And now for something completely different. Well, sort of, but it’s a stretch from my usual writing about writing.
I’m about to make an admission. Maybe not a manly one, but I’m old enough that I can suffer the slings, arrows, and jibes that just about anyone might aim at me. So, here it is: I love musical theatre.
My love for musicals began in 1957, when my parents took me, an 11 year old boy, to my first Broadway show, L’il Abner. I loved everything about it: the staging, the comedy, the music, and most of all, Edie Adams as Daisy Mae (no further comment necessary). Two days later, I saw The Most Happy Fella. Thus was my love for musicals ignited, and the flame has burned brightly ever since.
Why mention (admit?) this? Because musicals, like novels, short stories, and articles, are written. And just as for these other works, some musical shows are written brilliantly, the music, lyrics, and spoken dialogue meshing perfectly. A few examples: the aforementioned L’il Abner, Carousel, West Side Story, 42nd Street, The Scottsboro Boys, Chicago, Pippin, Little Shop of Horrors, et al.
Others, less than perfect, nevertheless succeed despite their flaws. Take Miss Saigon, which has wonderful music and at least some very well written lyrics, but also some that are awkward and even trite. Still, the show overcomes its flaws on the strength of its story (a modern updating of Madame Butterfly), its emotionality, and the beauty of its music. The Phantom of the Opera offers another example of a wildly successful show that succeeds more because of its elaborate staging and lushly romantic plot than because of its unremarkable writing set to some admittedly catchy, if occasionally largely indistinguishable melodies. I will never understand why Cats has been so successful.
On the other hand, there are the flops. Does anyone really remember, or want to remember, Aspects of Love?
So, what’s the point of all this? It’s that writing a successful musical is a terribly difficult thing to do, and the skill and creativity involved in doing so are grossly underappreciated. Too many people dismiss musical theatre as trivial when, in fact, like jazz, it is a truly American, highly complex art form that deserves much more respect than it gets. I love musicals and, if you don’t, perhaps you should take another look. And listen. Maybe you’ll find love, much as I once did with Daisy Mae.