This is the Emily version of Nathan’s musical.
At one point in the show, it is explained that the term “Broadcast” came from when farmers spread their seeds by throwing them far, “broad casting” the seeds for planting. Radio picked up the term when it grew from just telegraph to voice radio being sent to homes.
Broadcast is what is called a “concept musical”, as opposed to a “narrative musical”. This means rather than telling the story of a person or group of people, it tells the story of an idea. In this case, the idea is radio itself and how it affected how we interact with each other.
Rather than having one scene and then another that follows one character, the scenes blur together within three acts. The scenes are quick vignettes, overlapping with the next scene so that sometimes two or more stories are happening simultaneously on stage. This structure gives the musical a feel such as when you are listening to the radio and flipping through the stations, catching bits of one station then the next and back again.
The show opens in 1901 with a 14 year old boy making his first radio receiver out of an oatmeal box. This scene explains who invented radio, but really plays the relationship between the boy and his mother. The “concept” is the invention of the radio, but the story is how a teenager and his mother struggle to relate to each other as they did in the past.
Others scenes continue to narrate the history of radio and its impact on people. There is a scene about the beginning of telegraph, which is explained by a man – who dreams of being a part of this big new thing – to his wife who just wants him to have a real job that provides for his family. This scene where his wife thinks he will not contribute anything with telegraph overlaps with the next scene where the first SOS is sent out at the sinking of the Titanic, and so lives are saved while family members receive notice of those who did not survive. There is a scene about a man wooing his girl via his radio show, except he never really interacts with her in real life. There is a hilarious old school radio play where the actors provide their own special effects like in the old days. There is a scene about how the radio changed the way we fight wars. There is a brother-sister scene about fighting over whether to sell the old giant-sized radio or not because it holds different memories for each of them: traumatic for one, comforting to the other. There are two overlapping scenes that tell the story of the first voice broadcast that happened on a Christmas Eve. There are scenes about the fight for the patent, the first tabletop radio, the introduction of FM, and the beginning of NBC, CBS, and other networks.
The show is packed full of scenes like this, where the history of the radio is presented through overlapping scenes of the lives of real people. Watching the show brings the audience to almost every emotion, from laughter to tears to anger to fighting injustice to appreciating innocence again. There are stories of love woven in, with the complications of temptation and pains of grief and celebration of happiness. It is a heart show, centered around not the history of the radio itself, but the history of the impact radio has had on us as a people over time.
The show closes with the grandson of the boy in the first scene finding the old oatmeal box and bringing it in to his mother. She is watching television and doesn’t care to be bothered and is not interested in the old box and wires. He discovers its magic in a beautiful finale with a recap of the earlier characters.
It is profound with a depth from layers and layers of meanings, with more connections between characters noticed each time you watch the show. Scott, the composer, marries the lyrics beautifully, from playing the telegraph beeps in the score to actor stomps added so the audience feels the army. As Wesley said in the Playbill article, so often a musical has a good score or good lyrics, but this really is matched perfectly well. Scott’s work is meticulous and powerful, and he is truly one of the genius composers of our time.
It is amazing.
END OF PLAY.
P.S. Did you know the actor’s union requires a cot on site in case the actors need a nap? Best job ever, you might think, but they rehearse all day and the perform into the night. It makes for a long day’s work.