A l’heure où les séries télévisées et les blockbusters sont en plein essor, les comédies musicales peuvent paraître un peu désuètes. Cependant, malgré les apparences, ces productions mêlant danse, chant et prouesses artistiques touchent et transportent encore le grand public. Comment les comédies musicales, typiques de la culture anglo-saxonne, ont-elles réussi à s’adapter et rester populaires ?
All those Musical theatres are a form of theatrical performances, that combine songs, dialogue, acting, and dancing and aim at overwhelming the public with emotions: they communicate love, anger or humour. Indeed, this kind of show takes the narrative structure of the opera and the operetta by offering the spectator a fiction where the characters, from a realistic universe, are able to solve problems and make everything possible in a dreamlike universe with choreographies and songs.
This art form was created in the Renaissance and then the 17th century. The first actual musical, shown on Broadway was The Black Crook in 1866. However, the London district of West End, full of theatres since the 17th century, fast became one of the major places to watch a musical! Since the 19th century, musicals have been inspired by burlesque and music-hall, became more theatrical and organized thanks to the development of sound films in the 1930s. This development made musical films possible (Monte Carlo in 1930) in which the plot was clearly not as important as the dances and the songs. The iconic crooner was born then, despite the Great Depression that affected theatre audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, as people had little money left to spend on entertainment. Only a few stage shows exceeded a run on Broadway or in London of 500 performances in the 1930s. The golden age of musicals was in fact from the 1940s to the 1960s, when musicals equated with huge success. Many varieties of musical were created: drama, disco or rock ‘n roll… In each there was… magic.
Musicals have soared in recent years as many shows have become world successes, in France, Spain, Italy … and London. The musical Mary Poppins toured from 2004 to 2008 and was an instant success. Laura Michelle Kelly received in 2005 the Oliver Awards for Best Actress. The Lion King toured in France and Germany, in 2007, with surprising new costumes and sets. The Lion King was created in 1997, its first representation was in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre. In 2013, it became the first Broadway musical grossing more than $1 billion. In Britain and the United States, the musical Les Miserables is more famous than the novel by Victor Hugo on which it is based. Tom Hooper, in 2012, revamped this comedy with a film starring many famous actors like Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe. Les Miserables was adapted many times but this adaptation became a success: it received 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture in 2013, and won three Oscars including one for Best Actress for Anne Hathaway. Musicals keep wreaking havoc.
But the musical theatre industry has also been touched by the recent economic crisis. Musicals are very expensive because they tend to use more special effects than before and to employ more and more dancers and singers. Thus, the combined effects of inflation and too many people demanding a bigger share of potential profits take a mounting toll. Moreover, the core audience of musicals is shrinking and the industry can no longer count on CD sales.
However, the end of musicals is far and a shift in the industry can be noticed. Musicals represent a big industry therefore the Arts Council England now regards them as a new priority. ACE and festivals like the Musical Futures Festival of the Greenwich Theatre in London work to create new opportunities and abound with playwriting initiatives to develop and showcase new musicals with smaller budgets.
Furthermore, musicals seemed to take new forms and combine different style to attract a larger audiences. For instance, the show One Georgie Orwell falls somewhere between a play, a cabaret evening and a song cycle that uses original music and lyric alongside texts by Orwell himself. Another way is to use the opera like the musical Oklahoma!
Elodie MEYER, Anaïs TORDJMAN & Ornella TOUBIANA