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musicals?

Y'know, I used to be a drama person.

Once upon a time, I thought the idea of pouring heart and soul into a show where a bunch of people form a cohesive bond for a short period of time in the attempt to accomplish one artistic goal was a laudible pasttime. I still think that serious drama might be something I could do; but with the caveat that I could only do it as a way of life. I don't think I can deal with the frentic orgy of activity associated with posting a show that runs for 2-3 weekends and a couple matinees then evaporates.

Some people form lifetime troupes, doing this on a cyclical process for many years. This, I can see as a worthwhile recreational past time, if not for the enevitable and variable interpersonal melodrama that such covens spawn. Who is sleeping with who, who hates who, who upstaged who, who got what part that he/she felt they did/did not deserve... It all adds up over time, enevitably turning into something akin to a FOX reality TV show.

I'm actually surprised they haven't made something like this yet.

Anyway, the wandering point of this particular babble brings me to music, more specifically, musicals. I am an incredible fan of the olde bardic tradions. I think that if I had a better voice, I might even have made a good scop in a former life. Drama, Comey, Tragedy, Parody, or otherwise, reqires talent in the emotional range... musicals however, (while, of course, there are certain exceptions) simply require a good voice, and a lot of coreography.

The basic elements of storytelling through song have not changed all that much over the centuries we've been doing it. That is, until recently anyway. The use of cyclical melody/harmony, simple instumental accompaniemnet, a strong central singer/singers, and clever rhyme for delivery are a rather interesting cross-cultural phenomena from an anthropological standpoint.

However, since the beginning of the cinematic phenomena, the changes have been rather astounding.

Cinema allows you to do things you cannot possibly accomplish on stage. betwen visual effects, recorded musical numbers, independent instrumental accompaniment, larger budgets, using real life "scenery"... the whole process changes. As a result, in my opinion, the stage has suffered. Broadway has to compete with Hollywood to draw customers. Many of the same tired shows are "revived" or redone outright to give them a new fashionable, crowd drawing twist. Hollywood bleeds over into the stage, where famous actors pursue stage careers. I am sure some of them have a true desire to be on stage instead of a camera, but even more, I'm sure, are drawn to the $$.

Point in case, listening to Richard gere or that Zellwigger chick trying to hold notes they clearly were not physically designed to produce.

Richelle and I talked breilfy about this in the car after leaving Chicago last night. I had hoped with the heavy string of musicals-for-film that the 60's and 70's brought us, that the trend would be over. The viewing public's attention span is too short these days. Who can compete with the T&A, and 5 minute exposition to resolution that MTV2 (since MTV is too good for music videos) or VH1 innundate the masses with.

It is a curious thing...perhaps a new-age chicken/egg. Did the trend to create a more powerful version of a musical message start with the influx of musical cinematic efforts, or did the two phenomena have independent roots and a common cause?

It is a big issue to pick at, I'm not even going to try and encompass the whole argument. Should music and video stay seperate? I don't think so, especailly when so many of these comonations have resulted in a final product where the sum is greater than the whole of the two parts. But I drifted...

My point is, that for the most part, I don't like musicals. I have been in 5, as a performer, and that was enough to let me know that I didn't have any intrest anymore. Overall, my personal experiences concering groups of thespians may have been tainted, who knows. Some of the people I have called freinds for the longest amounts of time are people I would not otherwise know unless it were for musicals. An irony, perhaps a bit too biting to put into song....

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
timaeusdaspirge
Feb. 11th, 2003 06:35 am (UTC)
speaking as one of those aforementioned 'friend you would not otherwise know unless it were for musicals', i feel that grants me the right to say damn, but i will never forgive the stage for that little factoid. :-p
you're completely off base where you say a good voice is the only requirement for musicals. i'd say a musical is the third most exhausting practice one can engage in. you have to sing, you do in fact have to act, you have to dance, you have to do all three at the same dang time. 'taint easy, not by a long shot. just because hollywood can toss gere into a movie version of a play, don't let that bring down the entirity of musical theater.
delascabezas
Feb. 11th, 2003 06:52 am (UTC)
"the entirety of musical theatre"
I have been in more than one show myself, wherein there was one or two strong voices, who had the kind of work you are talking about... chorus barely needs to be able to hold a note (especially if there is instumental accompaniment to the show)... and most of the coreography and blocking done on stage is about practice, not talent... unless you are talking about centerpiece acts, where you need a good dancer.

I agree that the rare musical talents out there need to be good in acting, singing, and coreography/dancing. BUT the number of shows out there where all of these are required by all members of the cast are pretty goodamn limited. Most of the stuff i've been involved in, you have a couple strong leads, a couple good backups or niche voices/dancers, and everyone else is along for the ride trying to make them look good.

