Lucas Oakeley

The Magic of the Musical

Lucas Oakeley
The Magic of the Musical

Lucas Oakeley gets a little emotional about the magic of Musicals and why the world needs them more than ever.

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who once stated that “Without music, life would be a mistake.” He did also say that “the extinction of many types of people is just as desirable as any form of reproduction” But, hey: nobody’s perfect! Whilst I’ve got a few issues with his latter statement, I do have to admit that Freddy was really on to something with the former. Partly because it is my fervent belief that music simply makes everything better. Exercise? Better with music. Studying? Better with music. Sex? Better with music. Although the soulful crooning of Boyz II Men may not be appropriate for every situation, a prescient sound-track can often make the vital difference between an average experience and an excellent one.

This is very much the case when it comes to film, as a soundtrack can often make or break a movie. A well-placed musical accompaniment can ramp up the tension of a scene to the nth just as a dissonant song can do the complete opposite. Just try watching Schindler’s List alongside ABBA’s ‘Greatest Hits’ and you’ll quickly realise how important a film’s score can be. And in no genre is a film’s music more important than in that of the Musical – a genre which, although having experienced its heyday during the Golden Age of cinema, appears to be making a considerable comeback.

The most noticeable evidence of this Musical-renaissance can be found in the 2017 Oscar nominations, with Damien Chazelle’s lush and lovely La La Land having received a record-tying fourteen nominations including those of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and not one but two for Best Original Song. With the general public’s attitude towards musical having been somewhat dirtied over the years by saccharine television series such as Glee and Nashville, it finally seems that both critics and movie-goers are ready to take the Musical seriously once more.

Although La La Land is by the far most prominent (and arguably, the best) example of the Musical’s successful re-birth, it was not the only Musical in 2016 to come out of the wood works to receive both critical and commercial praise. John Carney’s Sing Street – a fantastic coming-of-age tale about an Irish teen who starts a band in order to impress a girl – is yet another exemplar of the Musical done very, very right. Bursting at the seams with 80s nostalgia, Sing Street, whose soundtrack encompasses the likes of The Cure and Spandau Ballet along with a collection of original catchy hits, is guaranteed to both make you wish you were a member of A Flock of Sea Gulls and leave you humming for days.  Snubbed by the Oscars, though nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, Sing Street is simply a delight on both the eyes and the ears.

There truly is something about the feel-good factor of a Musical that seems to have been taken notice by a lot of the larger film studios. Animated Musicals are far from a rarity, however, the rampant success of Sing and Moana clearly highlight that the demand for some sing-a-long goodness is at a comparative high. Grossing $431 million worldwide, a sequel has already been announced for Sing with a Christmas 2020 release, suggesting that the trend isn’t going to be dying off anytime soon. Moana’s performance at the box-office has been even more impressive, with the film’s impeccable music having been a major motivation behind the droves of people who saw the film and contributed their hard-earned money to the startling $512 million it has grossed. Not only a commercial success, but Moana has also received praise from the critics in the form of Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It’s needless to say at this point but “How Far I’ll Go” is an absolute banger. With such high-quality music written by the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Broadway smash-hit Hamilton caused a stir earlier this year when tickets for the first set of West End performances sold out in mere seconds, there certainly appears to be something in the water that has finally got audiences ready to embrace the magic of the musical.

This feeling has been simmering for a while with 2012’s Pitch Perfect and 2014’s Into The Woods both paving the way for films like La La Land by proving that the general public are more than happy to watch a musical. And moreover: actually pay money in order to do so. Into the Woods also created the precedent for critical success, receiving three Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the wonderful Meryl Streep, along with three Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

It’s difficult to pinpoint where this desire for feel-good sing-a-long entertainment has suddenly arisen, but it could well have something to do with the political tension currently employing its vice-grip upon the western world. Films are often used as a form of escapism, with there being no better place to avoid the doom-and-gloom of modern politics than the dark comfort of a cinema, and, in my opinion: no better genre than the Musical in order to make one forget for even the briefest moment of lyrical ecstasy that Donald Trump is President of the United States. In fact, I’m going to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang right now in order to rid my imagination of any visual manifestations of Theresa May and Donald Trump’s “special relationship”. I’m then going to have a bath and cry for three hours afterwards because everything is terrible when you’re not in a Musical.