I had a lengthy conversation with a colleague today about musical theatre. Over the course of the conversation, we came to the conclusion that the genre is much more homogeneous than it was even 40 years ago. As to why this is the case, we chalked it up to the following:
(1) Market forces. No one involved in the production is willing to take the risk of failure. Even Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark, as big of a disaster as it is, is likely to recoup its (sizable) investment. The music has a “name” behind it, as does the choreography/direction. A side result of this is:
(2) Fewer unique voices. My colleague’s statement (after judging a mess of musical theatre voice students at a competition this weekend) is that they all sounded like a generic musical theatre voice. No one had an ounce of individuality. I believe that this is because:
(3) All the roles are more or less interchangeable. There’s no characterization anymore. We get plenty of archetypes and stock characters, but everything seems so formulaic now. As a result of this:
(4) All the music is more or less interchangeable. My colleague mentioned She Loves Me by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock as an example of a show where the music, while firmly in the Mid-20th-Century-American-Musical-Theatre genre, never lets you forget you’re in 1930s Hungary. The same is true of The Music Man, which is very much in the same genre but always within the frame of 1912 Iowa. For the life of me, and while I may enjoy the tunes on a certain level, I cannot find any difference in setting just by listening to the music of Rent versus that of Spring Awakening.
All of these factors work together, of course, and it’s a part of the larger cultural homogenization that we’re dealing with (chain restaurants/stores are more common than ever, and exurbs of different cities might as well be mass-produced). However, I can’t say as I like it. You can pick out a Mandy Patinkin or Bernadette Peters or Mary Martin or Julie Andrews or Brian Stokes Mitchell a mile away. You can’t do that with most singers anymore.
What do you think?