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9.7: New Developments from the 1980s and Beyond- Diversity Continues

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  • The development of musical theatre from the 1950s to the present has seen a proliferation of new genres as well as an ever-increasing overlap among the characteristics that define them. Questions as to what constitutes the major new trends and how musical theatre will develop in the future continue to occupy creators, critics, and audiences. Important genres taking shape since the 1950ss are based on factors such as dimensions and scope, musical style, reuse of earlier music, and relation to film. And many shows belong to more than one genre.

    New Genres and Approaches

    Megamusicals are those in which the visual spectacle is the main emphasis and is larger than life. Many have enjoyed widespread popular appeal. The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables are classic examples, shows that are known to audiences worldwide. Cats (1981), which is also a concept musical, can also be added to the list. Phantom and Cats, both by British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, are among Broadway’s longest-running shows, and songs from them have become known to the point of becoming clichés (“Memory” from Cats and “Music of the Night” from Phantom, among others). Cats closed in 2000; Phantom, still running on Broadway, opened in London in 1986 and New York in 1988 Les Misérables (1987), by the French team of Claude-Miehel Sehönberg and Alain Boublil, won eight Tonys, running from Г987 to 2003. These works are sometimes called poperas, with music that is influenced by popular idioms and is continuously sung throughout, with no spoken dialogue.

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    Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman in the Universal Pictures film Les Misérables (2012). Photo ® Universal Pictures.

    Many successful shows are based on musical styles from past decades for which their genres are named. The rock musical is one of the most difficult genres to define, primarily because rock-influeneed music has been part of the musical since at least the 1950s. It is a category that is still in flux, with the boundaries of its definition still being formulated by specialists. Those who define the rock musical’s parameters are concerned with the use of rock as a musical language ( whether as the show’s primary one or as one style among many) and whether a show is or is not called a “rock musical” by its creators or commentators, among other considerations. Hair (1967), Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), Godspell (1971), The Wiz (1975), and Rent (1996) are generally considered to be rock musicals. Subcategories based on specific popular musical styles have also emerged: Dreamgirls (1981) is a Motown musical, and City of Angels (1989 ) represents the jazz musical. The pervasiveness of popular musical idioms in musical theatre is one factor in the development of a related genre, the jukebox musical. Shows in this genre, also sometimes called “compilation shows,” consist of existing pop songs, whether by a single group or artist or by different ones from a particular era: Mamma Mia! (2001), Movirí Out (2002), Jersey Boys (2005), and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2011) belong to this category.

    Intersections with Film

    The musicals relationship with film has been a significant part of its history since the 1940s. Many of the great shows of the 1940s and 1950s were made into well-known films, some of which won Oscars for Best Picture and have become known as classics (such as West Side Stony My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music). And some musicals that began life as films were produced on the stage, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair, Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi, and Singin' in the Rain. The Disney variety, such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, represents particularly interesting crossovers from screen to stage. (These are sometimes called “movieals”; they also qualify as megamusicals.) Different kinds of crossovers are stage shows that are adaptations of nonmusieal films, of which The Producers represents a recent success. Setting a record in 2001 for winning a total of twelve Tony Awards, Mel Brooks’s show, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, started out as his 1968 film, which starred Gene Wilder and Zero Mostei. The movie version featuring the original Broadway duo (joined by Will Ferrell and Urna Thurman) came out in 2006. Another show with a similarly circuitous route is the campy Little Shop of Horrors: the popular stage show of 1980, based on a bizarre seienee-fietion movie from Г960, was made into a movie featuring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin in 1986 (newly released on DVD in 2000). The aforementioned Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is similarly based on a nonmusical film, as is Billy Elliott (2008).

    Revivals, Reworkings, and New Shows

    Many of the best-loved shows from the past have enjoyed successful recent Broadway revivals: Oklahoma!, Anything Goes (with Sutton Foster), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (with Daniel Rad- eliffe), and Annie Get Your Gun (with Bernadette Peters) are a few examples. Some revivals represent reworkings, such as the recent production of West Side Ston in which some of the dialogue was sung in Spanish. But many newly created shows are being offered regularly, and many of these represent the enduring tradition of the book musical. Some of the most original and exciting new works draw upon tried-and-true elements of the familiar structure of traditional narrative but offer exciting new opportunities for its expansion and elaboration. These include the wildly successful Wicked (2003), the frank and energetic In the Heights (2008), and the emotionally wrenching Next to Normal (2009), to name a few.

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    Creators of musicals continue to push the envelope of what Is considered acceptable subject matter for musicals. In Avenue Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx), a familiar children's puppet show Is used as a vehicle to discuss adult themes. 2013 production, Hippodrome Theatre, Gainesville, FL (featuring Michael Hull, Marissa Toogood, and Jennifer Lauren Brown; directed by Lauren Caldwell and Charlie Mitchell).

    Wicked, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (the creator of God- spell and Pippin, popular shows from the 1970s), is based on Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, in which L. Frank Baum’s fantasy The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is retold from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view. Wicked, still running since its opening in 2003, won numerous Tony Awards including Best Musical, and hit upon what seems to be the modern formula for success: a familiar story (but one that offers a new twist); strong dramatic situations with complex characters who wrestle with conflicting emotions (Elphaba and Glindas relationship); larger-than-life spectacular moments that are integrated into the drama (Elphaba’s thrilling ascent in “Defying Gravity”); big stars with name recognition (Joel Grey, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel); and affecting music in a range of styles that creates a broad array of contrasting moods.

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