The Changing Tune of Hollywood Musicals
This past Christmas was extra special for Broadway fans. The release of Les Miserables, a film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, had families of musical theatre gathering themselves for something different this Christmas. Ever since the business began, Hollywood has been making musicals. But musicals are no longer what they used to be. With influences like Broadway, American Idol, and even Glee setting popular trends, Hollywood musicals have had to evolve along with the rest of the industry.
The term ‘musical’ is really very loose. The traditional idea of a Hollywood musical is a film that weaves musical numbers with a general overall story or plot. The songs featured in these musical numbers were written specially for the musical, and were rarely reused. However, there was a huge market for these kinds of films at the time. This changed within the last few decades with the birth of the “jukebox” musical: a musical in which the story is built around preexisting and already popular songs. The musical and movie Mamma Mia is a perfect example, where the story is built up around the already established music of ABBA. The television show Glee is another such example.
One of the reasons that this kind of ‘musical’ is popular is because it often features music that the audience already knows. They’re also faster and easier to write. The music is already provided – all that is left is for the writers to connect a story from one song to the next. Both Pitch Perfect and Rock of Ages, released this year, follow this popular form. The stories may not be the most original, but very few musicals are. Instead, it’s about the audience connecting to the characters through the songs they know and love.
Broadway is known for being the place to go to see musical theatre. But not everybody can afford to go to New York City to see the newest musical. For this reason, Hollywood has become very adept at adapting popular Broadway musicals for the big screen. And why not? It gives people access to musical theatre they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see, while providing those who have seen it with another opportunity to view. In addition to this, Broadway serves as the primary testing grounds. Chances are if a play survives on Broadway, it has the potential to be popular enough to survive on film. Mamma Mia, Little Shop of Horrors, and Phantom of the Opera are only some of the most recent Broadway musicals to be adapted, along with the most recent Les Miserables.
Finally, let’s not forget the most popular form of modern day musicals – the animated films. Walt Disney was the pioneer of the ‘animated musical’, beginning with the landmark Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In fact, if you look at all of the films released during the Golden Age of Disney, you’ll find some of the most popular Disney animated musicals of all time: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. What makes it even more interesting is that each of these animated musicals has since been adapted for the stage and turned into a Broadway musical.
Long gone are the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as well as the exclusively “musical” musical. But if one thing is for certain, it’s that people continue to like music in their movies and songs in their stories. Whether you want to find the one that works for you or avoid them all altogether, the Hollywood musical, animated, original or not, is not going away any time soon.