Can Axl Rose—excuse me, an Axl-like
character—revolutionize musical theater?
By Lou Harry
Gadfly December 1998
so damn hot in the rehearsal hall that the sound
itself seems to be dripping from the walls—so
hot that if this were your standard theater rehearsal
space, the actors—Equity or not—would
have long since bailed. It's even too hot to eat
the pizza that Andy Prieboy has brought in to
feed his cast. Prieboy, the thin, sarcastic, gothic‑looking
fellow behind the keyboards, used to be part of
the band Wall of Voodoo (after it hit the charts
in the U.S. with "Mexican Radio"), then
recorded a couple of albums on his own. Lately
he's been here in L.A. doing his part to expand
the definition of American musical theater. His
project: a Gilbert & Sullivan‑esque
musical about the life and times of what he describes
as an "Axl‑like character," clearly
inspired by the former Guns 'n' Roses frontman,
who comes to L.A. along with others of his ilk
in search of heavy metal stardom. If the show,
White Trash Wins Lotto, sounds like a lark,
well, that's the way it began.
did start as a joke," admits Prieboy. "I
had neighbors behind my house who wrote bad musicals—not
deliberately bad music but Broadway kind of shows.
It briefly flashed across my mind how these guys
would proceed if they read Appetite for Destruction
by Danny Sugarman [a non‑fiction account
of Guns 'n' Roses] and treated it as a 'property.'
I wondered how they might reinterpret it for the
my fingers started to play and I started singing
this plaintive song I called 'I Want To Be in
a Metal Band.' It was so wrong, but one night
I played it on stage during my regular set of
depression/suicidal material and it brought the
can't pinpoint the moment when the song grew into
its own show. The first tune was written a year
and a half ago and since then he's been adding
new songs, coming up with more narration, and
expanding to include additional performers. "The
more the joke developed, to my surprise, the more
there was depth," he says. "Mind you,
not great depth—but depth. And I needed
other characters to flesh out and act out and
sing those ideas."
addition to his band, he's added a crew of performers
including Paul F. Tompkins—familiar to viewers
of Comedy Central's The Daily Show—and
Blaine Kapatch, a writer/producer on Mad‑TV.
The company rehearses in this overheated space,
then heads over to Largo, a nightclub best known
as a haunt for underground comics of the Janeane
Garofolo/Dana Gould school, for a handful of performances
it stands now, the show, hovering around an hour
and a half running time, features Prieboy narrating
from behind the keyboards in and around him and
his company performing the loosely connected songs.
"The image I have is throwing stones across
the stream," says Prieboy. "Pretty soon
the stones turn into piles and eventually we'll
have a bridge."
now the "pile of stones" begins with
an Axl‑like character getting to Hollywood,
going through the early career stages and landing
a record deal. It follows him all the way to opening
for the Rolling Stones. "It's a basic story:
kids from nowhere come to L.A., get discovered
and create a revolution. In a strange way it sounds
like an old Broadway musical: Young boy makes
what's the evolutionary path for the show? "Rock
thrives on spontaneity," Prieboy, protective
of his project, says. "It thrives on danger.
Broadway takes away that spontaneity—or
that illusion of spontaneity—by having 80
hoofers on stage hitting their marks. So they
end up taking ideas that basically germinate in
garages and sweaty clubs and then corrupting them—taking
rebellious music and turning it into entertainment—or
worse, sensitive social commentary."
now, we're doing it small," says Prieboy.
"I'm enjoying the intimacy of Largo—enjoying
playing to 150 people a night and doing it when
is also still an element of danger about it now
for the composer—an element that keeps the
show tilted more toward rock and roll than traditional
musical theater. "It'll be tough to keep
that up on a bigger stage with props and light
cues," he concedes, but clearly the show
could evolve in that direction. Right now, Prieboy
is financing things through a publishing deal
advance from BMG for the songs that ultimately
are kept in the show. He's meeting record companies
and film companies. Large cable networks are suddenly
becoming interesting. "I want to work with
a company that is willing to preserve the original
vision—if we can use that word for something
that started out, and largely remains, a joke."
He's talked to Rex Smith (of Broadway's Pirates
of Penzance) to eventually take over
the Axl‑ish part and has considered surviving
Milli Vanilli‑member Fab to play the pseudo‑Slash.
anxiously await that production as I think anyone
who gives a damn about the future of musical theater
should. Why? Because, at the risk of overstating
the case, White Trash Wins Lotto,
with all its loose ends, casual structure, poor
title and work‑needing‑to‑be‑done,
gives me more hope for the merging of rock and
show music than Jesus Christ Superstar,
Paul Simon's The Capeman, Elton
John's The Lion King, Hair
and—dare I state such a sacrilege?—even
Rent. Not that I have anything against
those shows (well, to be honest, I haven't been
able to force myself to listen to the entire score
of Rent)—some I actually will
confess to liking.
the medium doesn't really need rockers trying
to be theater folks. And it doesn't need theater
folks pretending to be rockers (I'm speaking from
painful experience here, having been one of the
handful of people to suffer through the Broadway
musical Marlowe, in which Shakespeare
and Christopher Marlowe get wasted together).
What it could use is talented composers from all
genres—rock, country, gospel, pop—trying
their hands at narrative.
the unshakable anthem "Wealthy, Fucked Up,
and Free" to the joyful goofy "Phone
Call for Willie Bananas" to the hoe‑down
of a title song, Prieboy's contempt for rock and
roll musicals seems almost overshadowed by his
deftness as a musician. The guy knows his musical
genres. The music for the "Willie Bananas"
tune, for instance, would be right at home in
a Marx Brothers flick. The songs entertain, stick
with you, and leave you wanting to hear them again
to pick out the nuances of the lyrics. And, for
the most part, they rock.
to White Trash Wins Lotto—sorry,
but Prieboy is careful not to have tapes of the
songs circulating until he's ready—makes
one think a lot less of contemporary musicals
that try to soften rock for the masses. If one
has become disillusioned by the theatrical efforts
of Paul Simon (who tried to over‑theatricalize
The Capeman, which would have made
a much better concert), Pete Townshend (what the
hell was that bullshit plotting and the cloying
new song he imposed on Tommy?) and
others—or if one has listened to Rent
and, ten minutes later, tried to remember any
of the tunes—then White Trash Wins Lotto
is a surprising beacon of hope.
those lucky enough to get into the sold-out houses
as Largo, Prieboy and company send a clear message
that there are many ways to develop new work.
White Trash also cries out with
the message that contemporary musicals don't have
to have dull and forgettable scores (i.e., the
work of such yawn‑inducing, future‑of‑the‑musical
composers as Michael John LaChiusa, of the recent
Hello Again and The Petrified
Prieboy's hostility toward the genre may be a
bit over the top, but if that's what helps him
produce this kind of material, well, I wish more
musicians had his anger. The form would be the
better for it.