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How Musicals Work: And How To Write Your Own (Nick Hern Books) (Theatrebook) [Paperback]

Julian Woolford
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 July 2012 Theatrebook
Musicals are the most popular form of stage entertainment today, with the West End and Broadway dominated by numerous long-running hits. They can be gloriously life-affirming spectaculars, swelling both the hearts of audiences, and the wallets of their writers. But for every Wicked or Phantom of the Opera, there are dozens of casualties that didn't fare quite so well. In this book, Julian Woolford explores the musical theatre canon to explain why and how some musicals work, why some don't, and what you should (and shouldn't) do if you're thinking of writing your own.

Drawing on his experience as a successful writer and director of musicals, and as a lecturer in writing musicals at the University of London, Woolford outlines every step of the creative process, from hatching the initial idea and developing a structure for the work, through creating the book, the music and the lyrics, and on to the crucial process of rewriting (as Sondheim said, Musical comedies aren't written, they are rewritten ). He then guides the reader through getting a musical produced, with invaluable advice about generating future productions and sustaining a career.

The book includes dozens of exercises to assist the novice writer in developing their craft, and detailed case studies of well-known musicals such as Les Misérables, The Sound of Music, Miss Saigon, Little Shop of Horrors, Godspell and Evita.

An essential guide for anyone writing or wanting to write a musical, How Musicals Work is a fascinating insight for anyone interested in the art form or who has ever wondered what it takes to get from first idea to first night.

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How Musicals Work: And How To Write Your Own (Nick Hern Books) (Theatrebook) + The Musical Theatre Writer's Survival Guide + Writing The Broadway Musical
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Nick Hern Books (27 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848421753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848421752
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.7 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 198,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


If anyone knows how musicals work (I'm not sure I do), this highly entertaining dissection of every aspect of that bewildering art form reveals that Julian Woolford does. --Sir Tim Rice (Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King)

A comprehensive and thoughtful guide to everything one must consider in order to write a successful musical. It would take at least a decade to learn all of this on one's own. Invaluable. --David Zippel, (lyricist of City of Angels, The Woman in White and Disney's Hercules)

Always practical and always readable... For the writer, wanting to develop their skill, there is much food for thought, and exercises to really sharpen up the much needed techniques.

The sections dealing with structure (the hidden framework for all musicals) are vital for potential creators and extraordinarily informative for those who want to understand the form better... HOW MUSICALS WORK serves both as an absorbing book to read and a handy reference tool for specifics.

As useful to people who want to study (and even review) the form as to those who want to create works, this book is crammed with theory but never leaves the practical behind.

About the Author

JULIAN WOOLFORD is a theatre director, playwright and lyricist, based in the UK and working internationally. Julian's productions have been seen in the West End, off-Broadway, in Europe and he has directed many British national tours and productions in regional theatres, including the hugely successful 2010 national tour of 'Oklahoma!' starring Marti Webb.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like musicals, you'll love this book. 28 Aug 2012
'How Musicals Work and how to write your own' is a comprehensive review of the nuts and bolts of musical theatre and how those individual elements should come together in a piece of popular entertainment. As such it is unique. There are many texts that address particular aspects of the musical but it is unusual to find such an extensive overview in one book.
This is not a dry, academic read. The author illustrates his points with many examples from the musical theatre canon and I imagine my experience of a riveting page-turner will be the same for keen theatregoers and aspiring writer/composers alike.
It is refreshing to find a practitioner so open in sharing their own methodology. The approach is analytical, with many examples of how to do it and how not to. I found the section on 'Source Material' particularly helpful in its clarity. Moreover, the tone for budding creatives is encouraging and that in itself is to be applauded.
This text will become a standard for those studying the form of musical theatre but it will also be enjoyed by many more want to find out just why it is they love seeing shows.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gift for New Musical Writers 4 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have owned this book since July and have been able to treat it as both a series of analytical tutorials and as a creative inspiration. Having spent six months with research into my subject, I had no idea how to structure and start writing my first musical. Woolford's simple but brilliant descriptions of how musicals work (fully illustrated with great examples) unblocks and propels the ideas onto paper.

Once I got to Chapter 5's Create a Synopsis I have not looked back. I found the section on songs and lyrics particularly useful. It's a clear guide for a non-musician and it has unlocked my communication with my two musician collaborators. I feel we can speak the same language! This book is a real gift to the first timer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable! 8 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read maybe twenty books on how to write musicals, but this, along with David Spenser's 'The Musical Theater Writer's Survival Guide' are the only two that I keep permanently to the left of my desk for reference. In writing a musical the book (the libretto, and how it unfolds) is everything, and Woolford covers a lot of ground on 'The Monomyth'. (What Christopher Vogler calls The Hero's Journey.)In Woolford, however, the chapters are succinct, to the point, and most importantly explain everything using examples from musicals you will know: Evita, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Little Shop of Horrors, etc. His chapters on Music contain a few minor errors, but I'm sure these will be ironed out in the second edition, of which I am sure there will be one. All in all, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, though I know that there are others who will still go for Lehmann Engel, though where Engel deals in generalities - and is still an excellent read - Woolford has specifics. I saw upwards of 40 new musicals in London last year, some of which had had many millions thrown at them, and were by household names. I can honestly say that there wasn't one which wouldn't have been immeasurably improved by implementing even chapter five of Woolford's book (structure)!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Musicals Work: And How to Write Your Own 13 Aug 2012
How Musicals Work: And How To Write Your Own (Nick Hern Books) (Theatrebook)I would like to whole-heartedly recommend Julian Woolford's new book 'How Musicals Work: And How to Write Your Own.' I studied under Woolford and found that he was able to clarify the finer points of story structure in a way that made things really click for me. I imagine that his 12 step story structure graph (located in chapter 5) will forever be pinned to the tack board in my office. - Caroline Wigmore [[ASIN:1848421753 How Musicals Work: And How To Write Your Own (Nick Hern Books) (Theatrebook)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Yep - go for it! 2 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For everyone who has ever fancied writing a musical, here is the definitive
way to approach it if you are serious. Easy to read, comprehensive and
genuinely helpful

Thanks Julian!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Practical Guide 29 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Most useful book I have read on the subject. Full of great tips and practical advice re pitfalls and opportunities if you want to get your own musical produced.
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