I feel like musicals are one area of music that receives a great deal of hate and disrespect for no legitimate reason whatsoever. There are random hits every now and then, like Hamilton, but the vast majority of musicals are lucky if they receive one-tenth of the praise and recognition given to Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show.
Why is this? I swear to you I have spent many sleepless nights pondering how so many can feels such a close connection to the world of musicals while so many more feel utter disdain when even the idea of such creative endeavors is mention and have come to no conclusions that feel worthy of mention here. It seems you’re either born into a world where musicals are viewed as legitimate works of art capable of conveying a great amount of story and detail through song or you’re brought up not thinking about them at all. There is very little middle ground, and if for some reason you feel you are one of those on the fence I hope this week you will give musicals, as well as musical theaters, another chance because it is probably the most incredible form of musical expression possible.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend an early press screening for Damien Chazelle’s latest film, La La Land. Set against a brilliantly imagined and ever-so-slightly different Los Angeles, the film follows two hopeless romantics (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) who meet just as they are both beginning to worry that their dreams will always be out of reach. The pair finds the strength to keep going in one another, but as they begin to find success in their individual endeavors their relationship is put to the ultimate test.
La La Land is a musical, but not in the classic sense. There are a handful of song and dance numbers, including an elaborate performance on a crowded freeway, but the majority of the musical moments don’t involve singing at all. Instead, the people on screen express themselves through movement, which can sometimes bend reality. It’s the kind of thing you either go with from the beginning or hate altogether and I, for one, went all in with a smile on my
The film asks two very important questions: If love is all we need to achieve our goals, then is giving up our goals in order to preserve our connection to love the smart choice? If achieving our goals means losing love, then what is the point of having those goals?
I could spend several hundred words discussing how the film does and does not answer these questions, but to do so would be to rob you of the incredibly unique experience of seeing it done firsthand without any idea what comes next. There is a feeling inherent in all musicals that anything could happen at any moment. Maybe people will stand up and sing in a diner, or maybe they will take a long hard look at their life while singing to themselves in front of a mirror. The presence of song isn’t always necessary, but it does allow for deep emotions and complex feelings to be put on display in a way that is fairly easy for most people to understand.
Expressing the human experience through song is a tradition as old as time itself. As long as we have had music there have been people working to relay their experiences on this planet to others through song, and musicals are simply the latest evolution of that experience. I would argue now is perhaps the best time to be a fan of musicals since the Golden Age of Hollywood came to an end in the early 1960s, and there is a chance it will be even better in the years to come. La La Land is just one great example of how the genre is still able to encapsulate the feeling of being human like no other medium, but there are many recent releases to choose from. Sing Street, which was released in mid-2016, accomplishes a similar feat while playing to those who have never lost their love of the 1980s. Check it out:
Looks pretty good, right? The movie is actually great, and again it’s just one of many recent musicals to be made available to audiences around the globe.
This week, take a break from your Spotify playlists and give a few cast recordings your time instead. I don’t care if you pick a serious show or something silly, just make time to lose yourself in a world of song that is similar, but ultimately far more free than our own. Your soul will thank you.