I am a huge fan of musicals. Ever since my grandparents took me to the local pantomime as a toddler, and every year of my childhood after, I’ve been hooked. Now, I realise that pantos and musicals are not the same but, for me, one led to the other. The sets, the music, the dancing, the costumes, the explosion of life in bright glittering colour, it all drew me in like a moth to a flame. I’ve lost count of the number of productions I’ve enjoyed, and sometimes endured, they are not all cut from the same cloth, or how many times I’ve watched my favourites, mesmerised, reciting from memory every word of the songs, the scripts, the incidentals of the orchestra. But what is it about musicals that capture our attention and our hearts?
I’m yet to enter an auditorium before a musical performance where almost every seat isn’t filled. The atmosphere is electric, tangible with anticipation, often with visual nods (dress style, pins, t-shirts) to the show from members of the audience. As like attracts like, my theatre loving companion for the evening and myself prefer to get there early, ready in our seats for when the orchestra begin to tune their instruments. At this point, the chatter starts to diminish as the clock ticks towards the excitedly awaited start of the show.
Now I’m not going to list all the musicals I’ve seen because, to be honest, I’m pretty sure I’ll forget some, but let’s have a closer look at two of my favourites.
Kinky Boots; This musical is fantastic. Set in the factory town of Northampton, the shoe company of Price and Sons based on the true story of WJ Brooks Shoe Company, is a failing business that takes an unexpected, controversial move to save the factory. Enter Lola, the vibrant, outspoken, larger than life drag queen who turns Charlie’s life upside down with her knee high kinky boots, fabulous singing voice and sassy sharp wit, she commands the stage with ease, oozing glamour and attitude. I have to admit, I absolutely love Lola’s character, her confidence is infectious along with her determination to be who she really is, regardless of often cruel and violent opposition. Charlie is a good hearted soul under the thumb of a girlfriend with high aspirations. Determined to set his own path away from the family business, life however, inevitably has other ideas. When a chance meeting between Charlie and Lola throws them together, both discover a world neither knew of with hilarious results.
I never tire of Kinky Boots, it’s memorable soundtrack, or the one liners that stick in my head and keep me chuckling.
Something Rotten; What can I say about Something Rotten? It’s ridiculous, hilarious, catchy and not at all what you’d expect from a play about William Shakespeare. The story, very loosely surrounding Hamlet, is about the fierce competitiveness between playwrights in Elizabethan England who will stop at nothing to outdo each other, including going to a soothsayer in disguise. Common sense has no place here, the ridiculous is practically a sport, the rolling of the eyes of Queen Elizabeth 1 is easily imaginable. Do not be put off by this however, as it is the combination of these things with the catchy musical numbers that makes this show almost addictive. So far we Brits have not been treated to a live version in England, only the soundtrack which paints the picture for us in great detail. I for one, will be first in line for tickets when it eventually crosses the Atlantic to the West End.
Now, I just want to take a moment to mention those non theatre based big screen musicals that well and truly put me on the path of appreciation for this kind of entertainment. For me, this started with the 1974 version of The Slipper and the Rose and went on to Michael Crawford’s Barnum to Mary Poppins and Chicago, and the more modern Greatest Showman, La La Land and Mary Poppins Returns. Each has their own charm and perhaps cringe moments (Dick Van Dyke’s iconic ‘cockney’ accent), but those I’ve mentioned have great soundtracks, those songs that earworm us at the most inconvenient moment but make us smile regardless. Just because it isn’t on the stage doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, however, although it’s perhaps in a slightly different way. Likewise, a show doesn’t have to be award winning to be amazing, and even though you may not like a particular one or group - I’m not especially a fan of The Sound of Music, Cats, or Oklahoma - that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t appreciate them. It is highly likely that others won’t like your favourites, or will think those you really don’t like are the best thing since sliced bread. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all thought the same!
There are literally hundreds of wonderful musicals on offer, from Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to Jersey Boys to Everyone’s Talking about Jamie to name only a very few. So why do we love musicals so much? They use song instead of the spoken word, plus dance, to portray and enhance a story but not necessarily a plot. Sometimes it’s simply for entertainment. Whether the plot be happy or sad, we connect with the characters and are absorbed. The songs get into our heads taking up residence, coupled with the visual aspect which transports the viewer into that world close up, therefore when we hear the music, we re-enter that experience again and again, making us wanting more like a drug. Make no mistake, musical theatre is Big business and it’s here to stay.
As Lola in Kinky Boots says,‘Ladies, gentlemen, and those who are yet to make up their minds!’ check out these musical gems, if you haven’t already, or any others you stray across, and remember, "It’s a musical."
Images - IMDb, Pexels, Wikipedia