One thing that really grinds my gears (alongside bigots, arrogance, and people who stand on the wrong side of the escalator) is when people make the massive generalisation that they “hate musicals”. I understand when people say that musicals aren’t really their thing – I’m the same way with action movies and epics. But I would never say “I hate action movies” because a) I don’t see enough of them to really have much of an opinion on the genre, and b) on rare occasions I have enjoyed certain action films. If you were to say you hated A particular musical, then fine. But saying you hate ALL musical theatre is an ignorant comment. Here are five reasons why:
1. Not all musicals involve jazz hands
I think some people have stereotypical ideas in their heads of what constitutes a musical. It’s not all jazz hands, high kicks, cheesiness, and huge teethy smiles with a thin plot where everyone is all ‘happy-happy-joy-joy’. Of course when anything parodies a musical this is the way they are portrayed. Many classical Broadway musicals like Anything Goes and 42nd Street are indeed like that, but there is more variety in musical theatre than you may think. Many of my favourite musicals are pretty tragic. Spring Awakening deals with sexually repressed youth in late 1800s Germany and involves teen pregnancy, homosexuality, masturbation, child abuse, backyard abortion, and suicide. Rent is about living with AIDS. Next to Normal is about a woman with bipolar and her grief over losing a child. When I tell people it involves the main character getting electro-convulsive therapy they look puzzled because they assume it occurs while she sings jovially about it with 30 back-up dancers behind her. Not so. Then there are musicals like Once about a guy and a girl singing folk music in a bar, In the Heights which incorporates rap and Latin styles, After Midnight which plays more like a jazz revue, and Avenue Q where politically-incorrect puppets have sex and sing numbers like ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’. There is a lot of variety to be had within the realm of musical theatre and to write it all off as the same shallow crap means you are missing out.
2. It doesn’t make sense to love music, but hate musicals
How can you claim to be passionate about music, but write-off the MUSICAL genre of theatre/film? “Oh but musicals don’t involve REAL music and they’re not written by REAL artists” the haters reply. Well, do you like Elton John? Because he’s written three highly successful musicals thus far. Bono and The Edge? They wrote Spiderman (it was crap, but still). Think Tim Minchin is a comic and musical genius? He wrote Matilda and is currently writing Groundhog Day. Like Green Day? They did American Idiot (including the script). And the musical numbers in King Kong were written by a bunch of artists including Massive Attack and Sarah McLachlan. What if your favourite artist announced they were writing a musical? Would you automatically assume it would be crap? If you think that an album tells a story, then how is a musical any different? Saying you love music but hate musicals kind of just makes you look like a music snob, and it doesn’t really make sense.
3. Musicals don’t “all sound the same”
– Saying all musicals sound the same doesn’t make sense considering all the different genres used in musicals (rock, folk, country, rap, Latin, jazz, gospel, classical Broadway, hip-hop, etc.)
– Saying all classical Broadway musicals sound the same is akin to saying all rock music sounds the same.
– Saying all the songs within one musical sound the same is on par with saying that all Beatles’ songs sound the same. If the songs are all written by the one composer/team then yes there’s going to be some similarity – but it doesn’t mean each song doesn’t have something different to offer. It’s also common for some musicals such as Wicked to have reoccurring musical motifs which is why a few songs might include the same refrain at one point. That’s what ties it all together.
4. Claiming that people breaking into song is “unrealistic” is a crap argument if you enjoy any other type of art form that requires suspension of disbelief
A common argument that so-called musical-haters make is that it is not believable for characters to burst into song mid-conversation, and for those around them to not respond with “WHAT THE HELL? WHY ARE YOU SINGING AND WHY ARE PEOPLE DANCING?” And these are the same people who enjoy sci-fi films or countless other films that require suspension of disbelief. “Oh but it disrupts the flow when people start singing;” you might respond, “It’s hard to get emotionally invested in a character when they break into song”. Tell me exactly, what is more emotional than music? A heartfelt song can evoke way more emotion than a conversation. And I for one would love it if real life were that way- when you’re feeling low a spotlight could shine down on you while you belt out your feelings. It would be way more satisfying than just having a bitch and moan about it. (I’m assuming we all have amazing voices in this scenario).
5. Jersey Boys is a musical
I’ve heard numerous times that Jersey Boys is a musical for people who hate musicals. The thing is, Jersey Boys IS a musical. So that doesn’t make sense! Suck it up, be a man (and walk like a man, talk like a man), and just acknowledge that you saw a musical that you actually enjoyed. Same goes for The Book of Mormon which, subject matter aside, is actually very classically Broadway.
Maybe I’m being somewhat hypocritical here as I often make the opposite generalisation that I “love musicals”. I should point out that actually I do not love ALL musicals. While I don’t mind Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical scores, some of their storylines are so hideously outdated that I really can’t bring myself to enjoy musicals like South Pacific and The King and I. And then there’s Cat Stevens’ musical, Moonshadow, which is the biggest piece of crap of professional theatre I have ever encountered in my lifetime. The actors were fine, but it had a terrible storyline and awful dialogue which included majorly wanky metaphors about your “shadow” (read: God). Not to mention that parts of it seemed like something out of a children’s television show. A bad one. The resolution was to shut the villain into a box and then EVERYONE LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I felt sorry for everyone involved. I’m also not a fan of Cats because it’s ridiculous and ‘Memory’ is my most-hated song of all time. Then there are some musicals that just don’t appeal to me that much, usually because the style of music is not really what I’m into (e.g. Once, most stuff by Gilbert and Sullivan, and much older musicals).
My point is: the musical genre is full of many different works of art and can’t all be put into the same box (like that stupid witch in Moonshadow). Don’t be so quick to pass judgement on anything that comes with the words “the musical” at the end of it. You never know what you may be missing out on.