How To Kill The American Musical

I have directed musicals professionally in regional and amateur theater, and the shows were a great love of mine growing up. Sadly, the American musical genre is becoming increasingly isolated from the mainstream culture for many reasons, among them the death of the movie musical, the pop-infection of the music and its singing styles, making most Broadway scores (and all of the women) sound the same, the inflated price of professional theater tickets, and production costs and effects that put most modern shows outside the realm of possibility for high schools and colleges.

Another factor,  which it is impolitic to discuss, is that the male gay community has decided to make musicals its own special genre, has been discouraging any talented straight performers from venturing into the field, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not.

Emblematic of this trend is the Sirius -XM Broadway Channel, which is the only way any kids are likely to hear an excerpt from a cast recording other than buying the song online. The nearly exclusive host is Seth Rudetsky, a writer/performer of some note and obvious talent. To say that he is openly gay is an understatement. Rudetsky’s delivery, speech patterns and preferred subject matter would have once been criticized as evoking cruel anti-gay stereotypes. He’s an actor; Rudetsky could butch up he chose to, and if he cared about musicals continuing as an art form participated in and enjoyed by the whole society and not just a small segment of it, he would.

Instead, he runs the Broadway Channel as if  women and gays are its only audience, potential or wanted. I get it: Seth is always in gay roles, in gay-oriented shows designed for gays, but that is not—not yet, anyway—the target audience Broadway and musicals, and that is not, presumably, the only audience Sirius is seeking. I assume he knows this, as an industry insider. I can only presume from his demeanor that he doesn’t care. It’s irresponsible.

While on the topic of Seth, I must add this. I recently caught the Broadway Channel host launching into a parody he had written insulting and mocking the President. It’s not a political channel, and listeners should not be subjected to the host’s gratuitous political rants. As with Colin Kaepernick and subsequent NFL kneelers  hijacking NFL games to make their own political statements, Rudetsky,is abusing his position and showing disrespect for his listeners by forcing them to hear his juvenile partisan attacks on President Trump.

I would have suspended him, and told him to spend the time practicing how to not speak the way anti-gay bigots imitate gay people.

19 thoughts on “How To Kill The American Musical

  1. Do you have thoughts on “The Prom”? It supposedly satirizes what you’re getting at here, but it seems to actually be pretty emblematic of it (and is also a fresh hot take from like, 2006).

  2. Rob Porter and this post. An essential tactic of the gay marriage movement was to incessantly depict gays as not just equal to heterosexuals, but actually inherently and vastly superior to heterosexuals. Gay thought leaders have been sneering at inferior “straights” since time immemorial, or at least since Oscar Wilde. Theater and acting and the arts in general are gay domains. Broadway is in a funny position in that it is gay down to the ground but must rely on over-priced tickets sold to tour groups of detested flyover country denizens.

  3. As an ardent listener to Rudetsky, I could not agree more. In fact, I have started to switch over to the 40s or 50s instead until he STFU and gets to the music! I have also reached the end of the line with the constant fawning over guests by Christine Pedi – add that to your list.

  4. Agreed. Growing up “Rocky Horror” was a parody/sendup of the musical genre that was both adorable and subversive simultanously, compounded with the audience play it made for a very peculiar experience at the time.

    I watched it again live recently with a group of youglings (20-somethings) who were at the same time uncomfortable and unsurprised in the way it played out. I suspect they did not have the cultural awareness of what musicals were and how this was more subversive and less par-for-the-course 10, 20, or 30 years ago than it is today.

    I think the writing on the wall was there when Chicago was made a movie. I remember it fondly, but Richard Gere was too much Richard Gere to make it work. I would have liked that to revive the genre, but it was already fighting the cultural currents at the time. (I also have fond memories of the date I took to see it, and I’ll accept that it may somewhat affect my memories of the film.)

    • And “Chicago,” as I argued in many online forums, was a cheat: it wasn’t a musical at all. Like Cabaret, every single number was either a dream scene or a stage performance. Never did a character, in character, express dialogue as song. It proved that the basic conceit of musicals no longer works, and that our directors no longer have the guts to try to make it work.

