Think classic musicals are all corny frivolities? Writer Emily Neuberger wants you to think again — and with her new novel “A Tender Thing,” she sets out to remind readers of just how edgy Broadway musicals have always been.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
“The musicals of the [Golden Age of Broadway] — like the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, especially, but also ‘West Side Story’ and Lerner and Loewe — they have this reputation of being these very family-oriented, saccharine pieces of art,” Neuberger said on “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I think that’s a misconception made by the film version of those musicals. I often find the real versions, the stage versions, have a lot more bite to them, and they’re saying a lot more about the social fabric, and they were taking a lot of risks.”
Set on Broadway in the 1950s, “A Tender Thing” follows the development of a fictional musical (also called “A Tender Thing”) that pushes boundaries as much as “West Side Story” and “South Pacific” did in their day. On the latest “Stagecraft,” Neuberger discussed how her background as a performer helped her throughout the writing process of her first novel.
“Performing in so many shows puts the pacing of a story in your body in a different way than reading does,” she said. “And I think preparing to write a book, the most helpful thing you can do is read, but I think being in all those musicals also helped me understand pacing in a different way than a reader might.”
The novel’s protagonist is Eleanor, a fresh-off-the-bus unknown who scores a lead role in a controversial new musical. Eleanor’s deepening friendship with the actor who plays her love interest is inspired by Neuberger’s own experience, the author said.
“Something that I see a lot in theater, with people who play lovers … When they’re offstage, they can be friends in a way that you don’t necessarily see in other professions,” she explained. “They have these really intimate friendships by going through really emotionally trying things on stage every night together as partners, trusting each other, and taking these risks and becoming vulnerable together, and then on top of it, by demonstrating romantic love together. They have this strong platonic friendship. … That is inspired by friendships I’ve had in theater or seen in theater.”
With Broadway and theaters across the country closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, “A Tender Thing” drops at just the right time: If fans can’t go to the theater right now, at least they can read about it.
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