One of my biggest frustrations as a musical theatre dork is snobbery about which musicals are better. This is an argument that continues in any art form of low brow vs high brow and the favouring of cerebral niche work over mass audience favourites.
During my undergraduate studies I rocked up knowing the entire Andrew Lloyd-Webber back catalogue (except By Jeeves) and me and a few other newbies thought the lecturers were talking about a composer called Songtime, which we thought was the most apt name ever! Turns out we misheard the name and they were saying Sondheim, oops! I was told fairly quickly to broaden my knowledge and step away from the Lloyd-Webber. Which is of course good advice as I needed to learn more about the genre, but it was also said in a derisive manner, implying that there was something wrong in knowing and liking Andrew Lloyd-Webber. An opinion I disagree with considerably.
The trigger for this blog was an interview with Glee star Darren Criss on BroadwayWorld.com in which he ‘fanboys’ over Sondheim and also discusses the musicals he first fell in love with. Criss discusses how one of his friends loves Cats and notes how many people deride it and its megamusical status. Criss poses the question: “It’s what got him into musical theatre, after all – how bad could it be?!” My answer is it isn’t bad at all because it is introducing people to musical theatre; many who I have met over the years highlight the feline showstopper as their first, too. As a young teenager the first time I saw a musical on stage was either Blood Brothers or Miss Saigon on tour in Birmingham. I often cite Miss Saigon as the show that got me into musical theatre because it was through-sung, had special effects and the most adorable little boy ever. During my MA I looked at McTheatre and the perpetuating of carbon copy shows around the world, and how wrong this seems to some folk. I can understand this, but I saw a carbon copy and in the New Year I graduate from a postgraduate course where I focused on musical theatre, so personally I can’t fault it.
Criss also makes a point of bringing up movie musicals and how “for most of us, I am happy to admit, we love a lot of movies that movie professors and stuff probably hate – you know, they might not be the most earth-shattering, ground-breaking things, but, you know what, man? That’s the first musical I saw when I was 5, so I love it.” Whilst a movie musical would conjur up images of Singing in the Rain, Cabaret and Chicago I think there is also room for the Disney films of the nineties. I often wonder if I would have found musical theatre so easy to fall into if I hadn’t watched Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King repeatedly on film and watched characters express themselves through song.
What do you consider your first musical to be? Do you ever get protective if someone knocks your first musical?