The future of the musical is starting to worry me.
Green Day’s “American Idiot” has officially been turned into a musical and is headed to Broadway. It’s opening in the St. James Theatre on April 20. It draws from songs from both 2004’s “American Idiot” and 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown” and follows a long line of musicals utilizing songs from other sources, including “Mamma Mia,” “Jersey Boys,” “We Will Rock You,” the movie “Across the Universe” and “Movin’ Out.”
This version of the musical has been taken to new heights. “Come Fly Away” is a new musical using not only the songs of Frank Sinatra, but also his voice.
This is not to say that there haven’t been new musicals with original scores to come out in recent years. “Wicked,” “Spring Awakening,” “Rent,” “Spamalot” and the record-breaking Tony-winner “The Producers” are all instant classics. Yet, none of these (not even “The Producers,” the best of the bunch) come close to the original musical, produced in the heyday of Broadway and Hollywood.
Nothing beats “Singin’ in the Rain.” It is, and will forever be, the quintessential musical.
“Meet Me in St. Louis” is one of the most touching musicals ever made. Judy Garland plus “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” equals a classic moment.
“West Side Story” has the best opening number of any musical ever. The Sharks and Jets and their snapping fingers still make me shiver.
Before James Cagney was a public enemy, he portrayed American original George M. Cohan in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Classic American anthems like “Over There” and “Grand Old Flag” dotted the musical’s landscape and it paved the way for the musical within the musical.
“The Music Man” is one of the best musicals ever made. “Seventy-Six Trombones” is the classic musical song.
“Guys and Dolls” immortalized one of Frank Sinatra’s best performances and one of his best songs, “Adelaide.” And yes, Marlon Brando couldn’t sing, but he still made “Luck, Be a Lady” his own.
“1776,” though not made in the Golden Age of musicals (it was released on Broadway in 1969 and as a movie in 1972), still exemplifies the medium. “Cool, Considerate Men,” though originally taken out of the movie version of “1776” on Richard Nixon’s request, is still a perfect commentary on conservative politics.
The best musicals need their music. They wouldn’t be the same without their music. The music adds a whole other dimension and brings the characters emotions, plights and thoughts to life. The music drives the action instead of simply being a pleasant interlude. So many of today’s musicals (dare I bring up “High School Musical”?) are movies or shows with music. That is not a musical. A musical is music with a plot.
Disney has tried to keep the musical alive. “Mary Poppins” is a genuine musical and one of the best. Most of the animated movies, however, fall into that category of movies with music.
The musical is dying. There are so few original musicals being made now, and the ones that are do not have the same joy, the same zest for life that the originals did.
“Oklahoma,” “Gypsy,” “Carousel,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Sound of Music,” “Camelot,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Wizard of Oz” and so many more.
And the musical’s best champions are all, unfortunately, dead. Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, Judy Garland, Donald O’Connor, Julie Andrews, Frank Sinatra and so many more.
Musical films are not shot the way they used to be, when they’re shot at all. I want huge musical numbers with bright colors, dancing and joy. I want a single spotlight on a broken soul. Nothing beats a true, honest musical. Nothing.
Because there will never be another cinematic moment that comes close to Gene Kelly, singing and dancing in the rain.
Caroline Russomanno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.