How to build the perfect musical

Studio 360

What do “Oklahoma,” “Gypsy,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “The Book of Mormon” have in common?  They’ve got all the right technical elements to make them hits.

If you look past the cowboys, stage mothers and evangelists, you'll see musicals with remarkably similar DNA. Even contemporary blockbusters like “Hamilton” follow a traditional map. That’s according to producer Jack Viertel, and when it comes to musical theater, he’s a sort of human encyclopedia. His book “The Secret Life of the American Musical — How Broadway Shows are Built,” reveals the blueprint that has been crucial to the most successful shows going. 

For instance, Viertel reveals what’s most important to establish in an opening number. And he also identifies a musical staple that even enthusiasts might not realize is a staple: the “I want” song. That’s when characters reveal in the first act what their dreams and aspirations are.

Viertel is the artistic director of Encores, a New York series that resurrects vintage musicals. He’s also an incredibly prolific producer of Broadway shows like “Hairspray,” “Kinky Boots” and “The Producers.” 

(Originally aired April 21, 2016)

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?