The rise and fall and rise again of musical film

Amy Donohoe

Credit: Megan Hannan

Over the last few years, there have been an abundance of outstanding movies with song-

and-dance sequences.

Two years ago, ‘La La Land’ received 14 Oscar nominations. Last year, ‘The Greatest Showman’ made $174 million dollars. And over the summer, the ‘Mamma Mia’ sequel landed in cinemas.

Musical theatre is a form of theatrical performance that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting and dance. It is a story which portrays humour, sadness, love, anger which are communicated through the words, music and movement.

Modern Western musical theatre emerged during the 19th century, but ground breaking works such as ‘Oklahoma!’ didn’t appear until the 20th century. Some of the most famous musicals throughout the decades that followed include ‘West Side Story’, ‘Les Misérables’, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Wicked’.

Musical films thrived during the 1930s and 40s but following a few financial flops, the industry began to dry out around the 1970s. Nancy West, who teaches U.S. film history at the University of Missouri, thinks the move away from musical film has everything to do with a changing politics.

The genre exploded in the early 1930s as the US struggled through the Great Depression when America needed to escape. In the 1940s, the US gained a new burden: the second world war. Musicals were also associated with femininity, so they could have been dismissed due to that.

About 20 years ago the rise of musicals came back slowly. Irish film has also contributed to Broadway. ”Once’ had a film budget of €112,000 and it was released in 2007. It’s a love story, which stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. It includes the Academy Award-winning song ‘Falling Slowly’. Since its release, Once has found new life as a successful, eight time Tony award winning musical.

Movie musicals are now a staple of Hollywood’s peak holiday release season. It proves that the art form itself, along with its popularity, has hit new heights.

Lady Gaga is starring as the lead in Bradley Cooper’s ‘A Star Is Born’, which is in cinemas from today. The film tells the story of Cooper’s fading movie star who helps a young actress get her big break. Emily Blunt will star in “Mary Poppins Returns” which is due to be released in December this year. The Disney feature film is thought to be ‘an ambitious and non-traditional take’ on the story we all know and love.

And get excited because the ‘Wicked’ film adaptation is finally coming – although it won’t be released until December 2019. Stephen Daldry is directing and Marc Platt is producing the big-screen take on the hit Broadway musical and bestselling book.

Musicals like ‘Hamilton’ brought in a new wave of audiences, TV shows like ‘Glee’ have created important discussion topics for society; not to mention Disney films like ‘High School Musical’ which have inspired many children. Modern musicals have evolved just like its audiences and it’s getting bigger and better.

Amy Donohoe

Image Credit: Megan Hannan