musical theater

Elton John's Ballet Joins Long Tradition of Rock Music On Stage

The Alberta Ballet's celebrated Love Lies Bleeding comes to Houston this weekend.

By Michael Hardy January 29, 2015

Alberta Ballet company artists. Photo: JJ Thompson

Love Lies Bleeding
Jan 30– Feb 1
Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Ave. 

This weekend, the Alberta Ballet visits Houston to perform their acclaimed ballet Love Lies Bleeding, a dance spectacular created by the company's iconoclastic artistic director Jean Grand-Maître. The ballet features the music of Elton John and was inspired by the pop star's turbulent life, from international superstardom to  drug addiction to coming out as a gay man in the 1970s. And John isn't alone—these days, it seems like every pop star worth his or her salt has a musical on Broadway, from Sting's The Last Ship to U2's ill-fated Turn Off The Dark. In 2013 Cyndi Lauper won a Tony Award for her music for Kinky Boots, which travels to Houston in February. To prepare you for this weekend's extravaganza, here are some of the highlights and lowlights in the history of bringing rock music to the stage. 

Tommy (1993)

Music: The Who

Genre: Rock opera

Created by: Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff

Premise: Traumatized deaf, dumb, and blind boy experiences child abuse and bullying; finds salvation in pinball. Based on The Who's 1969 concept album. 

Creative staging: During finale, entire theater is transformed into enormous pinball machine

Critical appraisal: "Not merely an entertainment juggernaut, riding at full tilt on the visual and musical highs of its legendary pinball iconography and irresistible tunes, but also a surprisingly moving resuscitation of the disturbing passions that made 'Tommy' an emblem of its era." (Frank Rich, New York Times) 


Music: Paul Simon

Genre: Musical play

Created by: Paul Simon and Derek Wolcott

Premise: Tells the story of real-life Puerto Rican gangster Salvador Agrón, following him from the barrios of New York City to the prison cell where he spent the final decades of his life. 

Creative staging: Photographic projections evoke Puerto Rico, streets of New York

Estimated budget: $11 million

Critical appraisal: "May be unparalleled in its wholesale squandering of illustrious talents [...] no fun even as a target." (Ben Brantley, New York Times)

We Will Rock You (2002)

Music: Queen

Genre: Rock musical

Created by: Queen and Ben Elton

Premise: In a dystopian future where everyone dresses and things and same, and rock music is forbidden, a group of nonconformist Bohemians stage a rebellion. 


Critical appraisal: "Pantomime has arrived a little early in the West End, in the shape of this shallow, stupid and totally vacuous new musical." (Michael Coveney, Daily Mail)

MOVIN' OUT (2002)

Music: Billy Joel

Genre: Rock musical

Created by: Twyla Tharp

Premise: Tells the story of three teenage friends growing up on Long Island in the 1960s

Creative staging: A vintage Mustang convertible forms part of the set

Estimated budget: $8.5 million

Critical appraisal: "In chronicling the stories of five blue-collar friends from their glory days in high school through the Vietnam War and its long hangover, 'Movin' Out' vibrates with a riveting uneasiness." (Ben Brantley, New York Times)


Music: Green Day

Genre: Rock opera

Created by: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

Premise: Three disaffected young men seek excitement, love, and meaning in post-9/11 America. Based on Green Day's concept album of the same name. 

Creative staging: Two characters wrapping themselves together with rubber tubing to symbolize their descent into heroin addiction

Estimated budget: $8–10 million

Critical appraisal: "Rage and love, those consuming emotions felt with a particularly acute pang in youth, all but burn up the stage in “American Idiot,” the thrillingly raucous and gorgeously wrought Broadway musical adapted from the blockbuster pop-punk album by Green Day." (Charles Isherwood, New York Times)


Music: Elton John

Genre: Pop ballet

Created by: Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maîte

Premise: A journey through the highs and lows of the life of a celebrity entertainer, from the perspective of his biggest fan. 

Creative staging: Massive angled mirror displays old news footage of John throughout his career

Estimated budget: $1.1 million

Critical appriasal: "A high-octane ride from the moment it begins right to its splashy, show-stopping finale." (Dana Glassman, National Post)


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