Successful 21st Century Musicals
By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All rights reserved
Which is your favorite musical?
I have been a dutiful choir member who sang songs from our beloved musicals since childhood.
That I graduated to become a music cum choir teacher says much about my love for musicals.
Some of our favorite musicals have been running since the 20th century. These still top the list today.
What makes some of these a cut above the rest? What explains the dislike some of us have for them? What are some of the 21st century's top-grossing musicals?
The ingredients of a successful musical
To combine the ingredients of a successful musical, we have to examine the dynamics of plot, character, presentation and the music.
An attention-grabbing plot
The first essential ingredient of any outstanding musical is its plot. Successful musicals always have plots that are attention-grabbing.
Musicals such as The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q have controversial storylines that broach the sensitive subjects of sex, politics and religion. With Avenue Q, the controversy is more stark because seemingly innocent puppets are the ones who forge into the realms of dissent.
The Acting and Characters
Another essential ingredient of a top-of-the-line musical is dynamic acting by well-crafted, dynamic characters. These characters must have depth and engage with audience.
Audiences should empathize with what the characters are experiencing. It was easy to empathize with Wicked Witch of the West Elphaba's plight of being judged for the color of her skin and being ridiculed.
Besides accomplished acting, a musical has to be presented professionally, with well-designed costumes that accentuate characters.
The stage has to be set with professionally designed, realistic props. A well-trained, backstage crew has to ensure efficient set changes.
The final ingredient that puts a musical out in front is, of course, well-composed music. Their tunes are catchy, singable and memorable. They engage and move audiences.
Tunes from the Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables stay in my mind to this day.
Why some do not enjoy musicals
Some of us, however, are not partial to musicals, no matter the level of quality. Some are repulsed them for understandable reasons, though the aversion is misplaced.
They think of musicals as fine art.
For a start, they see musicals as an exclusive, fine art. Musicals seem without their league and for a selected few to embrace.
That perception is misguided. Musicals are meant for all to enjoy.
Too much song is irritating.
Apart from their arty-farty impression, the consistent burst into song is annoying to those who dislike musicals intensely. For them, it distracts from the plot of the story. it is difficult to make sense of the story when one has to interpret the music as well.
Well-composed music is a vehicle for storytelling. It complements, but done not contradict, the tale being told in the musical.
Musicals are old-fashioned.
To add, those who are not fond of musicals find them archaic. Tales in an olden setting are too far removed for them. Some music may be old-school and not relatable to the younger set. They are a mundanity.
To change this mindset, the producers of 21st century musicals have taken the old and given it a new perspective. Wicked, for example, offers us the viewpoint of the wicked witch of the West, the villainess in the Wizard of Oz. It gives audiences a well-rounded, more empathetic look at circumstances and reveals her plight.
They believe its necessary to be musically inclined to watch musicals.
A last anti-musical sentiment is that one needs to be musically inclined to enjoy them.
Contrary to this viewpoint, music is a universal language. Musicals are for everyone to embrace.
What makes 21st Century Musicals stand out?
Successful musicals of the 21st century, then, are relatable to even those who dislike them. They broach controversial subjects , enthrall with humor and mesmerize even skeptics with credible acting. Naturally, they thrill with well-composed music.
The Money Song- Avenue Q
Our Favorite 21st Century Musicals
The first of these favorite 21st century musicals is Avenue Q. Written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, it is a satire of favorite children's programs like Sesame Street and the muppet Show. The story revolves around a group of puppets and three human characters who live in the outer Burroughs of New York City.
Originally a television series, Avenue Q evolved into a stage production at the 2002 National Music Theatre Conference. It wowed on Broadway in 2003 and won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
This musical stands out because of its controversial, irreverent humor. Two of the characters have high-decibel intercourse, defying the innocent image of puppets. The musical also captivates with the suspension of disbelief. It is hard to imagine humans and puppets interacting in harmony.
No one Moirns the Wicked
Another attention-grabbing, 21st century musical is Wicked, loosely based on the Wizard of Oz. It tells the story of two unlikely friends, the Wicked Witch of the East, Elphaba and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. It relates the corruption in Oz and discusses the prejudice against Elphaba in the wake of her fall from grace.
The relatable issues in Wicked thoroughly engaged me. Corruption in governments is always a talking point. Good is portrayed realistically. Glinda, the good witch, is not perfect, but instead has biases like anyone else.
The music, of course, is well-composed and touches hearts. Songs such as "Defying Gravity" and "No One Mourns the Wicked" are poignant, heart-rending numbers.
You and Me (But Mostly Me)
The Book of Mormon
The last 21st Century Musical that turns the heads of even doubters is the Book of Mormon. A religious satire, this musical revolves around two Mormon missionaries, Kevin Price and Arnold Cunningham, who are sent on a mission of outreach to a village in Uganda. They are held at gunpoint by the country's dictator, with an unmentionable but hilarious name. Elder Price attempts to convert the villagers using manipulative methods, but
Cunningham believes in straightforward honesty.
Their efforts to convert the village are successful, but they meet with opposition from Uganda's dictator and villager's daughter, Nabulungi, who felt that she was deceived into converting to Christianity.
Though this musical may not sit well with all, the controversial discussions and the stark honesty about imperfection of religion are huge crowd-pullers. The musical 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.The music too, is controversial, humorous and engaging. Tunes like "Hasa Ega Debowai" which has a slightly offensive translation, are funny, yet poignant.
Musicals are not for everyone. Successful ones, however, engage with daring controversy, a change of perspective and compelling music.
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