Monday 14 January 2013

My response to a recent article about musical theatre being 'embarrassing and stupid'

In response to your recent article in the Evening Standard entitled ‘How can anyone who loves music enjoy musicals?’ – in which you so fairly and diplomatically call musicals ‘embarrassing and stupid’ I would like to raise a few points. If you don’t mind, dear.

Firstly - thank you so much for such a wonderful and well-rounded argument…

In your opinion musicals have bad music, melodramatic plots - and nobody over the age of five who has any taste at all could possibly like them. Well, I hate to say it, but I disagree.

You imply that people, like yourself, who loathe musicals are far superior – both in their artistic tastes and general intelligence. It takes skill, understanding, and huge talent to even consider writing a musical. And I need not mention the talent, stamina and years of training it takes to become a competent musical theatre performer. While I realise your article is not a direct stab at performers – it does rather imply that their efforts and training should have been spent elsewhere. Forgive me, but I disagree. Musicals are such a hard craft to perfect – and many of our performers are the best in the world. To suggest that people are actually ‘repelled’ by watching people at the top of their game seems extreme and ignorant.

Your narrow-minded view suggests a general lack of understanding of the art-form – and implies that anything you do not like is simply ‘unworthy’. I am not a fan of football – but appreciate the skill, dedication and joy it brings to millions. I am aware of my own ignorance of the sport but would never class myself above anybody who finds football an important part of their life. Does that make me weak and soft-centred by not looking down on people who adore something that I do not? No – it just makes me someone who understands that everybody has a different passion and desire, and whether this be sport, art, food, literature or simply ‘Angry Birds’ I do not feel compelled to judge and mock.

A musical, like any other art form, is something to be celebrated and encouraged. Anything that provides relief, distraction and comfort in today’s depressing climate surely should be admired and not despised. Art is after all a response to human nature and surely if that response is captured by any means at all it should be embraced and respected – not ridiculed and bullied.

 And just for you, dear David – here are a few little facts about musicals:

Great British and Broadway Musicals were one of the biggest forms of entertainment during WW1 – providing an important role in keeping people’s spirits up. A good melody written by Richard Rogers, Irving berlin or Cole Porter provided the perfect accompaniment in aiding people’s escapism – and was indeed not looked on as being ‘banal’.

There is a reason why musicals have been, and always will be successful – indeed even after the Great Depression when the talking movie was supposed to bury the musical, the 1930s in fact turned out to be it’s golden age – turning the Great Depression into an epic theme, and producing some wonderful, brave and fresh work. These musicals came as a direct reflection and reaction to what was happening in the world - just as musicals do today. Take London Road at the National last year – which documents the events of 2006 during the Ipswich serial murders, and how the residents on London Road coped with the events. The piece pushed boundaries, raised dark questions about society and togetherness, and succeeded in being utterly compelling, innovative and thoroughly explorative.

As for your point about enjoying Opera – because the singers don’t really attempt to act - I disagree. I have seen many operas where the acting has been first-class. And in truth the line between musical theatre and opera is a fine one anyway – surely Sweeney Todd is a truly great opera? Did you go and see the recent revival with the marvellous Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton? No, I bet you didn’t. I imagine however you found the time to skulk past the theatre in a pair of loafers and sneer at members of the public as they walked in to enjoy themselves for two hours. How dare anyone go and enjoy some first rate escapism if it is in a genre you consider ‘idiotic’?

My dear David - you may find it interesting to know that in 2012 West End theatre revenues were higher by 3.1% than the year before – to £528,375,874. And there has been year-on-year growth for the past eight years. Not bad for a business that is ‘embarrassing and stupid’.

You criticise Lloyd Webber about the world of ‘inflated tastelessness’ that he has created. Well this ‘world’ has been admired and embraced the world over – and Lloyd Webber’s musicals have helped establish London’s Theatre-land as the best in the world. You also sneer that ’nobody over the age of 5 who has any taste at all could possibly like’ Lloyd Webber’s shows.  But isn’t that a marvellous thing? To be entertained to such an extent that you feel like a 5 year old again – I would buy a season ticket for that, dear.

And just for your information - ‘embarrassing and stupid’ musical theatre has played a hugely important role to in the development of entertainment since it’s birth. Looking back in it’s history there have been numerous occasions where the musical has challenged social stigmas, raised controversial issues, and indeed changed the way entertainment as a whole now exists. Take the musical ‘HAIR’ for example – the production effectively marked the end of stage censorship in the UK.

You moan about valuing music and drama so highly that you are loath to having them travestied. Well I put to you that even our greatest dramatist Shakespeare knew the value of music in drama – and included the text of well over 100 songs in his works. The point of these songs – to aid in telling the story. And when I have seen these songs performed in versions of his plays I have never sat back and thought ‘ Shakespeare – why would you want banal, idiotic and silly little songs in your works?’. He knew the value of song and music in theatre and entertainment. And do you think that music on it’s own is not dramatic – of course it is. The best songs in history tell a story and express an emotion - exactly like songs do in a musical. And what about music videos – where artists have been acting through their songs for years? In your article you suggest you hate anything that involves both singing AND acting.  I think the problem may be that your head cannot deal with these two things happening at once. And as you are fully aware many artists and musicians these days embrace the idea and concept of having their music turned into a musical.

Last week saw the UK opening of the Les Mis movie. I read your review with interest, but of course knew you would not be impressed. I am pleased to say you are in the minority. And it is wonderful that Les Mis is reaching it’s heart out to a brand new audience. So I’m sorry to report David that while you sit at your desk and get red-faced and impotent in your anti-musical rages the fan-base for musical theatre is increasing.

Personally David I think ‘the lady doth protest too much’. It’s time for you to embrace a growing genre, get your hands out of your pockets, and start practising your jazz hands, dear.


  1. Absolutely bloody brilliant! If that isn't the paper equivalent of a smackdown then I don't know what is. I've been defending MT to the uncultured people I inevitably come to be surrounded by and will delight in quoting you to them. I would love to know if this guy will even read your blog, I hope he does because it sounds like he needs a few lessons in life, starting with some good old fashioned musical theatre.

  2. Someone should remind David Sexton that an actor whose name is quite similar to his - David Thaxton - is one of the best musical theatre actors in the UK today. I bet he'd love to know that! Or, perhaps Sexton should consider changing his name. I mean, how can anyone having a surname like 'SEXton' ever be taken seriously? I can imply a lot of things about him from his surname alone. And believe me, they are not nice things.

  3. Also some of those songs which he enjoys so much from records, CD's etc. are probably songs from musicals. Tell most people that You'll Never Walk Alone originated in a musical and they won't believe you, because it is so ingrained in popular culture today

  4. Ha! Love your closing statement. What say you we chip in and treat him to a few lessons in what it needs to be a triple threat? Well done sir. @theChrisRogers

  5. Here here! The unutterable joy I have experienced in theatre venues whilst watching musicals and the deep enjoyment and fulfilment I get from warbling along to my cd's makes articles like his make me very angry. How dare he say I am not a music lover when this form of music makes my heart glad and my soul sing. Musicals make me happy.

  6. Oh #dear indeed. Sarah Vine has also had a go at musical theatre in The Times today. ( £).
    My own view is that he, or she, who loves life, loves London - and utterly adores musical theatre.