Ordinarily we probably wouldn't care to tell you about musical theater news, but this isn't just musical theater. It's Stephin Merritt does musical theater -- yes, that Stephin Merritt, of The Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, The Three Terrors and now, Coraline: The Musical, opening tonight off Broadway.
Merritt said Coraline is not for the faint of heart. "When I am dictator," he told The Village Voice, "compulsive homosexuality will remove the problem of children. Soon, I will be dictator. Until then, small children should not come to Coraline."
It's been four years since Merritt acquired the rights to Coraline, a book by Neil Gaiman that involves a young girl who lives a boring suburbian life before she discovers an entry way to another world inside her house. Merritt's music for the show is equally as fantastic -- the score was composed for a six-piano orchestra, played by one musician, with 20 other pianos littering the stage.
Coraline's songs are accompanied on a toy piano, those of her parents and adult neighbors on a grand piano, and those in the other world on a prepared piano. The prepared piano, developed by John Cage, is a piano whose strings have been kitted out with all manner of detritus—here, the elements include screws, rubber erasers, playing cards, pipe cleaners, and sleigh bells. "By putting small objects between the strings, you change not the pitch but the timbre of each individual note—it sounds like 88 people playing different small percussion instruments," explains Merritt. The auditory result is uncanny, lending even the simplest tune the feeling of an eldritch lullaby.
It's been a labor of love for Merritt, who told the Voice, "I don't think it's frustrating. It's too fun to be frustrating. If it weren't fun, it would be perfectly maddening." After having adapted three Chinese operas with director Chen Shi-zheng and being compared throughout his career to Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, it's about time. The show opens tonight at the Lucille Lortel Theater.