I don’t mind doing the signs, nor do I mind proofreading other people’s signs or doing the occasional tweak that will make a sign that much more effective in not reaching the broad swath of people who daily pass through our doors to submit their lungs for mycological experimentation. It was in this latter capacity that I found myself with a new sign on my desk and a note from the nice Chinese lady who runs the monthly movie program asking me if I would check her grammar and, while I was at it, could I make the reds in the sign a little redder? Sensing a challenge ahead of me, I immediately set to work on her current creation.
After about an hour, I gave up. The sign’s text was fine; there were no grammatical errors and the meaning was clear: the library will present, on the last Friday of the month, the 1954 version of A Star is Born, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. The problem came when I tried to brighten the reds in the sign. Every attempt at brightening or saturating those reds led ineluctably to the same result: the picture of Judy Garland saturated way too much. In fact, the picture saturated to the point where Ms. Garland’s face and hands looked as though they had blood smeared all over them. In frustration, I sat back and tried to think of some other way of doing this, and as I did, it occurred to me that there aren’t any really good Broadway musicals about mass murderers anymore.
There was Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, of course, and while there just aren’t enough good things you can say about a homicidal barber and his slightly odd lady friend’s attempt at making cannibalism an important part of the ever competitive fast food industry, the play first went on the boards some twenty-five years ago, if my memory serves me correctly, and there hasn’t been a successful one since then. The Texas Chainsaw Musical closed out of town when the Peoria Police Department’s SWAT team cut down the cast in a hail of automatic weapons fire, and many other projects simply never got off the ground, either for lack of funding or lack of interest. Even the one everyone thought was going to be a massive success, The Silence of the Lambs, failed miserably, despite its classic story of boy meets girl, boy flays girl, boy gets shot by girl FBI agent. Some critics say that the producer’s attempt to generate some buzz by having a naked actress randomly fire a shotgun into the audience turned off many theatergoers, while the consensus of opinion amongst many Broadway professionals was that the songs didn’t really support the book, and as a result what the public saw was a somewhat disjointed effort that neither edified nor entertained, despite the near constant gratuitous sex and violence that audiences have come to expect in the theater these days.
It’s a shame, I think, that a proud old genre like the American mass murderer musical should have fallen on such hard times. Those musicals, the product of a much more innocent time, spoke to our hopes and dreams of a better world, but facts remain facts, no matter how unpleasant. By the 1960’s, the audience simply outgrew the genre and moved on to other things. Today with the Internet and 500 cable channels, it would be difficult, at best, to bring back a genre that required little more than a willingness to suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours and wait for the slutty blond to die a horrific and spattery death while wearing the minimum of clothing required to avoid a police raid.