Monday, July 7, 2014

Musicals: It's All About Context

Let me begin by saying: Musicals have never really been my thing. When I was a kid and my mom was always wanting me to watch musicals, I just couldn't get into them. Let's just say that the idea of a crowd of people suddenly bursting into song and dance (as in Oklahoma!) just didn't fit into my reality. I mean, I'd never seen that happen in life, so why should I be expected to accept it in a movie?

Of course, Disney films, at least the animated ones I watched as a kid, were an exception. The break into song didn't seem out of place to me in an animated movie. And they usually didn't involve elaborate dance numbers, Mary Poppins being the exception, but there was enough animation and fantasy involved in that movie that I didn't have issues with it. However, when people think of "musicals," I don't think they tend to think of Disney movies, except, maybe, the aforementioned Mary Poppins.

All of that to say that I grew up with the idea about myself of "I don't like musicals," and it was an idea I held onto for quite a while. Which is not to say that, now, I like "musicals," but I certainly don't dislike something because it is a musical.

Interestingly enough, it was two unrelated musicals in 2001 that began to change my perspective.

The first was "Once More, With Feeling," an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, let me make it clear that the episode contained all of the things I'd always disliked about musicals: people, including crowds of people, spontaneously bursting into song and dance. However, Joss Whedon, who wrote all of it himself, gave it all a context, a reason for happening, and it was pretty brilliant. It was especially brilliant in that the characters, at first, were aware of what was going on but didn't know what was causing it. Not to mention that it had some great songs. I bought the soundtrack of the episode for my wife, and she carried it in her car with her for months.

The second was Moulin Rouge. Not only did it have music by U2, but it had Obi-Wan Kenobi... SINGING! How awesome is that? [And, yes, ever since Moulin Rouge, I have wanted Star Wars: the Musical.] And, again, they put the singing and dancing in a context I could take, that of writing a musical. And, well, some of the numbers are just amazing. And hilarious. If you haven't seen the "Like a Virgin" scene, you are completely missing out. However, I'm going to share one of Ewan McGregor's songs (you can look up the "Like a Virgin" number on your own time):

To make what could be a longer story shorter, the lessen here is that you shouldn't dismiss an entire genre, any genre (even romance), as being something you "just don't like," because there is always the room that there are pieces of that genre that you could like. It's like when my oldest boy was six and tried to maintain that he didn't like cheese... while preferring cheese pizza and being a constant eater of cheeseburgers. Later, much later, it was, "I only like Gouda," but that was wrong, too.

Within the last couple of years, we've begun showing our kids musicals. Partly, this was prompted by the fact that my oldest son has now been in a few (right now, he's performing in Les Miserables) and my younger son has actually been in a couple himself. Partly, it was prompted by my wife's love of musicals. They all loved Moulin Rouge; only my wife likes Oklahoma! Other favorites have been Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Basically, don't get trapped within ideas of yourself. We all get tempted to do that because those things help us define who we are. However, when we lock ourselves into those things and refuse to step outside of those boxes, we tend to become smaller and smaller people. Our views fail to expand and grow, and we can't even look at things that don't fall within the narrow confines of who we think we are. It's time, now and always, to look outside the box. Musical or not.


  1. I'm not a huge fan of musicals...never have been...but I can sit through them with only mild discomfort :)

    I used to be really into the "Buffy" series and when I saw they were doing a musical, I figured they had "jumped the shark". I couldn't have been more wrong.

    To this day, it's one of my favorite episodes (I even bought the soundtrack on CD).

    You're right, though, sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones and, who knows, we just might try something we like.

  2. Not a big fan of musicals either, although I do like some. Most I like simply because we played the music in band. (Which is why I do like Oklahoma.)

  3. Not a fan of musicals either, but yes, the Disney movies are fine. The Buffy Musical episode was not my favorite, but I didn't dislike it as much as the Angel puppet episode or the Farscape animated episode so I'll give it credit for pulling off something out of the ordinary.

    In the years I've been critiquing stories for others, I've found it's not so much the genre that turns me off as the writing itself. I've greatly enjoyed stories I wouldn't have found in a bookstore simply because they weren't in the genre shelves I normally shop.

  4. I, on the other hand, love musicals. Maybe they are more a chic thing? No that's not right, hubby likes them too. 7 Brides is a favourite of his as well as West Side Story. Me I like all the Rogers and Hammerstein ones, including Oklahoma and I am a big fan of The King and I and Gigi. Love Les Miserables, what role is your son playing? We have a granddaughter who just performed at Sadlers Wells in London.

  5. One of my uncles used to take my brother and I to the local theater to watch plays, as I guess some way to get us some culture or something. Some were pretty good and others I fell asleep during. A few years ago I watched "Wicked" (twice) and that was really good. And I liked the movie version of "Evita" because casting Madonna as a woman who sleeps her way to the top seemed pretty dead-on.

    Anyway, I doubt I would ever find a Harlequin romance I would ever like. Unless I wrote one, in which case it would be the best EVAH!!!

  6. I've always loved musicals. But I was that weird kid who sat inside on a Saturday to watch old movies. And I love going to the theater to see a musical.

