Whether you love or hate it, it is undeniable that musical theatre is everywhere you look. Ryan Murphy’s latest creation has seen the emergence of self confessed ‘gleeks’, for those unfamiliar it is a term used to describe a group of fans currently addicted to the overtly (and unahsamedly so) cheesy musical TV show ‘Glee’. But what direction is musical theatre taking exactly?
Is it a saturated phenomenon thanks to Disney and the countless number of television musicals it has released in the last few years (think high school musical) or a serious branch of theatre that has allowed the likes of Jennifer Hudson to garner not only a BAFTA but the ultimate prize, an Oscar for her performance in ‘Dream Girls’ as well as the regeneration of a breed of actors that have the much envied triple threat: singing, acting and dancing.
Musicals have always been popular to a certain extent, and the screen is for the most part, the most accessible way to see them when you consider theatre ticket prices. Nonetheless in the last few years, musicals have become insanely popular in Hollywood. Fans of American television will have seen characters burst into song in shows such as ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘30 Rock.’ Film favorites in recent years include, ‘Chicago’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’, two musicals that not only amassed critical success but also proved box office gold. Undoubtedly, they were terribly entertaining but what is happening to real musical theatre? That is, theatre put on the stage in front of a live audience with lights, music and sweat?
While television musicals solve obvious issues such as un-retouched make-up, mistakes in choreography and limited sets and props, live theatre distinguishes mediocre performers from those that are simply brilliant. ‘My Fair lady’ is a classic example, whereby Julie Andrews performed all the musical numbers on stage but it is claimed that in the film all but one number was dubbed by Marni Nixon. Today, the dreaded 808 machines, or auto-tune has enabled singers to reach notes they never could and retouch any mistakes, which makes me ponder if technology, as it has been argued in many other fields, is encroaching on this brilliant branch of entertainment.
Granted, a lot of productions do start on the stage and then are transferred to the big screen, permitting audiences to enjoy the best of both worlds; live vocals as well as the rewind button when they want to relive a particular number. And as a fellow gleek, I cannot deny that I am an avid television musical fan but perhaps live theatre needs to get the credit it deserves and what better way than to go watch a couple shows. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ produced by musical god Andrew Lloyd Webber is coming to the London stage, and soon after ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ will be out for all to enjoy. Cue the singing.