i knowingly decided to marry a woman who loves musicals.
now, i like the theater. i wouldn’t say that i like musicals. but at this point in my life, i have now seen far more musicals than i’ve seen plays. something i still hope to remedy in my lifetime.
regardless, there can be some pretty interesting writing in musicals, especially if the book writer and the lyricist are not the same person. it can be quite a juggling act to make scenes work without the music when the music is such an important part of the story-telling.
here is a list of musicals that i’ve found not only tolerable, but well worth my time watching because they challenged me in my own writing, theatrical or otherwise.
1. Phantom of the Opera
this is one everyone should see, and is, of course, the longest-running Broadway show in history. and for a much better reason than Cats, its awful predecessor. Phantom is an adaption of a novel, first off, which makes it an interesting musical-writing challenge. the opening scene alone (non-musical, by the way) is one of the best examples of “setting the stage” that i’ve ever seen in any writing medium. it grabs you right off the bat by establishing a mystery that never completely gets solved. the music doesn’t suck either.
2. In the Heights
when it came out, there was actually a good deal of criticism about the book of this musical, saying it was the weak link. having seen this show on Broadway twice, though (the only one on this list i can say that about), i’d have to disagree. the musical numbers in this one pretty much do the work of the storytelling, true, but the in-between moments add layers to the characters that the lyrics alone can’t do. and the lyricism of this hip-hop, Latin-infused musical are enough to make any poet jealous.
before Beyonce got her hands on it, this musical had legs on its own. the thing that makes the writing on Dreamgirls so good is how effortless it makes the singing numbers. unlike some musicals i’ve seen, there’s never a jarring transition between talking and singing in this show. when they start singing, it just makes sense and flows naturally – and this is thanks mostly for the excellent book writing.
Memphis in a lot of ways reminds me of Dreamgirls, in that it’s never really jarring when the characters start singing, and again, that’s because the writing is so good. The writing develops the characters just as much as the actors do. i would pay to watch Memphis again and that’s saying a lot for someone like me. the music too is damn good too if you care for that sort of thing.
5. The Book of Mormon
this is probably my new favorite in the Broadway world. not only is Book poking fun at the LDS establishment, but it’s also poking fun at musicals in general, which might be why i like it so much. the writing on it is top-notch, if not sometimes crude, but if you’re willing to overlook that, then you’ll find some really, really well-written characters and story.
i think it’s important as a writer to expose yourself to mediums you might not think you like. i don’t particularly care for westerns when it comes to film – but then comes along something like Unforgiven to remind you that good writing can come from anywhere and in any form. so stop the hatin’ and start appreciatin’.
that was awful. but i apologize for nothing.