Now we approach the foremost portion of the book for any reader, an in-depth dissection of the music and lyrics, with a sprinkling of some dramaturg-worthy song- and scene-specific thoughts and advice throughout. However, before we begin this “deep dive,” a few ground rules and explanations are in order.
Newer productions of JCS – and the licensed materials created as a result – tend, to some extent, to reflect changes to the lyrics and orchestrations that came with the first major West End revival, which played at the Lyceum Theatre starting in 1996. Andrew Lloyd Webber (and frequent co-orchestrator/arranger David Cullen) touched up and, in a few cases, re-envisioned the old charts, and Tim Rice changed a few lyrics here and there to clarify thought, achieve a better rhyme, or, at least in one example here, eliminate an old embarrassment. The orchestrations stuck around, but though some of Rice’s new lyrics remain, most have been discarded in favor of the originals.
Being possessed of multiple materials related to the show, including the old handwritten scores (formerly licensed in the States by first Music Theatre International and then Rodgers & Hammerstein Theatricals) and the new typeset scores (currently available through Andrew Lloyd Webber Show Licensing, Concord Theatricals, or international affiliates), I thought it paramount – in addition to fully exploring each song/scene for the benefit of newcomers – to record both musical and lyrical differences between the old and new scores, not just for historical purposes, but also to offer alternative options for those facing their first production of JCS and wondering why things may seem a little odd here and there.
Peter Hilliard’s blog, Music Directing the School Musical, inspired my efforts in this area. A frequent source of wisdom, he’s insightful about that process, and, among other things, I love his “Rough Guide(s) for the M.D.” to various shows he’s worked on. They’re an invaluable resource that saves prospective musical directors hours and hours of work and often involves comparing older and newer versions of shows, as with Annie and Godspell. I don’t know if Peter will ever touch JCS, but if he does, I hope this section, overly detailed though it is, proves as supportive and informative as his posts have been for me.
Please note, if it wasn’t already clear, that my frame of reference for JCS as licensed is what is/was available in the U.S.
- Whenever I refer to the “old” score from here on out, that reflects what was licensed in the MTI/R&H days – namely, a handwritten 18-piece orchestration prepared following the original Broadway run and used for the show’s early national tours, with the next step up being a 36-piece setting primarily intended for concert use.
- The “new” score is my catchall term for the three variations presently licensed – 5-piece (“Rock Combo”), 11-piece (“1998 U.K. Tour”), and 36-piece (“Symphonic”) – based on what has been labeled the “1998 U.K. tour” orchestrations, a confusingly limiting descriptor that in actuality encompasses all productions from the 1996 London revival through the 2012-13 arena tour, with only minor variations unique to each at best. (The licensors tend to claim only the 11-piece reflects the revisions, as can be discerned from its label, but features that only became standard as of the 11-piece are present in all available versions.)
I will not encourage piracy, as I am not looking to run afoul of copyright holders. Therefore, you will not see public links to this music on this website, even if it is deprecated and no longer available from any licensing agency. As I said in “Disclaimer/Credits,” I encourage you to seek out the licensor that handles JCS in your area and request perusal materials. That said… if, for some reason, that is not possible for you, contact me, and I will point you in the right direction. What you do from there is your choice, your decision, and – most importantly – your responsibility.
My Two Cents
Before We Begin… (Music)
What you’re about to read is nitpicky and deals with finer details an audience member probably won’t notice. I’m not saying one version is more accurate or better than another; I merely note the differences. I can complain about the changes Andrew Lloyd Webber made to his orchestrations (and I have, frequently, in this book even), but they’re cosmetic at best, and frankly, they aren’t noticeably different except to super-fans like me. In large part, while they won’t stop me from guiding potential presenters in a specific direction (for which see “Helpful Hints” throughout the individual song breakdowns), I can live with them. Besides, a director can’t dismiss some realities, and one is that a licensed show can’t be changed without permission, particularly a Lloyd Webber musical. But I prefer the old stuff, and I’d like to see newer productions return to it. All classics are sustained as period pieces; any changes to fit a generation usually show their age quickly. But, again, I’m not in charge, and this isn’t about my opinion, so I’ll try not to let it creep into the following.
