Monday, June 13, 2011

A Call To Arms!

At a time when rock music and torrents of obscenity are flooding the musical stage and screen, I for one have had enough. So sit back, kids -- here goes . . .

I am a showtune chauvinist, and proud of it! According to one dictionary definition, a chauvinist is “a person with a fanatical belief in the superiority of his or her own kind.” Well, I am most definitely not a male chauvinist, but I sure as hell am a showtune chauvinist. I have a fanatical belief in the inherent superiority of showtunes to any other form of music, and it is high time that I and my kind came out of our cast recording-packed closets.

For years, I have been telling friends and students who marvel at my gleeful ignorance of contemporary music that I am the last of the showtune chauvinists. In the days of George M. Cohan or Irving Berlin, there were many who openly espoused the glory of showtunes. Now, we are getting harder to find -- or so certain nefarious people would like us to think. The fact that Broadway musicals are a multi-billion dollar industry suggests that there are still a fair number of us surviving in this hip-hop and techno-crap infused world. But the last decade been a particularly tough one for our breed. Anyone who hints at a passion for tuneful musicals is treated like a cultural pariah, and with Broadway increasingly providing a home for bad rock concerts with plots, lame adaptations of hit films, and lyrics that once belonged exclusively in prison yards, there has been little for my kind to celebrate.

For the last few years, I was so depressed by the state of musical theatre that I found myself posting fewer essays and reviews on Musicals101. Well, to hell with that! As of now, I am taking up a new position as a militant voice for showtune lovers, and and this blog will offer an ongoing call to reclaim pride in musicals, and in the rich legacy of melody, humor and sheer pleasure this endangered art form has given the world. I’d rather be ridiculed for speaking the truth than sit silent one moment longer. For example? Anyone who thinks Lady GagMe (that noisome, greasy creature) has anything resembling talent has my sympathies. While many of Irving Berlin's best songs remain treasured favorites decades after his death, I am willing to bet that Lady GagMe's best work (a contradiction in terms) will be forgotten as soon as the next slimy sensation knocks her off the charts.

I find it offensive that those who should champion the musical theatre so often apologize for its existence. Many theatre critics cheer for third-rate rock musicals (oh, the raves they piled on the appalling American Idiot) while lambasting any show that dares to offer a hint of melody or wit. Mosh-pit aerobics have garnered awards for theatrical choreography. And in a final act of self-denigration, the Tony Awards – the one nationally televised event dedicated to the theatre – go out of their way each year to say, “Yeah, we may be Broadway, but don’t worry, we don’t look or sound like Broadway any more.” Like musicals have to be ashamed of looking and sounding like musicals?

And by the by, who the heck thought it made sense for the toilet-mouthed comedian Chris Rush to give the Tony for Best Musical? If he really thinks that announcing the winner of that coveted trophy was really "just like taking a hooker to dinner" (his words, not mine), he would have done well to let someone who gives a damn do the honors. Oh wait, perhaps using Rush was a twisted way to pay added homage to the verbal filth that pollutes The Book of Mormon. Many who should know better are hailing that opus as a new hope for the musical theatre (how often have we heard that claim made for over-rated trash?), but I for one am disgusted to see so many awards going to a musical featuring songs that I cannot quote at length on this family-friendly site. The Book of Mormon is so packed with mega-obscenities that most schools and community theatres will never be able to present it. To my mind, that is a tragic development. That kind of wild, pubescent vulgarity may be funny for a moment -- but it will soon pall.

So the war is now on! Purveyors of ugly hard rock musicals, recycled film plots and other forms of entertainment evil, beware! Enemies of Jerry Herman, en guarde! Spewers of gratuitous vulgarity in place of humor and mere affinities in place of true rhymes, crawl back into your sewers and "Hasa Diga" yourselves! (Yes, Parker, Lopez & Stone, I mean YOU!) Starting today, The Showtune Chauvinist is on duty and calling the faithful to oppose you -- and he’s drawing a bull’s-eye on your nasty, tune-less, foul mouthed, joy-killing butts.

And all good citizens who love musicals, take heart! You are no longer alone -- in fact, you never really were. Celebrate your favorite musicals, play your cast recordings, whistle great showtunes whenever you can, and may the force of Rodgers & Hammerstein (as well as Porter, Sondheim, the Gershwins, Lerner & Loewe and the other musical greats) be with you!
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