I'm discounting musical theatre because I see it nowadays trying to compete with Hollywood, which is impossibnle. Thats is why i see the crossover acts (ie Nathan Lane and Ferris Buler; Producers) as a waste... they have talent, they may even want to make the show, and a good one at that, but they are there for a run to inflate the name, they get thier checks, and they are outta there.

The older shows are just out of synch with today's reality. That leaves the entire genre kind of like a shit half-hulled on shore... you can't pull it any further forward or the hull will snap, and you can't back it out because its embedded too far in the sand.
timaeusdaspirge
Feb. 11th, 2003 07:14 am (UTC)
Re: "the entirety of musical theatre"
well, what about newer shows like RENT? despite joey, it's still a quality show, and you definately can't accuse it of being 'out of synch'
and no, not everyone has to be a star, just like unless you're the yankees not every player needs to be on the all-star team. i just find it amusing that you discount the genre based on something based on the genre, not even technically part of it directly.
btw, what makes you think you can accurately predict why lane and broderick did the show? and you can't blame them for not staying forever - no one does one show for years on end
delascabezas
Feb. 11th, 2003 08:08 am (UTC)
Re: "the entirety of musical theatre"
I find it funny that you use RENT as your defense. RENT is exactly the kind of shit I am talking about. When Puccini was his opera La Boheme, I doubt he could have ever fathomed what his creation would spawn a hundred years later: drug addicts and drag queens singing watered down version of his storyline, ending changed to keep the MTV audience sated...or from thinking to hard to sprain thier ADD brainstems. Boheme was a sad love story, with a fantastic centerpiece of Musetta's waltz. Rent is a shallow rehashing, with cheap sluts doing the Tango Maureen as an eye-catching ace-in-the-hole.

RENT is exactly the kind of musical I'm compalining about, in the same vein as the movie we went to see Sunday. Its taking a good classic story, and glitzing and glamming it go get a new generation to spend money on it. You say that nobody does a show for years on end... that is how it once was... when theatre was an art... not a cheap capatalistic slut. I'm not talking about all instantiations of theatre mind you.. it is impossible for a volunteer troupe to be part of that capatalistic machine...

But, overall , that is the goal. In the days of travelling troupes, you ran with a show until everyone had seen it, then retired it. Perhaps in a generation, another troupe wuld pick it up. Since everyone went to the theatre, it didn't pay to show the same crap over and over... you played the show well, or you didn't get invited back. You didn't have 9 year running shows, and you didn't have rotating casts over the life of a production. Oftentimes the scores were written to suit the talent you had at hand, not creted so that any voice with a resume could be an understudy.

Not _everyone_ was a star, but you had a damn site more talent, and less equipment and scenery to make up for the lessening talent. People don't devote thier lives to it anymore, its a living. Few and far between are the stage talents who don't eventually "retire" from the stage to save thier good name because thier performing abilites are degrading. They cash in chips when the contract is over so they can move on to the next gig. When they can't get a gig anymore, they retire, bitter and malcontent, or become theatre critics or the next round of producers/directors.

My point is _precisely_ underlined by RENT. I do not like it, I do not like what it stands for. I do not have to admit it is anything other than what it is, a MTV generation remake of a classic, pedaled out to the masses with catchy idealogy that th4y can wrap thier little souls around, in order to ensure ticket and CD sales for a decade. I think that twisting an old product in new packaging is something which is slowly choking the life out of all the arts, but drama especially; musical or otherwise.

Furthermore, I do not suppose to know intimately the minds of broderick and lane, but I do know that they both took checks and walked, and both, I'm sure, will be in Hollywood, or another show again. And neither of them took any hits in the pocket for going back and hyping the show _after_ thy had left it, in an attempt to reinflate ticket sales post thier departure.

