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Why some people complain about popular musicals 
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Young Hoofer
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Post Why some people complain about popular musicals
I've been noticing lately that a few people seem to target popular musicals, most notably Phantom and Les Miserables, to complain about, and then holding up obscure musicals as masterpieces of musical theatre. It's kind of funny, because in their day, Phantom and Les Mis were extremely daring because no one had ever tried anything like them before on the stage, but they are called cliché now. I'd be interested to hear your opinions on why this has been happening lately.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 10:59 am
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
even when phantom was new it wasnt considered daring.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 11:25 am
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Young Hoofer
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
Watch the 20/20 on YouTube about the openings of Phantom and Les Mis in London, both are news broadcasts done at the time advertising their openings. In both of them, it mentions how Phantom was a daring new show unlike anything else that had been done before. The Les Mis one is while Phantom is still in London, before it came to the U.S. I think it mentions it in relation to how Cameron Mackintosh was producing both of them at the same time.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 11:28 am
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
it was alot of hype. I saw both original productions they were not considered new and vital..just big and flashy. Les miz is a wonderful show but it doesnt need the spectacale they attached to it.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 11:32 am
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Young Hoofer
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
I think that they both were unique in that they were mostly sung through, relied heavily on storyline, contained little to no dancing, employed power singers, and were willing to try special effects most thought were impossible on the stage. Also somewhat unusual are the bittersweet endings, which usually do not attract a crowd.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 11:44 am
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
Angel of Music wrote:
I've been noticing lately that a few people seem to target popular musicals, most notably Phantom and Les Miserables, to complain about, and then holding up obscure musicals as masterpieces of musical theatre. It's kind of funny, because in their day, Phantom and Les Mis were extremely daring because no one had ever tried anything like them before on the stage, but they are called cliché now. I'd be interested to hear your opinions on why this has been happening lately.


I don't agree that this is a new phenomenon. That debate has been active at MdN as long as I can remember.

I also think the question is wrongly posed. The reasons for critisising shows like POTO and Les Misérables and praising "more obscure" shows have always been different than the opposition assume.

Some people hold the opinion that one can't argue with commercuial success. Others (like me) find commercial success nice, but uninterresting, because what we are interrested in (I, at least) is the quality of the writing. It includes doing much with litte, a kind of literal and musical economy.

As for the shows in question, for my part it largely has to do with the lyrics. Don't get me wrong, I do actually enjoy both shows. But for example the Les Misérables lyrics are very flat, sort of. They tell the story straighforward, but does not dig deep into the themes of the show. Take for instance a show like Company (would that clasify as obscure?): It is very economically written, every single song takes a new approact to the central theme of the show and says new things about it.

I don't agree that the chances taken when the show was written has much to do with how I evaluate it.

Angel of Music wrote:
I think that they both were unique in that they were mostly sung through, relied heavily on storyline, contained little to no dancing, employed power singers, and were willing to try special effects most thought were impossible on the stage. Also somewhat unusual are the bittersweet endings, which usually do not attract a crowd.


I think most of this is either not true or I am unsure how it is relevant. There had been sung through or nearly sung though shows earlier (Most Happy Fella, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sweeney Todd), and personally I don't care if a show is through sung or not as long as it is well written. I don't understand what you mrean by Les Misérables and POTO relying heavily on storyline - except the theme-driven shows (which nevertheless are what we call intehrated musicals), which do not rely on storyline? Many shows earlier had had little dancing (for example most Sondheim shows from the seventies), and similarly, are they well written do I think it is of lesser relevance wether they contain much dancing or not. As for the bittersweet endings, I think you are wrong there, too. Think of the deaths and ambiguity at the end of shows like Carousel, The King And I, Candide, West Side Story and Gypsy. Most of these were huge successes.

As for the power singers and special effects, I think you are right. What is traditionally regarded as quality musical theatre is often combined with actors that sing rather than power singers. This is because musicals first and foremost is a theatre genre. Also special effects ciontradict the classic virtue of economic writing where one strives to acieve as much effect as possible with as little means as possible. In musicals that means lyrics, book and music that effectively work for the lyrics. Music itself is a sort of special effect: Whereas composers like Loesser, Rodgers and Coleman reserve music to where it is absolutely necessary, the likes of Lloyd Webber and Schoenberg put in music whenever they can. It's often not really economic writing (although it works in many instances where the sung through-ness has a dramaturgic function that is easier to defend: I think Les Misérables is an example, but it has it's un-witty lyrics, at least in English).

I am only speaking for myself here, but I think I have read enough about people's opinions on musicals that my opinions on this is not totally far fetched.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 12:05 pm
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
Hans, I know what you mean about Company's lyrics being more in depth than those in Les Miserables, but I think that we have to remember the mile-long storylines in Les Mis; if Herbert Kretzmer wanted to write descriptive lyrics on the sadness and poverty of the people in the musical as well as lyrics that purely move the multiple storylines forward then we'd have a mighty long show on our hands. Maybe because Company's storyline is, well, simpler than that of Les Mis, it has more space and time for lyrics that don't have to push the story forward.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 12:40 pm
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Post Re: Why some people complain about popular musicals
Let The Dream Begin wrote:
Hans, I know what you mean about Company's lyrics being more in depth than those in Les Miserables, but I think that we have to remember the mile-long storylines in Les Mis; if Herbert Kretzmer wanted to write descriptive lyrics on the sadness and poverty of the people in the musical as well as lyrics that purely move the multiple storylines forward then we'd have a mighty long show on our hands. Maybe because Company's storyline is, well, simpler than that of Les Mis, it has more space and time for lyrics that don't have to push the story forward.


Firstly, I don't think that lyrics that drive the action forward need to be shallower than lyrics that dont. I think Sweeney Todd is an example. It is very tightly plotted, and has universally witty, deep lyrics with a lot of subtext all the way. Company was just an example of the extreme opposite.

Secondly, even if that were the case and the lyrics had to be more straight forward, I think lyrics of the Les Misérables quality is part of the explanation why the kind of theatre people who critisises the show critisise it.

But I also agree. The strength of Les Misérables is that it manages to tell such a long story effectively, and both it's sung through sung structure and it's heart on the sleeve emotional lyrics help us take in so much action and emotion in a reasonably short time. Still the lyrics are what they are.

I'm just trying to anwer the question in this thread, not to bash the example shows. Shows with deeper and more complex lyrics are often appreciated more than shows with lyrics of another kind (although that does not necessarily answer the thread question totally).

These shows also lean heavily on emotionality. Critically appreciated shows are often more balanced and less obviously TRAGIC. Often they make us laugh, then remind us of subtly of a more serious core theme.

Finally, I think that both POTO and Les Misérables struggle to keep fokus on a thematic superobjective. I interpret the mask and it's possibility to hide from the world the thematic point of POTO, for example, but only rarely and in passing do the massive body of lyrics touch upon in and develops it to a small degree.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 12:49 pm
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