    The thing I say I don't like is paranormal romance novels. I've avoided reading that genre almost entirely. Probably ought to give some a try just to confirm my bias. :P

  7. Mark: It's in my top 3. "Hush" is probably my favorite.

    Alex: Associations can be a huge part of what we like.

    Jean: I loved the puppet episode!
    But I'm not remembering the animated episode of Farscape. I guess it didn't make an impression on me.

    Jo: I do think it's safe to say that more women like musicals than men, but I think at least part of that is because men think they're not supposed to like musicals.

    Pat: I haven't seen Wicked, yet.

    And don't you have to be woman to write for Harlequin?

    L.G.: Well, don't start with the ones I've been reviewing; that's all I can say. Especially the one coming up next.

    Michael: But do you watch them with her?
    And I don't know why, but that made me think of Phantom of the Opera, which my oldest fell in love with the first time he saw it; I think he was probably 12 or so.

  8. I have to admit, I'm pretty anti-musical, but you're right that you shouldn't ever dismiss an entire genre of something. I really did like Les Miserables. And other times, when I try something I don't normally like, I'm pleasantly surprised.

  9. Jeanne: You mean the movie? It was really good. Except for Russell Crowe, who was godawful.

  10. Just thought I would mention that Showboat is on TV tonight and I will be watching.

  11. I swore off musicals for years but they've grown on my recently. They're an occupational hazard, of course - I'm already gearing up for Wonka in the fall - but that's not quite the same as enjoying them.

    Your broader point is well taken. With music, I always say that I like stuff that's good. I can find great songs in my less favored genres - country, for instance - and terrible songs in one I like better - rock. Quality will shine through, no matter the style.

  12. Love that episode. I only watched Buffy for the first time last year, and I was really happy I did. That was a great episode.

    I think I only watched half of Moulin Rouge. I may have to try it out again, but I just don't like musicals.... "Pitch Perfect" was amusing, but it had the proper setting for it.

    I will probably never watch Les Miserables because it's a serious musical... but I really have tried.

    Good analogy for encouraging adventurous reading, though. :)

  13. You make a good point, we shouldn't pigeon hole and write a genre off. I'm not a big musical person, but I like the Disney Animated stuff (like Frozen). Some are fun, some are not and that's ok!

  14. Musicals are, in my opinion that I'm making up on the spot here, a thing Hollywood experimented with when trying to figure out what movies could be once they had sound and color all figured out. My wife was watching an old musical last night - from the late 40's I think - and it was awful in all the ways most people who hate musicals expect them to be. For me, it's the songs that really make the experience enjoyable. So I liked Grease, the Buffy ep, even the horribly miscast Rock of Ages flick from a few years ago.

    But those old showtunes with nonsensical stories that take themselves so seriously are really hard to watch. For me at least.

  15. Some musicals are classic and true quality, like The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and ... well, maybe just those two. But I also enjoy Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. And the Buffy episode was amazing! I still hate certain things though (like opera and liver) and will never change my opinion. ;)

  16. Jo: I'm sure I've seen Showboat, but I'm not remembering it right off hand.

    TAS: I don't really consider Wonka a musical, although I suppose it is. That one, I have always loved. At least if you're talking about the one with Gene Wilder.

    Alex H: You should try it again. It's a great, rather classic story aside from the music, and the music is great.

    Jean: I don't there is an animated Disney movie that doesn't fall into the musical category, though I could be wrong about that.

    Rusty: I think they were more adaptations of popular stage shows that didn't necessarily translate well to the big screen. And, yeah, a lot of the older music is hard to get into.

    Lexa: See, I used to think that way about Opera, too, but I think that was more a language issue than anything else.
    I don't eat liver.

  17. I'm not much into musicals either, but I do like Moulin Rouge. And I have found a few that I like. :)

    Just like how we should read books outside of our preferred genres, we should do the same with movies.

  18. I love this. Like yourself, I too, used to be a non-watching musical snob. Growing up, musicals just weren't my thing. I think I was the only kid who never jumped on the West Side Story and Grease bandwagon.
    However, as we grow, our taste changes... with food, music, movies, travels, relationships, and pretty much everything else. But change is a great thing! Now, I regard some musicals very highly. Wicked and The Book of Mormon are two of my favorites and I was lucky to see both in Manhattan.
    I haven't seen Moulin Rouge but I absolutely adore U2. I might have to give it a go!

  19. Chrys: True, but I think even more so with books. It's easy to try out movies, but it takes a commitment to try out books.

    Gina: Yeah, I was never into Grease or West Side Story, either. I never understood the whole Grease thing. I should probably watch that one again.
    And, yes, give Moulin Rouge a go!

  20. I am a big fan of musicals. However I despised Moulin Rouge. I watched it twice and disliked both viewings. I do agree that the productions are excellent though. The DVD provides an option of just watching the musical numbers and these are impressive--more like music videos that are very well done. To me the acting and the story are very mundane and annoying.

    The Bjork film Dancer in the Dark is a much better film in my opinion: Good acting, no silly over-the-top effects, a compelling story, and interesting original songs. It's a much easier viewing experience than the dazzle of Rouge.

    I do highly recommend watching the music only feature on the Rouge DVD.

    Tossing It Out