The musical is an art form developed in the twentieth century by such artists as Gilbert and Sullivan, Jerome Kern, Rogers and Hammerstein and Gershwin, with such winners as Pirates of Penzance, Oklahama, Showboat and Porgy and Bess. Today, musicals are still hugely popular and still making Broadway. Look at the success of Les Miserables, High School Musical and Wicked.
School musicals remain an important part of the school calendar for many reasons. To name but three: they bring the whole school community together for a feast of celebration; they showcase musicals talent (children may discover talents they didn’t know they had); and singing, dancing, dressing up and becoming someone else, is a huge buzz.
The musical director has an enormous job and lucky are the schools that have their own performing arts programmes in place. Often the music teacher or english teacher takes on the job and picking the right musical can be a nightmare.
Questions to consider when choosing a musical:
- Will the school allocate enough funds to stage a Broadway blockbuster – the cost can run into thousands. Musicals may cost upwards of $40,000 to hire! If so, does the school have the necessary technical facilities required for the musical – many top musicals have very clear technical and artistic requirements.
- Look at the number of children and talents available in your school. How many will be involved? What is the ratio of girls to boys? Do you have the support for elaborate costuming, scenery and lighting effects?
- What kind of musical would be appropriate for your school? Do you want a largely serious and intensely topical musical? Or one with lots of humour? What about balance of adult/child humour? What musical will be age-appropriate? Do you want a love story or a mystery? Do you want an original musical or a spoof on a well-known musical or fairy-tale, such as Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado? Spoofs can be very effective and will-received. Is your school looking for a special type of musical such as a religious musical, or a musical about the environment? Will the style be pretty straight, or very jazzy or up-beat. Will it have a mixture of styles?
- What about the length? How long should the run be? If you work with a musical for 6-12 months, could you drum up enough enthusiasm for fill the theatre for several nights? What sort of advertising would you need to achieve this?
- When you have a short-list of musicals dig a little deeper. Look at the songs – is there a good balance of fast, energetic to slow and thoughtful songs (if that’s what you want)? Are the lines easy to sing? Do the words fit well to the music?
Above all remember that a musical is an expression of all we feel by being human. It is a way of expressing our joy, sadness, fear, exuberance and even our frustrations. It should be a worthwhile experience for cast and audience alike, so if a musical has nothing to say, leave it alone.