Our current Leo K. offering, Lizard Boy, has been lauded for its innovative staging and direction. Literary Director, Kristin Leahey, sat down with one of Seattle’s most talented young directors, Brandon Ivie, for a casual conversation about the evolving genre of musical theatre.
KL: You’re so on the pulse of musical theatre in Seattle, New York and across the country. Where do you feel like Lizard Boy fits in nationally with contemporary work, and what are some other forms that also attract you or you’re very excited about?
BI: I think it’s sort of a genre and boundary-pushing piece. At its core, it’s very much a musical. It has musical theatre in its bones, and that’s what so much of what Justin’s childhood and upbringing involved. The characters have things to sing about and there’s a very clear arc and journey for the main character. At the same time, it’s presented through the lens of a rock concert, which takes us into a genre that’s not usually presented in musical theatre. It turns into an almost naturalistic straight play at times; then it breaks the fourth wall, but then it is also very earnest. It’s doing a lot of things, which makes it a really interesting cocktail.
I think it lives wherever people are excited about something new. There’s enough in there for musical theatre purists to have a story to hold onto – fantastic music, and characters with clear journeys – but there’s also something for people looking for something different and a little offbeat. It’s really for where people are looking for the next thing, whether that’s in New York, Chicago or Boston.
KL: If you were to look at musical theatre 20 or 30 years ago and then look at the form and the artists involved today, do you feel like there’s a traditionalism to things or are people playing with the form?
BI: It’s an interesting time in musical theatre. There’s both a yearning for a very traditional, classic kind of musical in its form – but at the same time, there’s a lot of interest in stories that are less obviously musical and that are about a different community of people. On Broadway right now, there’s Something Rotten, which is a very well-made and executed modern version of a Golden Age musical. But then there’s also Fun Home, which is based on a graphic novel about a daughter dealing with her suicidal father, coming out over a number of years and her father being a closeted gay man – the structure is much less linear. You definitely have two opposing types of musicals happening.
And then you also have musical theatre trying to integrate contemporary pop music of today. There’s a whole generation of young people trying to figure out how they tell their story, which gives you shows like American Idiot, In The Heights, Hamilton, and Spring Awakening. They’re finding a way for authentic pop music to work in musical theatre. RENT is really more musical theatre’s take on rock music whereas American Idiot is truly an alternative rock sound and Lizard Boy is genuinely an indie-folk score. There’s a whole movement trying to figure out how authentic contemporary music fits into the musical theatre world.
KL: Directorially, it seems that musicals no longer need to fit into a proscenium theatre configuration (e.g., the Bagley, which is a proscenium configuration).
BI: Yeah, you have Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and Here Lies Love, which are defying that norm. And with Lizard Boy as well, you could do it in a bar, you could do it at a club like The Crocodile. People are getting much more interested in different ways to tell stories, whether that’s in a less linear structure or nontraditional venues or new ways of framing it. I think it’s a really exciting time because there’s something for everyone.
Brandon Ivie’s work can be seen next at The 5th Avenue Theatre in the new mythology-inspired musical, Jasper in Deadland.https://www.5thavenue.org/show/jasper-in-deadland