By almost any metric except quality, the Broadway hit Memphis is an inspiring success story: the years on the road building support in regional theaters, the leads (particularly Montego Glover) who bring down the house every night, the Tony validation. As I've noted in this space before, this Memphis wasn't built in a day but painstakingly reached out and found its appreciative audience. More power to that. I just wish the show were better.
But now I've got a brand new reason to deplore the Joe DiPietro/David Bryan tuner. My colleague Isaac Butler alerted me last month to this quote from a Sarah Ruhl interview in Playbill, which seemed damning but not conclusive:
I heard somewhere that you might be writing a musical. Is that still happening?But then, in Nick Paumgarten's intriguing if problematic New Yorker feature on Costello, the voluble tunesmith touches on it briefly:
SR: I had been working on a musical, and then there were so many musicals about Memphis in the '60s that we just had to abandon ship. It had been a musical about a woman's radio station in Memphis in the '60s, and it just kind of fell apart because of the zeitgeist. [The 2010 Tony Award-winning Memphis, coincidentally, is about a disc jockey in Memphis in the Civil Rights era.]
Who was your collaborator?
SR: It was Elvis Costello, who I love and adore and worship! It was sad not to continue working with him. And he wrote three songs … [Hopefully we'll work together] another time! [Laughs.]
"Sarah wrote some scenes, I wrote some songs," he said. But all for naught. "Turns out someone else had a Memphis musical. Two Memphis musicals--what are the odds?"Grrrr.
Today, incidentally, is a holiday in the Weinert-Kendt household, as it is whenever Declan releases new product (National Ransom is his 26th studio album, give or take). I'm one of those fans who will follow this pop polymath down just about any side alley he cares to go (love that string quartet record, for instance, though I'm less sold on North), and I remain hopeful that he'll harness his talent to the stage sooner or later. If Stew can rock Broadway, I think Costello has it in him, though I have to admit the feminist/fabulist Ruhl is a rather exotic pairing for the author of "Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?"