The Revolution Will Be Televised (and Staged)
ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash
Modern Musicals, Music T.V. and Fresh Focus
BEFORE I end the weekend with something meatier…
and more general – I wanted to look at the areas of the media that require a serious injection of modern music. I will end by talking about music T.V. and why we need to think about creating more options. Before then, I have been recalling my first-ever theatre memory. It must have been the mid-1990s – or slightly before then. Whatever the year; it was a trip to see Grease in London that introduced me to musical theatre and its potential. I am not a fan of musical theatre by any means but, thinking about the way it brings music to demographics and people that would not normally listen to – it got me thinking about modern equivalents and why the stage is as important as the studio. Although I am a bit ho-hum regarding classical musicals; I do like Grease and think it has a pretty kick-ass soundtrack! Greased Lightnin’ and You’re the One That I Want are instant smashes; Summer Nights and Sandy are pretty awesome. Those songs, and that musical, gives me an idea of what life was like for some in the 1950s. The ‘greasers’ movement in the U.S. captivated youths looking for a sense of understanding a new identity. Look at Grease and the two tribes – Danny and Sandy’s groups – coming together and interacting. That building romance is at the heart of the musical/film. Whether you connected with the original 1971 stage show or the 1978 film – everyone will have some exposure to the musical.
There are two reasons why musicals hold a very important place in modern culture. We get an insight into an area of life we do not have exposure to normally: there is a different form of music one would not normally hear on the radio. Musicals like Grease and Chicago, for instance, might seem dated by the very fact they are set in the past. They have been showing for many years now and we are all familiar with the classic songbooks. Whether you are a fan of West Side Story or The Phantom of the Opera – they are great forms of entertainment that deserve greater oxygen. It seems musicals, in the past, have been reserved to a certain type of theatre-goer: those who are a bit, say, reserved about modern music but find some form of connection with theatrical music. That may seem a generalisation but most of the people I know (who attend musicals) are a bit unadventurous with their music tastes. One of the reasons I wanted to start by talking about musical theatre is the way humour, satire and politics feed into musical theatre. Modern examples like Hamilton are thrilling audiences and picking up awards all over the place. That rapped-and-sung-through musical talks about the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It is a tough, real and dazzling show that uses music and song to illustrate a vital and formative part of U.S. history. We have more escapist and fantasy-filled musicals around but, in a time where we need people to react to what is happening around us; the more realistic musical is favoured.
The Book of Mormon, sure, is a comedy but it looks at two Mormon missionaries who travel to Africa to preach the Mormon religion. Maybe the message is not as serious as Hamilton – it does help make musical theatre a broader and more popular realm. A lot of the established musicals put off people like me because they are a bit stuffy and old-fashioned. The fact the multi-Tony-winning Hamilton has broken records mean there will be a lot of similar-minded musicals emerging in years to come. I would like to see other areas of society provided a musical theatre twist. There is a lot of conflict and division in the country right now. There are racial tensions and we have political conflict; separation regarding Brexit and a lot of divides forming. Look back at the Punk movement in the 1970s and the sort of explosion that happened then. Imagine life in the 1960s and a tale of domestic abuse and one girl’s chance to escape through music and popular culture. Those are three quick pitches but have potential to sound modern, appealing and raw. In terms of genre; one could see another U.S.-based musical that went into a racially-divided neighbourhood and has a Hip-Hop soundtrack…bringing in newly-penned songs and classics from the 1980s and 1990s. If it were British; we could have a 1990s-set musical that forged two Britpop clans together in a humorous setting. Ideas swirl around the heads but that is the point: there is demand and thirst for new musicals that broaden the sonic palette and update the classics.
One of the biggest drawbacks of musicals – aside from the fact they are unrealistic by nature – is the type of music we hear. The songs are often soft and melodic; they are big, showy numbers that are not designed to change minds and impart wisdom. Musical theatre has the potential to change minds, bring about change and provide education. We are living in a divided time so I wonder, as mainstream music struggles to respond; musical theatre could fill that gap. The stage is powerful and, why there is less of an audience compared with radio and streaming sites; that human connection and interaction is potent. Given the violence, racism and splits around the world – can we ignore that in favour of something lighter and less abrasive?! Not only does musical theatre have the potential to bring history and social divisions to the people: there are bands and artists who warrant their own musical. We can educate younger people – and those with rigid tastes – about great movements and artists who have come before. If I were to put any forms of music up on the stage, I would like at the aforementioned Britpop movement; Grunge in the 1990s and 1980s Hip-Hop. Whether (the musical) used pre-recorded music and wrote a story around popular songs or had an original score influenced by the time in which it is set – it would bring people like me, who usually avoid musicals, into the theatre!
ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Katherine Brickman
I am a big fan of bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp: artists who were huge in the 1990s and talked about life where they lived. We could have – unless it has already been done – a musical that looked at two different neighbourhoods during that time. Changing the storylines and nature of musical theatre to a more modern and relevant template would recruit a lot more people. I find many musicals a bit uninspired and static – too many that do the same thing and aim for a particular audience. There are areas of society, music and life that are not being exposed and documented. I am buoyed by the success of Hamilton but there have been some criticisms regarding its story – too expositional and tired at times – and numbers. I cannot argue as the production picked up eleven Tony Awards and is a worldwide sensation! Every one of us can formulate and imagine which artist/time period we’d like to see on the stage: whether that is the form of a societal narrative or a humorous interpretation of a treasured time. Music T.V. and music shows are another great way of bringing music, old and new, to the people. My entire piece reacts to an electronic diet and the way we consume and discover sounds. I watched the one-off Old Grey Whistle Test earlier in the week and watched, with closed hands around the eyes, the latest Brit Awards.
The latter was an awkward affair with ill-paired presenters and performances either forgettable or marred (Kendrick Lamar’s muted performance for T.V. audiences, as an example). There were some unwanted winners and needless surprises on the night. Aside from Stormzy getting two awards and triumphing; Jack Whitehall doing a great job at presenting – it was a forgettable and boring night that was more about drunkenness and embarrassment than the quality of music. In fact, thinking about it: how many decent and endlessly watchable options are there now?! I argue there should be a BBC Radio 6 Music version. That is not because I am a huge fan of the station: the fact is, they pride quality over commercialism and have seen some wonderful live sets in their studios. We could skim away shows like the Brits and Q’s award show; get rid of NME’s night and have a proper award show through BBC Radio 6 Music. It could have some live performance and focus on the best music around. There would be no commercial chart stuff in there; it would be all about the great acts out there who miss out on all other nights of the year. It is a suggestion but it is clear we need a music award show in some form – this seems like the best option for those who have a genuine passion for great music.
Music T.V. is the last area where a semi-revolution/overhaul can take place. I predicted the return of The Old Grey Whistle Test last week would be a success and popular choice. Many people revelled at the inclusion of archive footage and performances from the likes of Peter Frampton and Kiki Dee. ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris was back in control and presented the three-hour live show. It was a great night and reminded us why we need a show like this back on T.V. I wonder whether BBC will be smart enough to television and commission a new series of the show. It does not need to depart too much from its classical formula. The studio could be the same and the presenter, whether Bob Harris or someone else, would take care of the introductions. We would have archived footage from previous shows but there is an emphasis on presenting the best new and legendary artists in the studio. The emphasis would be on great artists from all genres - concentrating on electricity, excitement and serious chops. It would be good to see established artists performing their hits: underground, unsigned artists nestling alongside the best of music’s past. You could have music news running alongside and other features peppered in – concentrating on a classic album and having interviews – and create a really good show. It could be a one-hour thing that played once a week at around 9 P.M. I would love to see it return to the screen – as would many others out there.
It would showcase music’s past and bring it to new ears; we would have fantastic new bands/acts playing their stuff and (hope to) create the same kind of progression as we saw back in the 1970s. These are all ideas I think would be feasible and achievable. I am not suggesting putting on a music T.V. show and new musical theatre would revolutionise music and change the world as we know it. I worry the music industry is too focused on the digital and not as expressive and wide-ranging as it can be. We have great musical theatre, award shows and music T.V. out there. There is not as much as there should be and that is something that can be changed. I am confident, if we modernise and expand musical theatre; that will bring in new crowds and lead to a bit of a revolt. There are few genuinely alright award shows but we could get rid of the worst ones and create something genuinely decent and watchable. Throw in a fantastic music T.V. show and it is a good way of kickstarting a move towards more traditional and varied scene. There are many other avenues we could explore when it comes to music: interview shows and a music-based T.V. show (a drama or comedy); a website and, well…anything else. It is good to think about music’s power and how it can influence the world. There are fantastic stories and brilliant artists out there; formats that can be exploited and chances to push music to new heights. It might start with a new musical but, if we keep the pressure going; this could lead to…
INCREDIBLE change and progression.