      • See. This is where my lack of education shows up. 😉

        I had never noticed that until you mentioned it and now have to go back re-watch a bunch of musicals to appreciate that.

    • 1) They stink.
      2) The usually flop at the box office
      3) Hollywood either uses non-singing stars or pop stars who can’t act.
      4) There are no movie musical stars. None.
      5) The public no longer accepts characters singing what would be dialogue in a non-musical.
      6) There are no film directors with a track record of doing musicals.

      I trace the beginning of end of the film musical to Gigi, where the title song was sung in a voice over, all in the head of the leading man.

      There will always be one-off exceptions, like Moulin Rouge, or a bad adaptation of a musical with a huge international fan base, like “Les Miz,” or a fake musical like “Chicago,” or a “sequel” to a really great movie musical from the past, like “Mary Poppins Returns,” but its like Westerns the genre twitches now and then, but it’s still dead.

      • Interested in your take as to ‘The Greatest Showman (TGS):’ Hugh Jackman sang opera before he was a superhero.

        1) They stink.

        Generally agree. TGS? To my uneducated palate this was an entertaining movie that my family watches over and over. Like ‘The Sound of Music.’ Note: all of my kids sing/sang in high school choir, and have since middle school. They have won college scholarships for voice. We like ‘Into The Woods as well. On the other hand, they like ‘Hamilton,’ which I cannot stand… 😦

        2) The usually flop at the box office

        TGS did not: $434,993,183 on a $84 million budget

        3) Hollywood either uses non-singing stars or pop stars who can’t act.

        Hugh Jackman sang in TGS. Other stars varied.

        4) There are no movie musical stars. None.

        Fair enough. Hugh could be, though.

        5) The public no longer accepts characters singing what would be dialogue in a non-musical.

        TGS does this, but I see the difference with older musicals, where the song WAS the character dialog, sang by two or more actors.

        6) There are no film directors with a track record of doing musicals.

        No comment

        What do you think, Jack? You will not hurt my feelings any more than a lawyer advising me on legal matters would: it is what it is.

        • Oh, sure: The Greatest Showman would pass muster as a middling good movie musical in the Sixties, and is top of the line now. Critics slammed it for a stupid reason: it’s not historically accurate, and really, who cares? Hugh Jackman, who will star in The Music Man on Broadway soon, is indeed the closest thing we have to a male musical star, though I wonder how much of the draw of the movie was “Wolverine SINGS!” Personally and as a director, I don’t see the legitimate “it” factor in Jackman as a musical performer, unlike, say, Kevin Klein when he was younger. But he has all the moves; he just has to avoid taking roles that exceed his range, as he did in “Les Miz,” which he didn’t have the chops to sing.

  5. It’s really sad what’s happening to theater in general but especially musicals. I walked away from being part of theater some years ago.

    Attendance by people that don’t know someone that’s part of the show is way down. Of course regular “groupies” still go.

    It’s sad.

  6. [I do apologize if my musings extend from the *particular* to the *universal*, from the immediate to a larger picture. But that really is my focus in the domain of ethics and of values.]

    I comment on this: “Seth is always in gay roles, in gay-oriented shows designed for gays, but that is not—not yet, anyway—the target audience Broadway and musicals, and that is not, presumably, the only audience Sirius is seeking. I assume he knows this, as an industry insider. I can only presume from his demeanor that he doesn’t care. It’s irresponsible.”

    To be really frank, in some sense what is being referred to is the Globo-Homo Culture, as the Dissident Right has labeled it. What is interesting, in a perverse way, is that it is clearly forbidden to speak about it openly. It is an odd state of affairs really. There is a whole range of things that are forbidden to notice and forbidden to speak about critically. You can’t speak against feminism or you run the danger of being labeled misogynistic; you can’t criticize homosexuality as a cultural choice or as a purveyed cultural value because you will be labeled a homophobe; and you cannot criticize the Left-Liberal Postwar social organizational scheme except that if you are willing to be labeled a Nazi. And you certainly cannot speak about ‘the preservation of European culture’. There is a whole range of forbidden topics, isn’t there?

