The New American Musical relies heavily on spectacle to make its theatrical point, trading-off dramatic substance for visual impact and technical display. Increasingly addicted to dazzling effects, the New Musicals --or 'Technology Triumphant Theater' -- pay homage to the image-based culture... [more]
The New American Musical relies heavily on spectacle to make its theatrical point, trading-off dramatic substance for visual impact and technical display. Increasingly addicted to dazzling effects, the New Musicals --or 'Technology Triumphant Theater' -- pay homage to the image-based culture that inspires them. This significant shift is most evident in large-scale musicals from the 1980s onward. 'Dreamgirls,' 'Nine,' 'The Starlight Express,' 'Cats,' 'Les Miserables,' 'The Phantom of the Opera,' and 'Jekyll and Hyde' all copycat this formula, with Andrew Lloyd Weber being the most responsible party. Unlike classic Broadway shows like 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'Guys and Dolls,' or 'West Side Story,' the stories and characters are incidental to the sensational costumes, light shows, set designs, and special effects.
Leading the anti-'bloated blockbuster' pack is maverick Stephen Sondheim, whose challenging musicals simultaneously break and expand the mold. Auspiciously debuting as the lyricist for the musicals 'Gypsy' and 'West Side Story,' he soon shifted to composing, writing such substantial, inventive, and subtle works as 'Company' (1970), 'A Little Night Music' (1973), 'Sweeney Todd' (1979), and 'Sunday in the Park with George' (1984). Some critics have lamented that, without the continuing creativity of Sondheim, the future of the American musical would be bleak. The fact that revivals of 25-year-old shows like 'Cabaret' and 'Chicago' are the sole resuscitators of the dance-based musical is a bad sign. The untimely death of three-pronged talent Jonathan Larson, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics to 'Rent' (1996), the Pulitzer Prize-winning, breakthrough musical of the '90s, seems additionally grim.
However, despite skyrocketing ticket prices and a disturbing lack of new material, a hopeful trend of the New American Musical lies in its increasing embrace of ethnic themes in productions such as 'M. Butterfly,' 'Miss Saigon,' 'Evita,' 'Ain't Misbehaven,' 'Bring in 'Da Funk,' and 'Rent.' Though some critics predict the demise of the American Musical, the fat lady has yet to sing. [show less]