(Re)considering Musical Theatre Practice: Part 1

Six years ago I delivered a seminar at the University of Cape Town entitled “Musical Theatre Practice: a consideration of genre, form and the festival of renewal”. In that seminar, I set out to explore the major forms of musical theatre, how the genre functions as a displaced festival of renewal and what these frameworks offered to both theatre-makers and viewers of musical theatre. I feel that it’s time to revisit the topic now, because I’d like to expand the field of my exploration, particularly that around the idea of genre and musical theatre forms. This post is the departure point for that journey and I hope that, in some ways, it becomes a dialogue between readers of this blog and myself in our appreciation of this wonderfully eclectic, multi-modal theatrical form.

I think a good place to start might be in an exploration of the word “genre”, which seems to have a variety of meanings. The first place I I looked for a definition was in A Glossary of Literary Terms. What resonated most for me in the entry on “genre”, was an idea that has endured since the days of Plato and Aristotle:

There has been an enduring division of the overall literary domain into three large generic classes, in terms of who speaks in the work: lyric (uttered throughout in the first person), epic or narrative (in which the narrator speaks in the first person, then lets his characters speak for themselves); and drama (in which the characters do all the talking).

Do we have a tripartite division in musical theatre that aligns with that broadest of definitions of genre? Let’s start by having a look at the first of these three genres for now.

Inner VoicesOne-person musicals are a rare thing, so do we have a case for “lyric” musical theatre? I think we do, but perhaps these musicals represent the minority of musical theatre and perhaps theatre-makers have yet to make the most of what a “lyric” musical theatre can offer. Look, for example, at the kinds of musicals being created as a part of the Inner Voices: Solo Musicals presentation. Certainly, cabaret-style presentations like Bea Arthur’s Just Between Friends or Elaine Stritch at Liberty fall into this category, but shows like Mosaic and Whida Peru: Resurrection Tangle (which will be performed by Heidi Blickenstaff and Judith Blazer, pictured right) take us into the realm of original narrative musical theatre, which is my particular realm of interest.

Any other suggestions of musicals that might be categorised as “lyric”? Head over to the comments box.

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