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!


Zach Longstreet said...

I have to say that I agree with you Professor. I'd fight in that army.

Zach Longstreet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
americashould said...

In a world where the human condition and pocket book seems to be going the way of the "drain," it is not a wonder that life is resembling the "out of show-tune" shows mentioned by this informed and well-penned virtuoso. Thank you. Is it also a wonder that people are visually flocking to the royal image? I believe it is out of suffering for decency and good in our public lives, including the very influential Broadway show. All hail goodness and all things De'Lovely. Thank you John!!!

americashould said...

In a time when the human condition and the pocket book are going by the way of the "drain," is it a wonder that the "out of tune," show is influencing the state of affairs? Is it a wonder that Americans are visually flocking to images of the Royals? I believe it is because they are suffering from lack of and hungering for decency and basic class (just like in the newer shows) - the absence of which are just two of the signs of our current main stream degeneration. Thank you John. People aren't perfect, neither are shows. But, they can be good and "de'lovely" thus encouraging "loverli-ness."

Jeff Raab said...

While I'm not as anti-nonshowtune as you are (as we've discussed on numerous occasions), I will say that of the musical numbers presented last night, the standouts were those by Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. I'm talking strictly from a music listener's perspective. They're well-crafted tunes. They have an arc to them, they compliment the lyric, and they give the song and the dramatic moment a life beyond the lyric. I for one am going to buy "The Scottsboro Boys" album today.

I found most of the other numbers to be overly repetitive and musically uninteresting. Alan Menken's music is only ever as good as his lyricist (and I am not a fan of Glenn Slater); Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman are very good at imitating different styles of music and adding dramatic bite to them with intelligent, witty lyrics, but they always feel like tongue-in-cheek imitations rather than the real thing; Trey Parker and Matt Stone have shown themselves to be avid musical theatre fans since "Cannibal! the Musical," and so after years of musical references on "South Park," I'm glad to see them be a part of the Broadway community. But again, their style is to juxtapose traditinal musical theatre writing with their brand of satirical humor. It's not about integrating the music and lyrics toward a common dramatic goal. The humor (and often the brilliance) is in the juxtaposition.

Lastly, about Chris Rock's remark: I had no problem with it because he was absolutely right. I don't think he was disrespecting the other shows. I think he was calling it like it was, like everybody knew that it was. I would have loved to see "Scottsboro Boys" pull out a win, but I knew it wasn't going to happen, and did anyone really think "Sister Act" and "Catch Me If You Can" stood a chance? In fact, I salute you Chris Rock for telling the truth.

roundknittles said...

Welcome back!
Last night was my first time watching the Tonys without having seen a single nominated show!

NoTrumpTonite said...

Unoriginal-sounding melodies, amateurish lyrics, poorly-conceived rhyming; yes I agree and it's a mystery how both critics and audiences not only forgive but make excuses for these flaws: many say it's OK that the music is derivative because it is a parody of so many other shows (that in itself should decimate the claims of how "original" a property this is.)
It should be noted that the most enthusiastic do not allude to an overall lack of plot and a very weak closing for Act One.
Satire by nature is disingenuous and cynical, so the observations of this being a 'sweet' show with a heart at its center do not wash. I for one found every moment to be either smug or insincere and I think a song about baptism laden with worldly innuendo only confirms it.
There does need to be a standard set for the musical theatre, very simply the preservation of decency and a bit of elegance. I agree with your use of the adjective 'gratuitous' and especially 'joyless' - I found this production in general, depressing.
Thanks and hope all's well.

Box1 said...

John, see this show (I think you'll enjoy it), but I know you will give them notes on the *FOLLIES* part: (Also, see my show "Zombie Wedding" at FringeNYC)

Anonymous said...

John .. BRAVO (accompanied by thunderous applause)!!! You are THE MAN!!!!

John R.442 said...

I know, I don't like the hits on Broadway, either. Is the talent out there on the level of the great musical theater genuises of the past? I don't think so. Also, while I love, love, love the songs and shows of the past, and the lack of the use of profanity, how can we expect Broadway to remain exactly as it was when it's always been ever-changing to keep everything thriving financially? What the greater public (and the producers and backers) wants, they gets.

mckeldinb said...

I'm not a showtune chauvinist in the sense of believing in the superiority of the genre--but I am in the sense of it being my personal preference. It's very hard for me to overcome my bias towards Rock (I like the Beatles, Hair and Rent -- and not much else). I suspect much good material is written in the various Rock styles, but Rock music is ubiquitous -- really, dominant -- and has marginalized all other forms. I can't forgive it for that. Rock is to music, what Europeans were to the North American continent. They both moved right in uninvited, took over the whole shebang and forced all others who were not like them into niches (or reservations).

Tobin Vance said...

I am far from a showtune chauvinist, but I love a good showtune mixed in with the rest of my music. There's a lot to be said for the "song and dance" form of entertainment.
I would agree with Mr. Raab that "they give the song and the dramatic moment a life beyond the lyric".
I was able to get The Book of Mormon tickets this summer and thoroughly enjoyed the show. There is a lot to be said for songs that can stand on their own separate from the structure of the show, and I thought they hit it in spades.
While I was there I was also able to see other Broadway Shows, but they didn't stay with me the same way. Still, worth the experience no matter how you look at it.

Chris Ryder said...

Torrents of obscenity? You aren't pining away for "The Good Old Days", are you? You know the saying, someday soon, these will be the good old days. There are a lot of choices on Broadway right now, and it doesn't all have to be foul mouthed.
I recently got some How to Succeed in Business Broadway tickets and I was touched by how sweet it was.

Paula said...

I have written a musical in that vein and finding it very difficult to get produced. The book and music are both great, so I am wondering if it is the current market that won't acknowledge it. But we keep trying!

Return to