Can you say ‘shoehorned alliteration’? I can!
(There are photos in this entry… scroll down if you have a short attention span and just wanna see the goods)
I thought ‘Musical Monday’ would be a little vague, so here we are — Musical Theatre Monday. Don’t assume this will be some kind of regular, recurring feature because it probably won’t be. I’ve touched on my love of musicals in the past (it’s actually one of the most popular entries on my blog — go figure!) but now I want to talk a little bit more about musicals, their past, their future, and their place in contemporary society.
I’m just going to focus on the golden oldies in this entry, because the history of musical theatre is rather vast. Perhaps I can do a couple more entries in following weeks!
That’s one of my photos, from Little Me. Obviously I’m going to take advantage of my blog and do some shameless self-promotion, but getting back to the plot: let’s start by going way back, right to the beginning, to the ‘golden age’ (you can pretty much ignore anything before 1943, it’s mostly operetta rather than musicals — but there are a few highlights from that era such as Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, or Cole Porter’s Anything Goes). In 1943, Oklahoma was released. I’m not going to pretend that it’s a very good musical — because it’s not — but it had a couple of nice songs, a rousing chorus and a fun story. Then came Carousel and South Pacific – the former containing some really beautiful songs, and the latter being one of the most boring musicals of all time.
Which brings me neatly onto this cute little story about South Pacific. The credit for this story goes to my lovely cousin who is a sound engineer (with very nice, large, aurally-exemplar ears, I might add) that’s currently touring with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Apparently South Pacific is so boring that… people die while watching it. During the last tour of the show, something like ten (10) people died while watching the show! I wish I was making this sad story up, but I’m not. Apparently the average age of the theatre-goers was simply too high. Their hearts were failing left, right and center.
Of course, they joked that the sound was too loud and it was frightening these poor biddies to death. Perhaps there’s a grain of truth there.
Some of the recently-decreased were actually lifted up and carried out of the theatre in the middle of a musical number. How delightfully morbid. Let’s face it, it was probably a whole more interesting for the audience to watch their corpses being dragged around than to actually watch South Pacific though.
Thinking about it, those that grew up with musicals from the 40s will soon be an extinct species — it’ll be like those World War Veteran marches, where there’s just 1 or 2 old guys in wheelchairs left — soon South Pacific tours will open to an audience of just 3 wrinkled, senile geriatrics who are ‘just there for one last jolly’. I’m sure Sondheim or Porter could’ve had a field day with a story like that!
After South Pacific we were treated with such gems as Kiss Me Kate and Guys & Dolls, which is incidentally my favourite musical of the 40s and 50s. Finally the music became more popular and less operatic. Lingering thematic reprises started to become all the rage, with underlying melodies and riffs coming back to haunt and tickle you throughout the show. And then along came My Fair Lady, the popular adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. My Fair Lady was to remain the most popular show for almost a decade, until Fiddler on the Roof turned up (which is a surprise, considering how inferior a show it is — perhaps musical theatre was still developing and cultivating an audience during My Fair Lady’s stage run). Or perhaps there were just lots of Jews in New York…
Anyway, the 60s were a fairly dark, boring period, with the only important event being the appearance of Stephen Sondheim with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He wouldn’t write his best stuff until the 70s and 80s though, and that’s a topic for next Monday! Sondheim’s heyday, and the advent of the rock musical.
For those of you that got this far, here’s another cute photo I took of a stage production: