by his son Damon; Damon gets eaten by his uncle Herb. Herb eventually succumbs to an actor playing a Doberman, Sneakers, who then eats himself, right before everything onstage combusts pyrotechnically and blood oozes out of the theater walls. The finale (“Impeccable Taste”/”Blame the Mayans (Reprise)”) is performed by the ghosts of the entire company, yelling in minor keys.
I Had a Wee Giggle: The Musical
It seems a shame to not capitalize on the popularity of twee-core, so I’ve created a magnum opus to all things cute and whimsical, I Had a Wee Giggle. In this romantic comedy with a score played mostly on the harpsichord, Devlin and Quinn fall completely in love with each other’s quirks after finding each other through Apartment Therapy. “That’s a Cute Credenza,” a duet, illuminates the moment when we fall headsies-over-heelsies in luv with our bespectacled protagonists:
DEVLIN: But do you love Miranda July? And do you cry when Mayflies die?
QUINN: Did you see the poot I made? A violet-colored love grenade?
DEVLIN: You’re thirty-three but still a girl. Peter Pan collars you knit and perl.
QUINN: You wear a bow tie out to dine; I made a bunny out of twine.
Who needs conflict when you’ve got such an intricately woven tapestry of compatibility and superficial affection? Act One closes with the number “Install My Woolly Wally,” where Quinn hilariously struggles to set up her vertical garden. At the top of Act Two, Devlin wonders if he should go vegan, but decides against it (“Anemia’s Not Cute”). The show closes with Devlin and Quinn giving each other haircuts and gently making out to my personal homage to Joanna Newsom, “Milk Made From Yams.”
Tess Lynch is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on This Recording, Urlesque, and on her Tumblr blog, Wipe Your Feet. She is currently working on her seventeenth musical, The Arsonist of Arsongrath.
Tully Mills is an illustrator in Boulder, Colorado who has been drawing pictures since he was four years-old and hasn’t seen a vast improvement.