|Riverton High School's production of Guys and Dolls|
Musicals are stupid. This is an odd statement coming from a person who grew up loving the arts and even lettering in theatre in high school. But I guess people change. I can’t really put my finger on the moment this changed for me but I do know some incidences that occurred that helped this along.
While I was changing my major for the fourth time in college, I became a theatre major for two semesters. Why only two semesters? Because when I asked the academic adviser over the theatre department and the counselor at the career center at UVU about how I could make a living as a theater major, they both said, “I don’t know.” Another reason was it was mandatory that all theatre majors at UVU had to watch all of UVU’s productions and critique them for all the theatre classes. One musical that I was forced to see was called Chess.
Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (formerly of ABBA), and with lyrics by Tim Rice. The story involves two chess grandmasters, an American and a Soviet, fighting over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other all in the context of a politically-driven, Cold War-era tournament between the two men. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any real individuals, the character of the American grandmaster was loosely based on Bobby Fischer.
I’m not surprised that Chess premiered on Broadway in 1988, but only lasted for two months. Yes, it’s that bad.
Here is a quote from the critique I turned in to my theater classes for that particular production.
“This is the seventh UVU production I’ve had the opportunity to see and I’ve finally realized two things: 1. I hate musicals, and 2. They have (the not so popular) scripts tucked away in the theater archives never to be put on production ever again for a reason. I think I would rather passionately make out with a diseased warthog than to have to sit through a second production of Chess.”
I still passed my classes regardless of my blunt critique. Here are a few points I have come up with to pinpoint what bugs me about musicals and how they are being performed among us.
1. “We need another pointless musical number!” I believe that a musical number in a production is intended to accentuate critical points of the plot. Some writers do this, and some, I think, are just adding musical numbers into their play for the heck of it. If that is the case, then they are just wasting the audience’s time. I don’t have to be familiar with the play to feel that a musical number is about to start. If the musical number is actually relevant to the plot then the second challenge is trying to understand what is being sung by the amateur performer and /or the bad microphones and sound system. If no one can hear or understand the lyrics the performer is singing, then this also is a waste of the audience’s time.
2. Overdone productions: Rodgers and Hamerstein material needs to go away. You might have seen one of their famous productions on video. South Pacific, Cinderella, The King and I, Oklahoma... they are all long, and have been circulating through arts councils and other theaters in Utah for decades, and are, in my opinion, beaten beyond the life of a dead horse. Fiddler on the Roof and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, although not written by R and H, are also overdone and need to go away.
3. Amateur performers: The state of Utah has a small pocket of people who are passionate about theatre. Most performers around the valley are nowhere near as talented as what you would find on Broadway in New York City. So when you have lead performer who is tone deaf, and can’t sing or dance, you are stuck with the amateur for the next two to three hours.
4. Awkwardly exiting the theater: Hale Center Theatre is big on this and other smaller arts councils mimic them. When a musical has concluded and you are exiting the theater you have to make your way through the horde of the performers you just saw because they are all at the door as you exit. This stupid Utah tradition is highly unprofessional; I was told that it is never proper etiquette to wear your costume off the stage. It is awkward as well. If you are indifferent to the performers and were not impressed with their performance you feel obligated to say something to them anyway before you can pass by them because it is only polite to cheaply compliment them. To me this is a pathetic way for amateur performers to desperately fish for praise and adulation.
These are the four points I could come up with. Do you have anything to add to it? How do you feel about the performing arts and the undying musical trend?