I Hate Musicals

I have a friend who is an up and coming director and also a Shakespeare aficionado. They told me a few years ago, “I’m very sorry to tell you this Conrad but I have to be honest. I absolutely hate musicals.” He then went on to tell me how it just makes no sense that people break into song on street corners and an orchestra breaks in to support them.

I have to agree it’s absolutely ridiculous. And when we say “musical” we are really referring to the “American musical” phenomenon started on Broadway, the “Great White Way”. However, it’s the fact that it’s so ridiculous that makes me love it so much.

I think the love of musicals, like religion, is passed down a bit from your upbringing. I can remember vividly being 5 years old and listening on headphones to the record player playing Jesus Christ Superstar and also Fiddler on the Roof. Yes, that was a RECORD PLAYER and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack was released that very same year. Oh boy, I’m really dating myself now.

That was just the coolest sound in the world to me. Maybe like Pavlov’s dog I was brainwashed into musical theater appreciation. And those mental bites of passion from our youth are hard to wash away.

Later I would perform in several operas, but later still would do music for many musicals and I can tell you there is no legal high on this planet that has an equal. The energy of the cast and opening night and…..well now it sounds like I’m just recapping the lyrics to “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.

The need for the theater musical high is never-ending. I know many pit musicians that have dreamed of being on stage and later took a character role. And also many actors that dreamed of being in the pit and later played an instrument for a show. It’s all about the new experiences.

Different people have very specific small moments and things they like best about theater. It might be a smell, a time in production, a chemistry. My personal favorite time in a musical is the moment when a conductor takes the podium to when he gives the stick for the downbeat. It’s that silence and anticipation of the audience, then “Whoooommm!”. When I am conducting, that moment is worth all the time spent in rehearsals.

My other favorite process of the theater musical from the music end is the slow unraveling of the understanding of the work. From that first opening of the score where everything in my mind is a hazy fog. To day after day working on and understanding the score at new levels. It’s like seeing a sculpture slowly take form or the fog slowly lifting on a beautiful intricate city scape.

And the end result is ALWAYS ridiculous. People singing in their kitchens, people getting angry over silly and petty things, the making up, the hero’s journey and the reconciliation (or not) of their goals and dreams.

But for that 2 hours or so the audience has gone somewhere else. They have forgotten every day life and shared an experience with the cast, crew and other audience members. And THAT is what is ultimately cool about musical theater.

2 thoughts on “I Hate Musicals

  1. “But for that 2 hours or so the audience has gone somewhere else.”

    So true, and what a gift the audience receives! We are granted full permission to vicariously recall the thrill we
    knew as children engrossed in the world of imagination.
    There, we never missed an opportunity to laugh uproariously,
    dance with abandon, and find sheer glee in the freedom of silliness. We pictured ourselves as heroes, and were entirely
    satisfied with ourselves at the end of the day. It is no
    small thing to possess talents which leave others happier, refreshed and renewed, so break a leg!

  2. Most musicals have not progressed past the Ethel Merman, Rogers and Hammerstein, Rogers and Hart stage. Whatever it is is usually standout loud, over-acted, ethnically hammered and outlandishly choreographed. Its just too damned “stagey” and regardless of what Broadway likes to think and proclaim, it didn’t invent stage musicals. Now Sondheim comes out and denounces the new production of “Porgy and Bess” (still in Boston) without having talked to one person in it or having seen it. What I saw I loved and was refreshed. Well, Steve, I’m not sure I even liked your umpteenth version of “Romeo and Juliet”. Bring me something new because I sure ain’t gonna spend $100 for cheap seats in raggedy New York for anymore stinking and unimaginative repertory regurgitations. Not even on Cape Cod.

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