For reasons that escape me, I’ve had songs from Man of La Mancha stuck in my head. I tried to explain this to a friend of mine, and I suddenly came to the realization that he had no idea what I was talking about.
“It’s a musical.”
“A musical? You like musicals?”
And there it was–the question, hanging out there. “You like musicals?” To admit liking musicals in this society as a straight male is, for whatever reason, to accept the status of social pariah. But to hell with that. I proudly proclaimed my love of musicals, without hesitation.
And my friend looked at me funny and changed the subject.
Well, screw society. I love musicals. Yes, they’re silly, and frequently pretentious as hell. But what an art form! Because the thing is, music, done right, can convey emotion better than the greatest actor or writer. Sure, it’s ridiculous to think of people spontaneously bursting into song at emotional moments. But musicals aren’t a realistic art form–they’re an expressionistic one. And the use of song can enable an audience to get into a character’s head and viewpoint in an overwhelming and unique way.
Think of Man of La Mancha, for instance–can you think of any better way to capture the character, viewpoint and idealism of Don Quixote than “I, Don Quixote” or “Impossible Dream”? And take a look at other musicals, too. Do mere words express the agony of Christ begging for his life from his Father better than the music of “Gethsemane” in Jesus Christ, Superstar? Could the best acting performance in the world convey more compassion for the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera than the song “Music of the Night”? Answer: no.
To be sure, there are some wretched musicals out there. (“Cats” springs instantly to my mind.) But then, musicals are subject to Sturgeon’s law, just like everything else. So just admit it already–you like musicals. There’s no shame in it.