Arts Room 101: Music in Musicals

Although this could have been written by IMPACT Music, I felt that the topic is centred around flaws when applied specifically to musicals, which falls squarely within the Arts. Also although the argument I am going to present is going to be scathing, it must be noted that I do have an appreciation of musicals. Very much so, in fact, however certain gripes and irks do start to appear, especially when you really listen to what is going on.


Argument 1 – Create a new tune: When you first read this I imagine you may have assumed I would address musicals which have translated from film musicals, such as The Lion King, and borrowed so heavily upon their successful score to merely rake in the cash. Although this is likely true, what I am more concerned with here is when songs, or more specifically tunes, are simply repeated because they were so good that the composers utilised them till they were bled dry. A clear culprit of such a travesty is Les Miserables, which is hard to say seeing as it represents one of the most popular musical of our generation. And why is this? Because those catchy melodies you so love in the first half our essentially identical in the second half. This may be had to comprehend but in that musical there are perhaps only 5 or 6 key tunes you are enjoying. ‘Prologue: A Work’? ‘Look Down’. ‘Valejean’s Soliloquy’? ‘Javert’s Suicide’ and a touch of ‘Stars’ – and the list goes on. Although people argue that they show transitive links of themes, I feel it shows an unnecessary reliance on strong compositions. Also the reason that many say that ‘One Day More’ is their favourite (only contended, arguably, by ‘I Dreamed a Dream’) is because it is essentially a ‘Best Of Hits’ of the show.

It becomes a point where tedium of hearing such a grandiose score outweighs enjoyment.

Argument 2 – Singers designed to belt: Unlike the previous statement, this one likely appears very obvious, especially of strong female singing soloists in musicals (which there are A LOT of). This can be framed by the popularity of Wicked, which is a play criminal of such a crime. What the audience hears are actors designed to sing top notes as though smashing a gong, without fear or hesitation. This is why many people often comment on the odd nature of singers in performances, because they have been trained for that single song type – the power ballad. This massive musical bombast will likely occur on at the end of the first act, typically highlighted by ‘Defying Gravity’ (that last note really is impossibly high). There is no issue with this if it was an isolated incident, but with Wicked the reliance on those big numbers occurs throughout, and it becomes a point where tedium of hearing such a grandiose score outweighs enjoyment.

 Sometimes these songs are truly unnecessary and it would be nice to sit and watch a production with dialogue

Argument 3 – Is there a need?: Musicals are undoubtedly where the main cash lies for British theatre, hence why schools will often default to classics of Oliver! or Phantom of the Opera to secure that sell-out audience. But sometimes these songs are truly unnecessary and it would be nice to sit and watch a production with dialogue (and not a need to sing EVERY SINGLE LINE). However this trend is clearly unending, shown specifically with the upcoming release of Hunger Games: The Musical. Here is an opportunity to capitalise on an exciting and real challenging book/film to bring to life on the stage. But is there really a need for Katniss to sing ‘I Volunteer as Tribute’. No. Just no.


I feel as though this argument may turn in into a two-part Arts Room 101, as the confines of word count are simply too restrictive of my need to convey the annoyance of musical flaws. Undoubtedly they still remain a popular choice, but I still find it hard to defend such major flaws in their music, thus why they should be sent out into the darkness of Arts Room 101.

James Hamilton

Picture credited to Lisa West Photography via Flickr

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