By their sheer exuberance, musicals transport us to a different world. What specific impact do they have on health and wellbeing, maybe more than other music genres?
I hope this will be the first in an occasional series within Medley’s regular blog posts, exploring how and why different music genres have particular impacts on us. Are popular songs the most beneficial? Is folk music more expressive, is classical music always calming? Do impacts across all genres depend on the individual, or are there common patterns of response?
So, to musicals: an explosion of colour, life and sound. They balance comedy, excitement and flair (as in the verve and momentum of “America” from West Side Story) with real drama, suspense and poignancy (like the song “Memory” in the musical Cats). So they cover a spectrum of experiences and emotions, but with bells on, with sparkle. Some tell a fictional story, others, like Evita, draw on history. Where the one story is dramatised as a play and as a musical, the musical may well prove the more memorable of the two, simply because the score adds another layer.
All this has obvious impact on those who attend a live musical, who perform in one, or who hear songs from the shows or watch a film musical. I know the songs immediately boost my mood, and many, many people have experienced this for themselves through the years. Depression-era America saw a surge in musicals: partly a response to the dark days the country was enduring. With huge job losses and anxiety about the future, what could be more welcome than to lose yourself in a celebration of music and movement? Top Hat became one of the great film musicals of the age. And musicals held that power on through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, with enormous success for shows like Singin’ In The Rain, Paint Your Wagon and Mary Poppins. Their impact has endured down the years as new musicals have emerged through composers like Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and Miranda.
There’s also scientific evidence for musicals’ power over us. In 2018 researchers at the University of Lancaster and at University College London cooperated on a study on the impact of musical theatre. They monitored members of the audience at a performance of the musical Dreamgirls in a theatre in London’s West End, and found that people’s heart rates quickened considerably during the performance, as they would if taking part in physical exercise. Not only may this have cardiovascular benefits, it also proves that musicals do have a specific, objective and measurable impact.
Yes, some people find musicals farcical, and they might require you to suspend your disbelief as the cast bursts into song at the most unlikely moment. But is that not what a musical is all about? They are larger than life. Just because they may have a touch of the improbable about them is partly why they have such power.
Musicals may also be called musical theatre or musical comedy, highlighting how they focus on performance & entertainment. Maybe they are the very essence of showbusiness, as they draw together song, music, dance, costumes, sets and lighting: virtuosity at its most diverse. So it is no wonder that their all-singing, all-dancing power to enthral specifically boosts mood, uplifts and energises so many of us.
It would be great if you would like to share how musicals impact you in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.