Tired of watching “new” musicals based on decades-old movies or the music of long-dead musicians? Try looking to the visual arts for inspiration. On Saturday, the Kennedy Center begins performances of Little Dancer, a new musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty inspired by the Edgar Degas sculpture “Little Dancer Aged 14,” a popular fixture at the National Gallery of Art. If Tony Award winners can find theatrical fodder in a 135-year-old sculpture, what other iconic pieces of local art could inspire pieces for the stage? Here, some suggestions for aspiring composers.
The would-be musical: Peacocks!
The inspiration: James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room, at the Freer Gallery of Art
The plot: Broadway loves an East-meets-West tale (Pacific Overtures; Miss Saigon), so this musical chronicles the journey of the room’s porcelain from its creation in China to London. Actors portray craftsmen and art dealers; the first act closes with an elaborate peacock-costumed dance sequence.
The would-be musical: Becoming Grandma
The inspiration: The National Museum of Women in the Art’s collection of folk art by Anna Mary “Grandma” Moses
The plot: Take a grand dame of the stage (Angela Lansbury, Blythe Danner) and have her tell the story of Moses’ transformation from Virginia housewife to acclaimed painter and cultural icon. Get the Lumineers to write a folksy score.
The would-be musical: Bowie Knife Edge
The inspiration: Henry Moore’s “Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece,” on display outside the National Gallery of Art’s west building
The plot: Two characters, equally determined to attack the other one, face off in a knife fight around a replica of Moore’s enormous bronze forms. As with Moore’s work, which comes with little explanation, audience members have to make their own decisions as to why the characters are fighting.
Photos courtesy of (top to bottom) the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the National Gallery of Art