People don't die with shows nowadays because theatre is not life, it is art, and art is money, as far as the public consuption is concerned.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 11th, 2003 10:49 am (UTC)
confession of a livejournal eavesdropper...
berns, i think you're making the scope of your investigation too small. why stop at musicals? maybe they're simply the worst offenders in a theater almost (but not yet entirely) void of relevence, but they certainly aren't the only ones. and your choice of examples thus far highlight a greater problem -- the producers, a stage-adaptation of a movie. chicago, a movie-adaptation of a musical. rent, a musical-adaptation of an opera. forget the simple (and obvious) re-vamping of Ye Olde Classics (how could anyone possibly need to see Carousel, ever again?) -- everything we get is a rehashing of something else. why? because no one knows how to write for today.
sure, there are a handful of people who have an inkling, who are willing to take a chance. and maybe some of them are succeeding; i don't get out enough to know. i've read a description or two in the last couple of years that seemed promising.
but where do you start, in crafting a piece for today, that has relevence? our culture has become so literal, it seems to have lost any appreciation for metaphor. yet at the same time it's steeped in the perpetual distance of irony. how can you design a meaningful or relevant piece that won't either be dismissed as irrelevant because people don't extrapolate meaning from example or dismissed as kitsch for being too dated?
but back to musicals. movie musicals: aren't necessarily eeeevil. chicago sucked. because: why make it? why take a piece that works perfectly well in its customary setting, divest it of its immediacy by setting it into a new, distancing context, and pimp it to twelve year olds via celluloid? why force bad singers into roles designed for people who can belt the house down? because a couple of producers like the old version and think everyone in the world should see it? stupid. stupid reasoning, creating a worthless product.
but should the movie musical take the brunt of that entirely? i don't think so. maybe i'm just a sucker for those old flicks from the forties and fifties and sixties, bing crosby and danny k and all the rest of it. but a more modern example: moulin rouge. not an incredibly meaningful thing, in fact as trite and cheesy and overblown and hysterical as it could be -- but those were the earmarks of its success. when was the last time you could sit through a melodrama without wincing? (okay, maybe you winced. i could imagine that.) but it was, in a way, great. a pop-culture musical created out of a patchwork of old pop songs. using the form of cinema to create a musical that had to be filmed, that couldn't be staged. and a piece that worked perfectly well for its audience, in its time.
stage musicals may be dead. for now. for a while. but then again, all stage work may be dead, because we don't know how to proceed. what is there, even, to talk about? how can you create a piece of allegory without the use of overarching themes? how can you talk about anything other than disconnection and despair?
i don't know. that's irrelevant, mostly.
--oh, and don't count community or volunteer theater troupes free of commercializing. we still want an audience, no? we still play what will bring the people in. without an audience, who are we playing for? and who are we to inflict upon people what we see as worthwhile pieces, when perhaps they just want to be entertained? there is the argument that people won't know to expect more from theater than entertainment unless they are shown that it could be more, but a) what more do we have, to show? (see arguments above) and b) who are we to decide?
delascabezas
Feb. 11th, 2003 01:03 pm (UTC)
Re: confession of a livejournal eavesdropper...
Eavesdropper (though I have a feeling I know who you might be...),
I concur wholeheartedy on your commentary on the general state of theatre today. However, I was making a tightly focused rant simply because I prefer to make sweeping statements which are diretly backed by firsthand experience. I have been involved in musicals and dramas both, and subjected myself to both revivials, and what some hail as the "new age of theatre"... I have not done enough, in my own estimation, however, to offhandedly codemn the entire movement. That is, of course, completely agreeing and affirming with all the holes and flaws you pointed out so elegantly.

The creativity void is not limited only to production of live theatre. Even the mass-media bullshit is beginning the slow cannabalistic feast upon itself. It bagan about a decade ago when they started turning old syndicated comedies into movies. Now you have complete redux of old cartoon series (He-Man, TMNT, Justice Leauge). While in certain circumstances, the redux is an improvement (looser censorship laws, better budgets and wuality for the money) the fact remains that nothing new is coming of it.

I am a strong believer in the thesis>antithisis>synthesis cycle, and while I have winced at many a melodrama, I agree that they have a purpose, both in the record of our cultural development, as a source of inspiration in the cycle mentioned above. This is why I can agree also with your statement that stage work may be dead... I don't believe it will stay that way forever. What frightens me, however, is the fact that the cycle is starting to break. People are not coming up with new counter ideas and melding them with the new... they are just tring to pump out bricks of the same old shit, because it made money yesteryear, and can do so again; blatantly ignoring the law of diminishing returns.

I have no positive solutions to the problem. I have long been an advocate of tearing things down to the roots and hoping that we as a race, culture or whatever can get it right the next go-round. I think, as well, that it is irrellivant only because there is no way to change it.

As to your note about community theatre... i see what you mean about the partial sellout. However, most community theatre projects I know consider themselves a success if they break even by the end of the last run. That is what I mean about non-capitalism. The allure of the crowd and the desire to create are part of our genetic essence; the desire to make a buck off of that is not. While you may focus the artistic challenge in a productive direction, I don't know anyone trying out for a college or community production that is banking thier next rent check on ticket sales. In that regard alone, I think it removes it somewhat from the swinesh greed-tint our society seems to cast on most things these days, but not entirely... and it certainly doesn't remove it from any of the other potential pitfalls (especially in the arena of directors/producers) mentioned above.

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delascabezas
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