Musicals have been a beloved form of film for decades, captivating viewers with their unique blend of music, dance, and storytelling. At the heart of the appeal is the music itself. Music has the ability to move the listener and provoke strong emotional reactions. This is something that is universally human. Music can connect people and express emotions beyond what words alone can or even when language is a barrier. So whether it is a heartbreaking ballad or an energetic number, the emotion of the music allows the viewer to connect with characters on a deeper level beyond what dialogue alone can achieve.
The magic of musicals is also in the combination of song and storytelling. Musicals are a hybrid, bringing together popular genres with music and in doing so enhancing their impact. For instance, if a romantic comedy and a song each on their own are powerful, the combination then intensifies both. Likewise, the addition of dance adds to the experience providing a visual and kinetic dimension. As they tell their stories, musicals also explore common human themes such as love, friendship, and self-discovery. These timeless topics resonate with a broad audience, transcending cultural and generational boundaries.
Despite their great appeal, musicals are hated by some, even loathed. The very things that draw many people to musicals are what push others away. The music does not pull them into the story but distracts from it. The songs break the immersion and take these viewers out of the film. The emotion also can be too much, causing some viewers to cringe with embarrassment and feel uncomfortable. Others simply find musicals cheesy and assert that people do not just break out into song in the real world.
This last critique is perhaps the most common. Yet some advocates of musicals argue this is a misunderstanding. The musical numbers are not the characters spontaneously breaking into song but rather they are a storytelling convention that provides access to characters’ thoughts and feelings. This is similar to a Shakespearean soliloquy where a character does a monologue to reveal to the audience the character’s inner self. Others argue musicals have their own worldview and that that viewers should not expect musicals to conform to the “real world” any more than they would a fantasy or science fiction film.
Whatever your feelings about musicals, there can be no doubt of their enduring significance in film and theater. If you would like to delve further into musicals, please check out the DVD display on the fourth floor or as well as those in the Wilkie Classic Film Collection. (DVD players are available to check out at the Library Services Desk.)