In 1927, The Jazz Singer gave cinema a whole new identity. Its synchronised dialogue marked the decline of silent films and the rise to stardom of the ‘talkies’. With the transition, music continued to play a vital role. In fact, The Jazz Singer not only spawned the talkies, but it can also be heralded as the father of the ‘singies’. With the emergence of sound technology, Musical Theatre was propelled onto the big screen; for better or worse.
Every movie musical ever made from The Jazz Singer to Top Hat, West Side Story, Sound of Music, High School Musical and anything in between. If a film has a stop-what-you’re-doing-and-sing-a-song moment, if it shows a dance routine to be as engrained in people’s knowledge as breathing, if every musical number corresponds neatly to the story’s events, then that film is on trial.
Aren’t musicals just too damn cheesy? Surely when watching a film one wants to become engrossed and invested in the story. How is that possible when every few scenes (or in some cases, every few minutes) our attention is interrupted with a seemingly pointless song and dance routine?
Musicals are not relatable. Consider Mary Poppins. For a while you feel you can sympathise with the poor little rich kids who don’t have their parents’ attentions and just want to be loved. But the minute a woman drops out of the sky with songs about spoonfuls of sugar, and dance routines with chimney sweeps on roofs, your sympathy dissipates. This would never happen!
Musicals are fun!! Even the depressing ones like Moulin Rouge and West Side Story embrace the joy and enthusiasm that comes with song and dance. A bit of frivolity never hurt anyone, and that’s all a musical is. It makes your foot tap, your shoulders start to swish, and forces the occasional hum. Whether you like musicals or not, no one can deny their good intentions; since when has bringing about a bit of happiness been a crime?
If we’re condemning musicals because they aren’t believable and don’t follow the conventions of realism, then really we should condemn almost any science-fiction film, most horrors, and definitely every animation ever made. Since when has film only been about reality? Don’t we all indulge in movie magic to escape reality sometimes? And what’s a better form of escapism then loosing yourself in a catchy tune and an eye-popping dance number?
Musicals are a genre in their own right, and as such will always have their fans and their critics. Some people can’t bare to sit through a musical, much like I can’t bare to sit through a horror. Each to their own.
Whatever people say about musicals, I don’t think musicals deserve the amount of stigma they get for being pointless and idiotic. I’d like to think, naively perhaps, that everyone has a silly, playful side, and musicals just want to let you enjoy it. They want to pull you out of your seat, help you forget the boredom of bills and bureaucracy, and remind you that sometimes it’s ok just to have a bit of fun for the sake of it. What’s so wrong with that?