Caught “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song, “She Drives Like Crazy” — appropriately enough, while on the freeway. I never used to understand why he did the funny voices in the song, until I remembered the Muppets music video of the original song (“She Drives Me Crazy”), with Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog…and suddenly the voices clicked into place.

It’s odd that the intro on the title track to “The Phantom of the Opera” (the Andrew Lloyd Webber show) sounds so much like the MIDI file I found in the mid-1990s. I don’t know if that’s a comment on the quality of my old sound card, or a comment on how many synthesizers were used in the original recording. Either way, whoever sequenced that MIDI file got the timing exactly right.

I ordered tickets for an upcoming production of The Phantom of the Opera (the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) and something occurred to me: In all likelihood it’s going to be an exact replica of the 22-year-old London production (with a few concessions to the realities of touring). When did this start happening?

MasqueradeMost of the time when someone puts on a play that’s been done before, they take the script and do their own thing with the sets, costumes, and performances. This is generally true with older musicals as well; people generally aren’t worried about seeing the original staging of, say, The Sound of Music. But these days, when a big show goes on tour, audiences expect the same experience they’d get on Broadway or in the West End.

Les┬áMiserables opened in London in 1985, went through some tweaks on the way to Broadway, and then every production worldwide for the next 10 years was identical save for cast and translations. They retooled the show for the 10th anniversary, and those changes stuck around until they decided to cut it so that they wouldn’t have to pay the orchestra overtime.

Same with Miss Saigon: opened in London, tweaked as it went to Broadway, then frozen until 2003, when it was retooled to make touring simpler (fewer sets on palettes, using a projection of a helicopter instead of a model on a boom, etc. And let me tell you, watching a show about the Vietnam War during the week leading up to the Iraq War was an odd experience.)

It’s probably been 10 years since I saw Phantom (not counting the movie, about which the less said, the better), but I’ll be surprised if it’s much different (aside from cast) than the last time. I’m sure that’s what the rest of the audience is looking for, after all.

Last night we went out to see Evita at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. It was a good production, but it was a slightly odd experience for me because it was based on the original staging by Hal Prince. Back in college, I was in a production of the show at school…and our director also based it on the original staging. Visually, the show was almost exactly what we would have done if we’d had the budget. (And a full orchestra, and more experienced actors, and so on.) They did make different choices in characterization at points—Eva was harder, Che was more comedic, etc.—but there was a definite deja vu element. (Katie will get her turn at deja vu next week when we see Carmina Burana.)

It also got me thinking about the structure of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows . His early works, like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Cats and tend to be much more presentational. There’s lots of breaking the fourth wall, large chunks of Evita are symbolic (and the second half of act 2 is very disjointed), and many of them actually have narrators (Judas, Che, or just “The Narrator” in Joseph). But by the time you get to The Phantom of the Opera, the structure is entirely narrative. I’m not sure how much of that is Lloyd Webber changing his style and how much of it is moving to a new lyricist (Tim Rice worked on Joseph, Superstar and Evita). I don’t know Starlight Express very well, but what I’ve heard seems to fit more with Phantom, Sunset Boulevard, and Whistle Down the Wind.

Looking over at that site, I’ve discovered three more ALW shows I didn’t even know about. It’s not surprising when I think about it, though. I have been out of the musical theater loop for a few years. I mean, the big exciting musical event for me this year? The film adaptation of Rent that opens next month. I’m really looking forward to that, and the show is almost 10 years old!

Leave it to MapQuest to remind you that the nearby railroad actually is the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (and immediately lodge the song into your mind).

Actually, I’m also reminded of a Forbidden Broadway bit on a musical version of Anna Karenina, which finished with the parody, “On the Ashkabad, Tblisi and the Kiev Express.”

Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that we went out to see The Musical of Musicals: The Musical last night at the Laguna Playhouse. (It’s a musical, by the way.) It features a cast of four performing the same melodrama plot five times, once each in the styles of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb. The musical styles were dead on, the show was hilarious in its own right, and it was packed with in-jokes so if you’ve seen enough of the shows they’re lampooning, it’s even better.