    It is very interesting to observe how these debates and parries play out. They are present everyday in nearly every article appearing in the Times for example. In one way or another the ‘narratives’ reveal what they uphold and value, and what they insist the reader uphold and value.

    As an illustration, there is in today’s NYSlimes a very interesting article about a Dutch exhibition which displays National Socialist design trends and artifacts. In that article, a critic who has not seen the exhibit says:

    “I don’t oppose by definition presenting art or design from this period.” But, he added, “it should be shown in a critical context in order to create propaganda literacy. What is mandatory in these kinds of engagements is that you can’t show these kinds of works without making critical links to the present.”

    Meaning, any presentation of any aspect of *that period* has to be carefully prefixed so that 1) the viewer will receive, in essence, the established propaganda view, and 2) the organizes of the display can refer to the prologue as a way of exculpating him or her self.

    Now, it has to be said — simply because it is true — that the Dissident Right is examining *everything* about this period of time with ‘different eyes’. For example, they do indeed notice that Weimar Germany was, as they say, corrupt to the gills and riddled with ‘homosexual tropes’ and all the strange gender-bending we are forced to see as benign. Forced to see. That is, we see, and there is an intervention in our perceptual mechanism: a moral imposition. So, instead (for example) of seeing the transvestite reading fairy-tales to infant children and pre-conditioning them to transvestism, there is an *imposition* of a counter-value which determines that what is perceived/understood as ‘bad’ is transmogrified into a ‘good’. This is even more than simple ‘propaganda’ it is something even more elemental, isn’t it?

    It is almost too complex to even speak about what is going on in the domain of feminine definition. Take super-heroes. These are not women but are rather female men, or females who are men. There is no actual woman (that I have ever seen) who in any sense corresponds to the image of these masculinified women, and yet these images are *inserted* as it were into the imaginal space through the visual rehearsal. It is almost too weird to talk about.

    What is the point? To notice that there is a battle going on between Hyper-Liberal Progressivism . . . and something else, something countermanding, something contradicting, which is not allowed to explain itself nor to present itself in its own terms, but can only be presented if framed in the absolutely worst terms possible: manifestation of evil plain and simple.

    Back to the NYTs article:

    “His comments [the one who designed the exhibition] framed this exhibition completely in an alt-right vocabulary, using antifeminist, misogynist, and bordering on homophobic language,” Mr. Staal said in an interview.

    There of course you have it: simply by including the term ‘alt-right’ you have established a barrier that no one, except the openly transgressive, can jump over. And notice that included here with the association is the statement about what is antifeminist, misogynist and homophobic.

    Is there an alternative to this sort of ‘framing’? There is, but unfortunately to include the alternative, to allow it, to engage intellectually and shall I say *fairly*, will mean that one will not be able to frame everything in a priori terms. One will not have a priori control over the terms of the conversation, or the historiography, or the molding of a perceptual stance.

    Since this cannot be allowed in Our Present, naturally, the pre-poisoning of any and all difficult or contentious conversations becomes an imperative enterprise!

    Mr. de Rijk responded in an email, saying: “I find it incomprehensible that my plea for a balanced representation of perspectives in the design museum is interpreted as antifeminist or homophobic. In the Netherlands, almost all design curators have been women over the past decades. I simply argue for a more diverse discourse.” He added, “What that has to do with alt-right is completely unclear to me.”

    Is he just being dense? Cannot he see that if we allow critical, countermanding discourse to proceed, that we give energy and permission to anti-progressive forces which will inevitably appear from out of the shadows?

    The interesting thing — the more interesting thing — is that by allowing a conversation that is more or less exactly what will happen: people will be allowed to examine the historical trajectory of Hyper-Liberalism and the construction of the Decadent Occident . . . and they may choose to *see* it in unauthorized ways.

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