by Aidan Carr
If a musical is a house, the bookwriter is its architect; he also shares interior/exterior design duties with the composer and the lyricist. Most of the spoken language of the piece (most) falls under his jurisdiction, but he also shapes the story itself, places the songs, cuts pages and scenes.
Like houses, the architecture behind a musical must be rock-solid, or else it will collapse. Structural design is less glamorous than aesthetic design, more conceptual, and considerably more difficult; bookwriters don’t get paid more for nothing. Not only are they relatively ‘behind-the-scenes’ as far as creative staff goes, since they theoretically contribute nothing to what musicals are all about (the songs), but they are frequently the first to blame when a show is lackluster—‘it’s got book problems.’ Not for nothing; structure is hard, and even professional Broadway shows frequently cannot master its design. Spider-Man had an entire number in which an invented spider deity sang of her charmingly-wicked adoration for mountains and mountains of shoes—cue $500,000 dollars in innovative costume design for highly trained ballerina-spiders, Loboutin heels on all 8 legs. This went on for five minutes.
Bookwriting—thankless, vital, at times (Arthur Laurents, Hugh Wheeler) elegant. More to come.