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Television gets campy again with musicals


February 22, 2017

Many people cringe when they think of musical theater, complaining of over-the-top dance numbers and nonsensical singing that detracts rather than adds to the plot.

It’s not hard to see why, as hardly anyone would have the time nor patience to pay $15, drive to the cities and sit through a two hour musical, give or take a 30-minute intermission. Therefore, many people are exposed to musicals via movies. Now there’s nothing wrong with a movie; in many cases movies are well done and thought-out works of art. However, the art form of a movie does not give itself to a musical.

Movies, as you may have noticed, either stick to hyper-realistic plots, gritty characters and a sort of seriousness which is part of even the most laughable comedy. Most musicals don’t highlight this sort of idea. Musicals thrive in theaters, where they can interact with their audience and use the seclusion of a venue to immerse you in their world.

They’re over-the-top and campy, which lends itself well to live theater. Within a theater, you can surround someone with all the elements of stage and force them into suspension of belief for a longer period than you might be able to do with a movie. All of the reactions in theater are large and exaggerated because there are no close-ups or selective framing for much of the show, thus making a large dance number about a character being in love more of a way to explain the character’s emotions than the use of lighting and close-up lingers.

While musicals and movies get along in the respect of the idea of big musical numbers and so forth, campier and to the genre movies such as “Hello Dolly” led to a decrease in traditionally styled musicals in movies. While this was great for musicals such as “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Sweeney Todd,” which found success and revitalization in the idea of framing, editing and cutting musical numbers, we rarely see today in movies the traditional grand musical and more often see adaptations of musicals famous on stage to a less campy feel, examples being “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables.”

Television, however, can set the tone for the style that traditional musicals once held. With “Galavant” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” you see a use of episodes to create pacing that makes frequent musical numbers feel better paced. It’s easier to digest two songs per episode than have eight to 10 in a two hour film. While you may be digesting the same amount of men singing and strange dance costumes, you also move along those musical numbers at your own pace and feel less like you are subjecting yourself to them.

With movies, a plot follows a steady arc. With more campy musicals in theater, a plot takes many twists and turns to raise and lower the energy of the crowd. “Galavant” uses the ability to change the point of what they are doing frequently and uses that to bring about energy and drop it as well. It’s with the ultimately longer form of seasons that one director can feel comfortable in their choices.

“Galavant” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” also acknowledge their inherent gaudiness from the world of musicals, where you often see ridiculously elaborate dance numbers, people running through the aisles and a casual fourth wall break. These two shows play up the idea of the musical, the first episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” containing her arrival with a large town-wide dance number for little to no reason. “Galavant” plays well to this in many songs, one of the best examples being “Secret Mission,” in which they explain their plan entirely, grab an unnecessary number of weapons, dance about the castle and interact with other characters as they do so.

Of course, “Galavant” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are both comedies, which thrive on larger-than-life characters and exaggerated relationships required by musicals. “Fame,” another musical show in the past, was far more dramatic and, despite being placed on the set of a musical about Marilyn Monroe, ignored many of the cheerier aspects of musicals.

However, one can say these musicals and their moderate successes are paving the way for many more musical television shows in the future. Personally, as a lover of musical theater, I would love to see that.