Life: Left of Centre

The Power of the Musical

Posted on: March 9, 2012

The view from Time Square

Anyone that knows me knows that I love Musical Theatre – for that is its original name. More popularly, and certainly since the dawn of the 20th Century, simply called ‘musicals‘. Now this isn’t going to be a history lesson – but rather my take on the phenomenon that is the musical, and how simply put, it makes our lives that little bit more entertaining and enjoyable.

Love em or hate em we can all name a Broadway or West End musical, a famous name for yesteryear or today’s hits: Oklahoma!, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, We Will Rock You, Chicago – to name a few, and demonstrate the variety of what’s been on offer to theatre-goers over just the last 60 years or so. The ability to tell a story using not only a great script, and some fancy dance moves and choreography, but also a rip-roaring musical number, anthem or ballad – call them what you will – is unmistakable. They’ve kept drawing audiences into theatres across the world for over 150 years, in their modern form.

That famous partnership: Lloyd-Webber and Rice

Great double acts: Gilbert & Sullivan, Rodgers and Hammerstein and, more recently, Lloyd-Webber and Rice have produced hit after hit – from HMS Pinafore and the Mikado; to South Pacific and the Sound of Music, and most recently Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Phantom of the Opera – the most successful musical ever produced with over 10,000 performances on Broadway. Each of them so different, in their style, presentation and energy, but each having one thing in common – they keep you coming back for more!

Queen and Ben Elton proudly present...

Now musicals, I know, are like Marmite for many – you love them or you can’t stand them. Sadly the latter is often expressed without the viewer having ever seen one, or judging the genre on simply one show. There is a musical for everyone in my view, so if it’s believability that’s your problem perhaps give Cats a miss; or if its that ‘not another love story’ syndrome then I’d avoid Phantom of the Opera. But if you’re looking for a burst of energy, with a popular soundtrack and some fun pop references We Will Rock You (the Queen musical) is right up your street; or if you fancy a fast-paced, fun and more than a little bit naughty production then Chicago would suit you perfectly  – and all that jazz.

So many to choose from!

What you don’t get from film, television or the theatre is that little bit of showmanship, that self-indulgent moment when you can just let go and immerse yourself in the story and not think about your everyday life. Musicals let you dream out loud, no inhibitions, just fun – and a frolic through a fabulous adventure. All at a reasonable price, and on any night of the week you choose. You can’t say much fairer than that?


Razzle Dazzle 'em!

Now, to indulge myself for a moment: I’ve enjoyed many a musical myself and the list is probably too long for this blog post. If I were to pick a favourite (though that would be very difficult) I’d have to go with Chicago – if only for its mix of story, music, set, catchy lyrics and beautiful people ;). But there are so many more our there that I’d recommend. Wicked has bee a revelation as a new musical take on the Wizard of Oz – itself a classic. Avenue Q was a hilarious take on Sesame Street and both Mary Poppins and Dirty Dancing, much beloved films brought back to life in a format that worked so perfectly. That’s to take nothing away from classics such as Cats, Sound of Music and the King and I. All beautifully rendered and an entertaining trip down memory lane.

Next generation

Most of all though musicals are changing and adapting to the modern audience, with new shows such as Newsies, Rock of Ages and Book of Mormon being released on Broadway and now / soon in the West End. While we may never return to the golden age of the 1950s, 60s and 70s the revival and evolution of the musical will surely be an enduring part of Western culture. And long may that continue!

For those interested in the history, you can watch the recent BBC 3-part series on the Story of Musicals here.


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