May Madess: Are Darker Musicals Better?


THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE FANTASTICKS: is the obviously "darker" show the better one?

May is a mad month. A month of random musings about various topics related to musical theatre. Feel free to share your thoughts on each topic in the comment box below.

Are Darker Musicals Better?

I have heard plenty of people articulate, generally erroneously, the idea that “darker is better” when it comes to any kind of form of literature or perfomance. Some people seem to think that “darker” stories are better stories, that they are better told stories (in musicals, this might equate to having a book and score that are better integrated) or that they are more emotionally engaging stories.

This is a problem that is, I think, tied up to some extent in the history of musical theatre. Historically, the older musical comedies were not seamless because of the nature of musical theatre at the time and I suppose it is easy to leap to the conclusion that the serious musicals that emerged after the Rodgers and Hammerstein revolution are better shows because they are serious, rather than because their books, lyrics and music are more organically linked than would have usually been the case prior to Oklahoma!.

But this is a fallacy, for there are many examples of musical comedies (as opposed to what are termed musical plays), post-1943, that are very well integrated, where the songs are seamlessly inserted into the storyline. That the characteristics of these musical comedies differ from those of the musical play doesn’t automatically make them less compelling.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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