Musical theatre’s convergence with cinema: is this genre worth making a song and dance about?

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Cinema’s ever-evolving love affair with song and dance is perfectly captured once more by Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. Whilst paying homage to several classics including Singin’ in the Rain and Casablanca, Chazelle develops the musical’s storyline set in contemporary Los Angeles where this stunning visual spectacle truly succeeds as both a fizzy fantasy and hard-headed fable depicting the relatable sentiments of youth’s hopeless romance, optimistic dreams and selflessness complete with a personal journey laced with unpredictability. With a star-studded cast, you’re promised an entertaining two hours.

As an original musical movie, Chazelle has successfully mastered merging classic musical theatre with film cinema to capture such a display. But how has this new genre emerged?

A prevalent film genre throughout the mid-’60s, the Hollywood movie musical became passé as the 1970s accompanied an era of undeniable realism in film leaving no room for the phantasy of musical. As new genres surpassed, attendance to theatre productions gained popularity as the 20th century welcomed Englishman Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the most successful figures in the industry with works, Evita (1978), Cats (1981), Phantom of the Opera (1986), and Sunset Boulevard (1993).

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However, this boom in business on Broadway and the West-End has recently reported an 8% decrease in attendance to theatre productions by The New York Times. While the likely causes for the downturn are numerous, the growth of digital and mobile media consumption is often identified as one culprit. Perhaps the ease of viewing these visual spectacles from a mobile device is a huge advantage to some who do not wish to pay the fee of attending the performance live.

Despite these recent rumours of their deaths, musicals have never completely disappeared and the prevailing movie industry of today reaps the rewards of what was once a luxury tradition. The immense success in the number of films based on stage plays or musicals has taken the industry by storm, and these cinematic musical creations are a significant cultural form in territories such as India, and regularly flourishing elsewhere across the globe. Once more, the movie musical has been ushered back to the big screen. In 2008, Abba-fest Mamma Mia! became a record-breaking UK hit, and stage-to-screen adaptations, from Chicago to Les Misérables have consistently charmed Oscar voters in America. Now the genre’s reappearance has brought La La Land as yet another highly successful movie musicals grossing over US $600 million worldwide. As one of the few creations underived from a stage adaption, this cultural shift speaks volumes about society’s interaction with theatre and technology.

Maybe its our changing tastes or fragmentation of society, but perhaps this tells us something more about our culture and how musicals as an art form are dying in the traditional sense, reviving in their convergence with modern technologies. Admittedly, nothing quite compares to the enjoyment of viewing these cinematic creations from the confront of our own homes, and now Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling can be starred at all day long.

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