The Story of the Musical


The story of the muscial can be linked historically to changing audience attidues to entertainment. For the most part musicals are associated with a by-gone era or the golden age of Hollywood.  During the 1930’s (following the enormuos success of the Jazz Singer (1927) the musical began its surge in popularity with audiences; developing into a distinct and vital genre in the studio system.  In its historical context we recognise how the economic crisis of the 1930’s drove audiences from theatre seats in Broadway and lead the great writing talent of the age to Hollywood.  The talent’s of Broadway helped to shape the Hollywood musical which up to then had been known for its “fairly naive plot and were primarily perceived as vehicles for song and dance”[1]. Audiences flocked to cinema’s dispite the financial crisis and in order to capitalise the studio’s invested  better narritives and better quality productions.. By the 1950’s musical biopic’s and Broadway re-makes such as A Star is Born (1954) and Singing in the Rain (1952)  were continuing to prove enormously successful at the box office.  In the 1960’s the success of West Side Story (1962) reflected a trend for “greater realism” in film[2]


Since the 1960’s the musical has been very much seen as a genre on the wane. The perception being that audience appetities for films comprising entirely of musical song and dance numbers no longer remained. Hollywodd adapted linking up with the music industry, to create films with central musical scenes such as Saturday Night Fever (1977), which would assure a large yield in soundtrack sales.  Since this period there have been several attempts to re-ignite the public’s interest in the musical. Director’s such as Baz Lurhman have attempted to add a modern twist in order to engage audiences.  There have been a number of stand out success such as the remake of Chicago (2002) and Les Miserables (2012).  However they have in general been few in number.  It is of note that this has remained the trend dispite the recent recession.  Audience’s have not flocked to cinema’s for musical entertainment.  This could be explained by the advent of hugely popluter television musical productions such as Glee or X Factor.  Whilst there continues to be some audience demand in music within film, it seems to be more niche than large scale. In recent times Irish diector John Carney has also found a niche in indie-musicals such as Once (2006) and Begin Again (2012).   The Cohen Brother’s also have offerred a nostalgic remake classic Hollywood routines in Hail Ceaser (2016). No doubt the role of music in film will continue to evolve in particalar in the light of the growth of virtual reality, which brings with it a host of untapped posibilities.

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[1] Pg 244 Susan Hayward, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts

[2] Ibid pg 248


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