Why we love musicals

By Monique Mulligan

Love them or hate them (or say you hate them but secretly love them), musicals are here to stay. And while many love the escapism they provide, others can’t get past the fantastical idea of breaking into song every time something dramatic happens.

At Koorliny, it’s no secret that we love musicals – and judging by audiences, we’re not the only ones. We’ve established ourselves as one of Western Australia’s foremost community theatre venues, especially in the area of musical theatre. And we consistently find that musicals are more popular than non-musical plays.

At the 41st Annual Finley Awards, our 2015 Performance Season took out three major awards from 21 nominations and we were awarded the Yvonne Hough-Neilson Memorial Award for “sustained excellence in staging outstanding musicals over many years.

In 2016, our production of The Little Mermaid made a splash at the 42nd annual Finley Awards, taking out the Best Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Shanice Palfrey), Best Director of a Musical (Brad Tudor and Nat Burbage), and Best Costume Design awards at the weekend.

Continuing the winning streak, Mitch Lawrence won the Best Actor in a Musical award for Monty Python’s Spamalot and Rachel Monamy won Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for the same production. Spamalot was also runner-up in the Best Musical Award.

Musicals are something we do well. We take pride in choosing musicals we think will appeal to our target audience/s, and we spend months preparing, rehearsing, set-building and promoting (more on that in another blog post). You know the phrase, “it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”? Kind of sums it up, really.

The same goes for creating a piece of musical theatre. It doesn’t happen overnight. Musicals take time to develop, just like novels and paintings. A simple idea or theme needs context, dialogue, characters, and layers upon layers to create a story that will keep audiences glued to their seats.

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes. No.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.
Shrek: No.
Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.
Shrek: No. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. (Shrek)

Musical theatre (aka musicals) entertains through a combination of catchy and memorable songs/music, spoken dialogue and dance. The musical numbers and how they are executed can make or break a show – if the songs aren’t catchy and the dance sequences spectacular, the musical can fall flat.

It’s the combination of music, lyrics, dialogue and dance that can enhance drama, provide comedy and context, evoke emotion, and transport audiences into the moment. Creating a musical is a craft – a skill like blending together ingredients in a complex cake recipe. Staging it – well, that’s the icing.

Have you ever watched a musical and felt bored at a particular point – maybe a slow point, or a song that doesn’t tick the boxes for you? Obviously, directors and actors (and musical creators) don’t want that ever to be “a thing” so writing good songs is crucial.

“Once in every show

There comes a song like this …”

(“The Song That Goes Like This, Spamalot)

So, what makes a good song?

A good, easy-to-sing tune is most often the starting point, as well as a simple structure (many musical theatre songs are structurally similar to pop songs: verse/chorus/middle 8). Composers work hard to create songs with lasting appeal – the style may be popular, but it also has to be enduring. The best songs help audiences fall more in love with the characters and the story.

“In the rain, the pavement shines like silver. All the lights are misty in the river. In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight. And all I see is him and me, forever and forever…” (“On My Own”,Les Miserables)

Again, the song structure is just part of the package. A good musical comprises a variety of songs:

  • Solo (reveal the character’s emotions) e.g. “On My Own” from Les Miserables
  • Duets (also reveal feelings but from two points of view) e.g. “I Know Him So Well” from Chess
  • Trios/quartets/quintets (singing from three, four or five viewpoints) e.g. “Not Alone” from A Very Potter Musical
  • Choruses (whole ensemble sings, often used to open and close acts, and highlight plot/setting changes) e.g. “Everybody Say Yeah” from Kinky Boots and “Circle of Life” from The Lion King
  • Ballads (slow/reflective and romantic) e.g. “Burn” from Hamilton
  • Comedy (the meaning of the words is important) e.g. “I Speak Six Languages” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

For us, we love the variety that musicals deliver. If the musical is funny, even better. We love delighting and entertaining our audiences with laugh-out-loud scenes, spectacular costumes, and tap-your-feet dance numbers. And since that’s what our audiences want, we’ll continue to deliver.

If you haven’t checked one out at Koorliny before, maybe now’s the time to start.

So you think you hate musicals? If that’s you, check out this article.

Let us entertain you!

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