A recent discussion on Musicals.net that debated the terminology that could be used to classify songs from musicals caught my attention. Thinking about it carefully, I realised that I do not feel that “Broadway” or “showtune” function well as an all encompassing moniker for the music that is encountered in this genre. If one looks past the literal implications of the words (i.e. a tune from a Broadway-styled show), a connotation exists within the common discourse that connects these words with a particular kind of theatrical music that is perhaps best exemplified by the three great parade songs in Helly, Dolly!, Anyone Can Whistle and Funny Girl. It does not seem appropriate to call the extended song sequences in Passion or the recitative in Aspects of Love “showtunes” or to refer to these as Broadway-style music, even though both are tunes that appear in shows that have played on Broadway.
The real reason for the connection between the music from musicals and these terms was one that was forged, one assumes, in the early days of musical theatre and cast permanently in whatever metaphorical metal you like during the golden age of musical theatre, which ended in the 1960s: it is a kind of branding and, even though the terrain has changed and musical theatre has become an international endeavour and many great musicals do not originate or even play on Broadway, the association remains.
Do you have any good alternatives to suggest?
No – but I don’t actually have to come up with everything, you know. LOL. It’s really just more of an open question right now.
As long as people listen to them, I don’t care what they call them. I will not criticize anyone’s terminology if it means they’ll listen to it and help support musical theatre in anyway financially. Call it a showtune, call it Broadway, call it a soundtrack: if you want to listen to it and would consider paying to hear it done well, well, rock on, my friend. Rock on.