November can be a dark and dreary month – the very opposite of musical shows, which explode with rhythm and colour and life! So this November I’m sharing a suggestion each day of a song from a musical to listen to (in a Facebook group) – just go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/557385639483426/
Life-enhancing would have to be the first word that comes to my mind when I think about musicals. Any play or film could be life-enhancing, but a musical show is super-charged. At any moment in the show, music might strike up and performers burst into song. At once the mood changes. Music, song and dance can lift the mood, or cast a shadow, excite or quieten the audience. They might build suspense, move the story along, build drama to a crescendo or create an interlude. A musical show is diverse and varied. There’s stimulus on all different levels, which is known to improve mental wellbeing. Time flies.
By now musical shows have a long and hugely varied heritage. There are nusicals set all over the world, performed on stage and screen, in all different musical styles. Dance styles vary too, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ stand-out tap routines in the Thirties. Some shows create a fantasy world – think of The Wizard Of Oz, or Mary Poppins flying through the air. You could say there’s an element of fantasy in all musicals, because we don’t go around singing in everyday life. Maybe we should!
Music’s unique part in mind and memory is still emerging. It is known that when people’s menory fails through dementia, musical memory can remain. I wonder whether musical shows might prove particularly memorable, combining as they do words and melody, story and score? Maybe hearing again songs from the shows could revive an entire experience and mood, if only for a little while. We build our strongest musical memory before the age of thirty, so the songs most likely to revive that memory will depend on the age of the hearer.
Sometimes, music, song and/or dance are integral to the story itself, as in the musicals Cabaret and Dirty Dancing, and The Sound Of Music, where Maria teaches her charges to sing. But even when they have no specific place in the plot, they may express far more than could words alone, powerful though they are.
Musicals may be inspired by books and literature, like Oliver, based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, or by legend, like the musical Camelot. Musicals can be outbursts of life and joy, but they can also cover important and thought-provoking themes. Oh What A Lovely War explores the horrors of conflict. Even The Soung Of Music, an idyll of singing in mountain pastures, is set against a backdrop of war and escape. West Side Story never hides the struggles of the immigrant experience in New York. And Andrew Llod Webber’s Evita focuses on the life of Eva Peron and the controversies of Argentinian politics. Far from being a dose of escapism, then, musical shows can shine a light on the darkness of human experience as feelings run high. So they are rarely remote from real life.
A lot of negativity has been directed at musicals. Some find them melodramatic, pretentious or farcical, or feel the music detracts from the plot. Many prefer opera in the grand tradition. I feel there’s space for musicals, opera and spoken-word drama alike. As they say, variety is the spice of life.