Musicals

Posted on February 11, 2013

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I mentioned Les Miserables in my last post because it’s been on my mind lately (with the new movie and all) and because it’s quite possibly the greatest musical ever made. I love musicals. I love music in general, as most people do, but I have a special fondness for musicals. There’s something… powerful… about them. It’s difficult to describe with words, but I feel that Shakespeare said it best:

Jessica:
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.

Lorenzo:
The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn’d to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

The Merchant of Venice, Act V Scene I (emphasis mine)

Of course, he was speaking only of music. And I like music as much as anyone else. Daft Punk, System of a Down, Trampled by Turtles, Phish, Massive Attack; these are bands that I connect with on a visceral level. Their music stirs me, sends a shiver up my spine and makes me want to stop everything just to listen. Am I more animal than man? I do not think so. I think, rather, that Shakespeare suggests a common thread throughout all creation. J.R.R. Tolkien felt the same way, as evidenced by the opening pages of The Silmarillion, as did C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew. But there’s another difference between man and animal (so far as we know): stories.

We are hardwired to tell stories. Ask anyone about their day and you’re likely to receive a story (assuming, of course, that the person feels their day is worth talking about). Our free time is filled with storytelling, from television and movies to books and video games. We even apply the basic concepts of stories to sports: if you watch ESPN or a similar network, I’m sure you’re familiar with their tendency to talk about sports in terms of the narrative. It’s just how we think.

That being the case, why aren’t there more musicals being produced in Hollywood? Yes, I know, ever since 2002, when Chicago came out, there’s been an increase in the number of musicals produced for the silver screen. And they’ve been mostly successful. But why do we not hear about them?

I started this post thinking that I would complain about how you never see musicals in movie theaters anymore. Then I started the research. Turns out that Hollywood produces about as many musicals each year as Broadway does. If not, then Broadway is only slightly in the lead. Currently, Wikipedia lists 14 musical on their page for the current and upcoming Broadway seasons. They also list about a dozen musicals for the past several years (each) coming from Hollywood. But here’s the interesting part: maybe a third to a half of these are animated, meant for children or direct-to-DVD releases. And how many of them have you heard about? Ads for Les Mis were everywhere; not so much for Rock of Ages or The Devil’s Carnival.

Then again, I was out of the country for 2012, so I might be way off with that assessment…

Here’s the reality: we are programmed, if you will, to be receptive to music and storytelling. When combined, they form a powerful narrative. I’d argue that it’s the most powerful (consider all those epic poems that have survived through the years; chances are high that they were originally composed with music in mind) way to tell a story. Why, then, are musicals not more mainstream?

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Posted in: Media