In regards to the new Tom Robbins/Ben Lee project B Is For Beer: The Musical
Back in the glory days of musical theater, the topics of choice made a lot of sense. There was Camelot, based around the legend of King Arthur. Carousel was about the attraction of an old time country fair. Oklahoma focused on…well, Oklahoma, while South Pacific dwelled on… that’s right, the South Pacific. And West Side Story… well suffice it to say it told the story of desperate young lovers torn between two gangs of street toughs vying for control of the city streets.
Actually, we could be talking a new and revised version of Chicago. (Sorry, Chicagoans)
The point is, musicals were inspired by grand themes, widescreen spectaculars with soundtracks that spawned popular songs which were forever part of the popular musical vernacular.
These days, however, with the rare exception of Hamilton, the modern musical rarely contributes to the conscience of the mass marketplace, and it really hasn’t on a grand scale since the early ‘60s. Granted, Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera, Rent, A Chorus Line, and Annie did boast a memorable hit or two, but for the most part, the days of musicals boasting a veritable hit parade that courted mass appeal have long since passed. Likewise, the soaring storybook premises have become somewhat predictable and inconsequential. Consequently, Broadway gobbles up a show like Cats…which is…about Cats. Starlight Express revolved around skating. And Chess? Well, one presumes it’s about the intellectual version of checkers.
Mama Mia might not have had much of a plot, but hey, at least you heard hits. Ditto for American Idiot. Only a real idiot would deny that.
Consequently, one ought not be surprised that the latest musical ready to storm the stage is about beer. Yes, beer…that favorite adult beverage which is revered around the world. And rightly so. However, it does seem an odd topic to wrap a musical around, unless of course we’re talking Octoberfest and the music is of the polka variety.
Credit author Tom Robbins and indie singer/songwriter Ben Lee for attempting to tackle the subject with the dedication it deserves, one based on Robbins’ “children’s book for adults” of the same name. Unlike the legal age limit imposed on any actual intake, B Is For Beer: The Musical is offered as entertainment for audiences of all ages. The authors claim it has a deeper meaning; on their website, Lee writes “B Is for Beer: The Musical takes its audience, young and old, in a surprising, far-reaching investigation into the limits of reality, the transformative power of childhood, and, of course, the ultimate meaning of a tall, cold brewski…and proving that there is a demand for a child-like musical about why we alter our consciousness, and what Mystery might be lurking within our ordinary lives.”
Hmmm, that’s far headier than we might have imagined. However, maybe after consuming a pint or six, it all might start to make sense. Likewise, the fact that both Robbins and Lee each possess a creative mindset, there’s every possibility that audiences won’t leave the theater in a stupor.
An A-list group of actors have already loaned their support — Jon Cryer, Stephen Weber, Kether Donahue, Steven Weber, Paget Brewster, Cary Brothers, Alex Wyse and Sam Shelton all took part in the first workshop and the object now is to mount a full scale production and an actual tryout that could lead it to Off Broadway and possibly beyond.
In the meantime, the duo’s efforts are well served by the music, which is catchy, clever, compelling, entertaining and emotive, all qualities any score ought to aspire to. Whether or not B Is For Beer: The Musical intoxicates audiences in the way Robbins and Lee hope that it will remains to be seen. In the meantime, it makes for a damn good album even on its own and that’s a damn good bellyful right there.