I am a big fan of musical theater and an even bigger fan of unintentionally campy entertainment. You can understand how I became such a big fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, although these days I’m more apt to defend it against accusations of being campy entertainment. I may have lived with it too long!
I trace my camp sensibility to Bad Movies We Love, an offshoot of the old Movieline column that scoured old Hollywood for classic examples of unintentionally funny hamfests. Reading that, then subsequently watching Valley of the Dolls and A Summer Place in college prepped me for the misguided glories of Showgirls, Glitter, and Battlefield Earth.
While still in college, my budding interest in theater merged with my affection for flops when I came across Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie. Bookended by the story of the ill-fated musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie, the book describes noteworthy flop Broadway musicals from 1950 to 1990. There are bombs from famous stars like Lucille Ball and Yul Brenner and from famous composers like Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz. There are weird little over-plotted oddities, like the puppet-driven Flahooley. And there are grandiose over-budget disasters like Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge. Not Since Carrie covers over 200 shows and explores how they all went awry.
Unlike Bad Movies We Love, which revels in its cattiness, Not Since Carrie is fairly even-handed. Not to say that Mandelbaum can’t be a bit harsh from time to time: he describes the rock musicals Dude and Via Galactica as “the two most salient horrors” of the post-Hair era and writes that Peter Allen is “a star with a passionate following” but “lacks hits records and is not really all that famous.” You can’t savor camp without a little bit of a zing, right?
But Mandelbaum doesn’t celebrate these shows’ failures. He tries to figure out what went wrong, and even offers up advice on how to avoid making the same mistakes.
His analysis really helped me arrive at the way I write about Eurovision now. The early days of Eurovision Lemurs are marked by snarky commentary, boarding on being mean-spirited. Later, my wife challenged the both of us to write more thoughtfully and more analytically. Since taking on that challenge, our work gradually began to resemble the work Mandelbaum did in Not Since Carrie.
Of course, we still have our moments of comedic depreciation (we do have a page on our website about camp classics, after all). So I guess without trying to do so, we created the Bad Movies We Love meets Not Since Carrie for the Eurovision Song Contest. If what we do is half as good as either of those books, I’ll be pretty happy.