Why We Need Musicals on the Silver Screen (and the Small Screen)

The movie musical: a staple genre in the movie industry. In the late 1920s, the “talkies” era ended and movies finally had the capability to capture actual sound for the screen. That meant that there were limitless possibilities for new directions the industry could go. Starting with the golden age classics such as State Fair or Singin’ in the Rain, the masses fell in love with dazzling ladies and dashing men dancing and singing on the big movie screen. Over time, beloved musicals such as West Side Story, The Music Man, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady continued to capture audiences’ hearts on the silver screen. Audience support for move musicals even moved into the 2000s, when raunchy musicals like Chicago and Nine still brought in a large audience base. The verdict was clear: people loved going to the movie theatre to watch people sing and dance.

As a genre, the movie musical is, quite simply, brilliant. They allow a mass audience to experience the joy of musicals, except on the screen. Audiences have the ability to view them multiple times and at a fraction of the price. However, over the past decade, many have questioned the continuing value of these movie musicals. Quality is a huge controversy that is surrounding the movie musical industry. The most recent examples that critics like to debate are the movie adaptations of Les Miserables and Into the Woods. People are beginning to question if producers are sacrificing talent for big-name actors to bring in audiences. Can anything truly live up to the live works of art that are performed daily? The answer is simple…no.

But that is not the point of the movie musical. Their purpose is not to replace staged musicals. While they do offer an affordable alternative to the big-ticket Broadway price and the convenience of availability if you don’t live in a big city area, it is not their intent to shut down all new works of theatre. We need movie musicals. While our theatre community is fiercely loyal and passionate, the fan base is small. People are willing to spend the $10 to see a musical in movie theatres but not the $100 to see it live. Televised and movie musicals try to rectify that issue by bringing attention to the wonderful world of theatre. It is a gateway for enormous numbers of audience members to get a taste for what musicals are all about.

Take NBC’s live televised production of The Sound of Music in 2013. It was met with harsh reviews from critics and theatre lovers around. However, it did bring in over 18 million live viewers. While those numbers do include avid theatregoers, that also includes the demographic of people who don’t regularly attend the theatre. These movie and televised productions are exposing more and more people to musicals and the performing arts. That means that the next time an opportunity arises, people might be more prone to support local theatre or go to see a Broadway show because of the exposure theatre has received through these movie musicals.

While yes, we will all have our opinions about the casting, staging and quality of every movie musical that is released, don’t let the debating and arguing cloud the real reason these shows are important—getting theatre the recognition that it deserves.

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