Is A Musical Renaissance Looming?

With the success of High School Musical along with the recent movie release of Mama Mia in theaters, makes me wonder if musical theatre is experiencing a bit of renaissance.  In the past several years, musicals have had a  bit of a resurgence with the success of Wicked, Rent, Nine, The Producers, and many others. Some of the recent films have also had success such as Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls, and Sweeney Todd.  Many consider the “Golden Age” of musical theatre occurred between the early 1940s to the late 1960s.  It is clear that musicals are still largely performed and can have popularity, but they fell out of mainstream American culture some time ago.

I think most music theatre traditionalists will cringe at the thought, but there is something to be said about musicals re-emerging into American pop culture with the popularity of High School Musical.  As a kid, I never had the luxury of going to see good musical theatre, so I never really cared about it.  Of course, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing a couple of high school productions, but nothing that would qualify is “listenable.”  Like many, my “real” musical experience was limited to watching movie versions of the more popular shows like The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Westside Story and Singin’ In The Rain, to name a few.  For many years, I was one of those music snobs that never really understood what the big deal was about musical theater.  After all, I was a metalhead as a teen, which was frowned upon in my circle of friends. Then, I went to college where many of my friends found musicals barely worthy of a listen.  The musical theatre of choice was Opera.

Classical musicians always debate if music should be considered art or entertainment.  Musical theater was hardly viewed as an art form.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many discussions I participated in.  In reality, both sides are correct, both art music and entertainment music need to coexist.  You can’t have music that people don’t enjoy.  On other hand, musicians should continue to push musical boundaries creating something new and refreshing.  This is the way it has always been.  Otherwise, we might all still be listening and jamming to Gregorian chant.  Remember the popular singing monks?  Not to say that every musical is great, because even some of the popular ones are highly overrated, like Cats (yes, I’m sure I’m one of the few; If I hear Memory one more time, I just might hurl).  That said, there are many musicals that I have enjoyed over the years.

I can’t help but wonder how the popularity of High School Musical will influence teens and tweens (like my niece).  Will they dream about becoming musical theatre stars in the future.  Coupled with the recent opening of Mamma Mia already making a $27 million in the first weekend, I both cringe and wonder how much success it will really have.  In all fairness, it is really hard to judge what success should look like for Mamma Mia considering it opened against The Dark Knight, now crowned the opening weekend champion.  I will be the first to admit that ABBA isn’t for me, and I will take a pass at watching Mamma Mia.  (Truthfully, if I hear another Mamma Mia commercial my ears might burst.) I am sure some musical traditionalists will cringe at the thought of the youth of America being inspired by High School Musical and Mamma Mia.  I am far from being a musical traditionalist or expert, but I might just join in that cringe.  Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Photo source: Rafa from Brazil; Omega Man

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