The preceding is especially true concerning the pickiest detail (in my opinion): metronome markings. Metronome markings in a Broadway show do mean something, but not what they mean in a classical score. Fidelity to the original tempo indication is not the same matter of personal honor one might learn in conducting or musicology classes. (Compare the tempi in the original cast recording of any show with virtually any revival cast recording if you don’t believe me.) The proper way to do JCS is to feel what works for your production, and picking one indication over another doesn’t get you closer to “getting it right.” This is just attention to detail.
Next, the old score is laid out differently from the new; for example, repeated melodic sections are often treated as a second verse in standard sheet music, with a “road map” admittedly more discernible to those who can read music (and sometimes not even then) indicating where to turn back to a previous section for new lyrics to that melody. For that matter, none of the measures are numbered. The new score lays things out far more conventionally, at least by today’s reckoning, to prevent performers from stumbling over page turns, and all measures are numbered. So, when you see a bar number anywhere below, that’s its location in the new score. Don’t worry – I’ll attempt to offer the (approximate) contrasting bar numbers in the handwritten sheets throughout this exercise. Where that fails, I’ll try to give enough clues about where we’d be in the old score and, for non-music readers, what section of the song we’re at in general.
Lastly, a note specifically for musical directors/conductors: in every subsection labeled “Old vs. new,” do not automatically assume that either score is accurate or that one is more correct. As one fan put it, the old score was “a […] mess with lots of mistakes, missing parts, and outdated arrangements.” As for the new, there are several typos in the score (several wrongly printed chords/notes verified in the Violin I book and suspected elsewhere). Working with this show will require patience, listening to many recordings (there’s a reason I didn’t limit the recommended list to a Top 5 or 10), and determining what’s correct musically and what makes the most sense for your cast and your production. A love of the show will aid in this task big time.
(While I’m on that subject… in all illustrated comparisons, unless otherwise indicated, handwritten is the old score, and typeset is the new score, and the former will always precede the latter.)
Before We Begin… (Lyrics)
As mentioned before, since the 1996 London revival, where this tendency began in earnest, Tim Rice has reached for his editorial pencil and changed a few words to clarify thoughts, offer variety, or achieve a better rhyme. The assertion that one can improve on their previous work with the benefit of experience is not invalid, but it’s generally hard to do it in a way that is “of a piece” with the rest of a show; in most cases, it comes off very forced, clumsy, mediocre, and arbitrary, and out of place with the voicing of said show overall.
Perhaps naturally, not all of this fiddling has met with acceptance. (Examples of specific critiques will follow.) Rice grudgingly seems to agree, having written of the revisions in his memoir, “Sometimes technique is less important than a visceral approach.” Nonetheless, a smattering of new lyrics has survived into the presently licensed version of JCS. I mostly prefer vintage over contemporary, except in songs like “The Temple,” where I think the new lyrics relieve the repetitiveness of “songwriting for a record.” But again, my opinion is not supreme here.
For tidiness’ sake, a song’s original lyrics will appear as the default, with any amendments noted afterward in a separate subsection. (For my amusement, and as a nod to older JCS fans, the formatting will be that of the libretto for the American concept album release, which made extensive use of either the font Melior LT Std, as seen here, or a virtually identical typeface.)
Each will be accompanied by some character/scene work not unlike what’s in the “Dramatis Personae” section, as well as commentary from Tim Rice’s and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s autobiographies or other documentary sources (when appropriate) and advice on music-related areas that have frequently proven troublesome, especially when exploring the score as written as opposed to how it is typically performed. As you no doubt expect at this point, “My Two Cents” will always be on hand, solicited or not, for a possible scene interpretation.
That said, I hope you enjoy this highly nerdy romp through the music and lyrics of JCS, as first written and then as rethought in numerous circumstances since 1970! I hope it proves enlightening and that my commentary is, if nothing else, entertaining. If you’re reading this – or the following – as a prelude to staging the show, I hope my periodic advice proves helpful.