Monday, 26 May 2008

Musicals

To a casual visitor, London's most noticeable features may be its extraordinary number of historical sights, its endless shopping potential, its infinite array of bus routes, or its fascinating range of crime. However, the true identity of the capital is found in none of these, for in truth, London is a city of musicals. Every building with a spare wall going will be plastered with posters for The Lion King, Avenue Q, Chicago, The Sound of Music, Billy Eliot or any one of a frankly silly number of bits of theatre born with so little dialogue that they had to sing it instead of speaking it.


This is plague on British society has somehow become taboo. Nobody dares to discuss the musicals problem, but it's there, for all to see, unashamedly bursting with melodramatic gestures and inappropriate explosions of song. In the city centre, the problem is so severe that you can barely walk a street without tripping over a musical retching in the gutter, or without being harangued by a drunken operetta. But do our politicians address this unwholesome parade of indulgence? Not one whit. Without exception, the mayoral candidates were obsessed with crime and public transport. Some of them even had other policies too. But not one, however, pledged to deal with the menace of musicals. Something, chaps and chapettes, must be done. I propose to write to the Telegraph. They always know what to do, and they're very good at disapproving.


One of the oddest offenders is the new treatment of Gone With The Wind. Even in non-musical format, this is the love story version of Taxi Driver - it goes on forever, then all kicks off at the end. Only instead of Robert de Niro on a killing spree, the payoff here is a Southern gentleman saying 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn'. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty leery of anything with a heroine called 'Frankly'. However, I can see that my objections are meaningless - they managed a musical of Lord of the Rings, and that's so vast it makes the American Civil War look like a border skirmish, and has so many silly names that Frankly would count as the homely, normal lass.


Whatever flaws in the material for Gone With the Wind, it does one thing exactly as demanded by the Commandments of Cheese: it ends with our strapping hero scooping up his heroine of choice and marching off to the sunset/bedroom. This is notably absent from the latest of the contenders for the peeling gilt throne. Deciding that the 'ageing legendary band has musical made about them' formula clearly needs updating without the 'ageing' or 'legendary' parts, Take That now have themselves a musical, Never Forget. Quite why they've given it a name that sounds like a documentary about genocide, nobody is sure. Also, to the hefty number of people who would really like to forget, it's an aggressive turn of phrase, like something a debt collector might say to make very sure you know the date by which money or kneecaps must be forthcoming. I'm all in favour of a spot of non-conformist story-telling, but I find it hard not to be cynical when their replacement for '... and they all lived happily ever after' is '... and they all went on to have solo careers, with varying degrees of success'. I'm also ill-disposed to anything without a sympathetic character beyond the panic-stricken usher who's had to watch it for the fifth time that week. To cap it all, it's about real, living people. This is awkward because they could even go to see it, which would be a bit like attending their own funerals. Or the funerals of their careers, anyway.


I did, however, love Les Miserables. It's hard to beat the combination of heroic, violent revolution and foxy French girls. For that, I'd set up a barricade of my own, only I think it's forbidden in my tenancy agreement. Ah yes, here we are, in section 14, paragraph (b):


'Thou shalt not use rented furniture to initiate or support the overthrow of oppressive capitalist society.'


Fiddlesticks.

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