Before I go on continuing to post about Occupy and Theatre, I wanted to post about this 2amt post about musical theatre. I love his thesis on non-“authentic” music in musical theatre, though, at the same time, I can’t help but admit I do love some inauthentic shows. I’ve always wondered how musical theatre went from being the same music you’d hear on the radio, to a very specific genre of its own, really only heard but a certain sort of person. I know there are plenty of students at BU who aren’t a fan of musicals, and I always find it disheartening. Often I hear that they’re overly commercial or silly, that they don’t really go deep, and there are so many musicals that really do.
In a TCG interview with Sondheim:
Your musicals coincide with the rock era, but that’s not something you’ve ever had any affinity for.
Rock didn’t come in until I was in my mid-twenties, so I’m a generation out of it, which is why I don’t write it and why it has no meaning to me. What means something is the music of one’s childhood, what you’re brought up on, and my musical tastes are back in the ’40s and ’50s.
So you didn’t share Leonard Bernstein’s enthusiasm for pop and rock, even though he was older than you?
Oh, I don’t think his enthusiasm was for pop and rock. I think that was an attitude. He was, as Burt Shevelove once said of someone else, “Rip Van Withit.” When I hear his attempts at rock in Mass, I find it actively embarrassing, because it doesn’t come from his gut. You know, I could imitate rock, I could write a rock score, just the way I wrote Americana for Assassins. I could imitate a Carpenters song, and did. Anybody can imitate. Jule Styne tried to write a rock song in Hallelujah, Baby!, and you could tell it was inauthentic. It has to come from the gut. The rock scores that are written today, good or bad, they come from people for whom that’s their music—the music that expresses what they feel.
For the generations after you, who grew up loving musicals and loving rock, trying to put them together still seems to be an issue. I’m just not sure that rock is dramatic.
I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s very unpopular to say, but I don’t think that rock lends itself to theatre, to storytelling. It lends itself to concerts, and that’s what a lot of musicals are today: concerts. The range of expressivity is very limited, so you’re limited to certain kinds of emotions and songs.
And certain kinds of stories: Tommy, which is about pop culture iconography, somehow works.
Sure, and Next to Normal is an attempt to tell what would have been told in a different way a generation or two generations earlier, and to tell it with rock. It’s a question of whether for some people it has that expressive range. Generally, I think rock is limited. First of all, how about comedy songs? Give me a rock comedy song.
Not many, but David Yazbek can be pretty funny.
Is it rock, though? I think it’s closer to pop. And pop can do it; rock can’t. I shouldn’t say “can’t,” it’s a generalization. But it’s rare, ’cause it’s hard.
And I think what he says here is fair and legitimate. Plus it’s Sondheim, so I’m not gunna question that bro.
Anyways, this is just a little love letter of mine to musical theatre, and an excitement over what’s to come next to help evolve the genre.
A final quote:
“A musical is what happens when text collides with motion collides with song collides with spectacle. And spectacle can be the human heart; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a helicopter crashing. You can go see ballet in its purity; you can go to a recital to hear music by itself. But what the American musical does so thrillingly is bastardize these forms into something that is exhilarating and compelling and deeply moving.”