Full of the festive spirit, and wondering what kind of entertainment will keep the children off my back over Christmas, I thought I’d take a swipe at one area of music which has been bugging me for years – the music in musicals.
When a musical gets it right and the music is passionate and the dancing and singing and staging all work together, they can be a magical, joyful experience, but of late musicals have been a series of pastiche experiences. Pastiche comes from the Italian word pasticcio which is apparently a pâté or pie-filling mixed from diverse ingredients, and the theatrical equivalent is music that has all the dynamic texture of pâté and sounds like every other musical you’ve ever heard. I watched the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels recently in Sydney and while the acting and production were great, the music in the show was like some old 1950s generic score taken out of the freezer covered in frost and congealed fat, reheated in the microwave and served up as a new dish. As soon as a song begins you know exactly what is going to happen, every chord, every rhyme. You could even just start the song and then stop and the audience could finish it off for them and save the performers the bother.
I have also been to a few workshops of new musicals and found the scores generic and peculiarly unmemorable. It is amazing that you can leave a show and remember not one single note of the music that was sung in the previous three hours. Have composers completely run out of ideas, or is the musical language of the musical stuck in some time warp, and not of the fun Rocky Horror variety?
I think that apart from the lack of interesting melody, the harmony in musicals these days is as dull as daytime television. You only have to go back to the chord structure of Richard Rodgers to see a master at work. Imaginative, unusual, it is the bedrock on which the melody sits. We seemed to have lost harmonic biodiversity. All the complex and unusual chords have gone the way of the dodo and we are left with the same three or four triads over and over again, a diet of I, IV, II and V. King Kong in Melbourne is another example of the fact that hundreds of moving lights, projections, singers and dancers and a giant seven-metre rubber ape still can’t make up for the lack of a great song. Let’s not forget it is called a musical, not a stagical. Here endeth the lesson.
By the way, I hope by the time this goes to print, my new radio comedy show (a sort of aural version of this Soapbox) will be available on iTunes – look out for the Guy Noble Radio Show.