Depiction Of Revolution In Les Miserables And Musical Theatre
This essay will deliberate the framework of genre, and investigate Musical Theatre, a genre within performing arts. What is Genre? Genre has been around for centuries, it commenced with the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, they created a classification system that would separate literature into categories such as; poetry, drama and pose. From this genre has developed over time to divide other forms or art into classifications such as music, films, literature, and entertainment (Unknown, 2014 – 2019). How is Genre Beneficial? Genre is used in everyday life, almost everything is put into a category or classification, which aids people to define elements of their life, such as; lifestyle, tastes or interests, it also helps people to find things that they like such as food, books, music or even friends. A subgenre is a further subdivision of a genre, for instance in the food genre, desserts would be a subgenre, and other subgenres, such as cakes, fruit, puddings, or ice cream, are within it. So genre is essentially a large category of something and the subgenres are what divide it into smaller categories to help people make a more definitive decision about what they like (Raybon, 2017).
Musical Theatre as a Genre
This essay will explore the codes and conventions of Musical Theatre and the subgenres within it by selecting three different musicals to investigate. Musical Theatre is a combination of dialogue, dance, and song to enhance the storyline and entertain the audience (BBC, 2019). Musical Theatre is believed to have been around for 2,500 years and originated from Greece where comedies and tragedies involving song and dance where staged. In 1700’s a subgenre of musicals called Opera became popular within certain parts of Europe, Opera was also the first type of musical performance in the form of Flora, 1735 to arrive in America (Conan, 2003 – 2019). When the 1800’s came around Musical Theatre had broadened into further subgenres such as minstrel shows and burlesque, minstrel shows were commonly performed by white men with their faces painted black because black men were not permitted to perform at this time, the characters were often portrayed as dim-witted and buffoonish in a comedy slapstick style. Burlesque shows were a concept similar to minstrel shows, but rather than focussing on the black face, they focussed on female nudity and provocative dance styles to portray their stories (schaub, 2016). As Musical Theatre has progressed, subgenres have evolved into a wider range to help viewers decide whether it’s something they want to watch, for example, musicals can be; classical, modern, jukebox, book, concept, sung through or a movical, musicals can also be categorized into larger subgenres such as comedy, romance, drama or horror, all these subgenres contribute to the decision making of people. Focussing on Subgenres This part of the essay will focus on the three musicals selected; Jersey Boys, Les Miserables, and Frozen, and the subgenres under which they fall; Jukebox, Sung Through, and Movical.
A popular New Jersey band emerged in the sixties and seventies by the name of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys follows their journey through the trials and triumphs that made them today’s well-known band. This musical is well known as a jukebox musical, the Oxford Dictionary definition of jukebox musical is; “a musical that features hit songs of a popular music group or genre” (Oxford Dictionary, 2019). It matches the codes and conventions of a jukebox musical as Jerseys Boys revolves around Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and their songs. The main characters of the story are introduced in Belleville, New Jersey. The original trio performing at local clubs is Nick Massi, Tommy DeVito and his brother Nicky until Tommy invited Frankie Valli and replaced Nicky to sing with them on stage. When not performing the group would often commit petty crimes, including the theft of a vault which ends with the boys in court, and sending Tommy off to a correctional facility.
After several years involving crimes, mobs, jail, and marriage the trio finds Bob Gaudio a singer-songwriter with the hit song Short Shorts. Bob watches the band perform and agrees to start writing for them, later they meet Bob Crewe who agrees to sign them for a contract, however after realising that they only support vocals for other artists he insists that they create a name and a sound for themselves. Once the group hits fame, they are still haunted by their past crimes, trouble arises when a loan shark approaches the group requesting $150,000. They meet their lawyer to transfer money handling from Tommy to Bob Gaudio as money problems increase. Not happy with the changes Tommy lashes out and is sent to Vegas for the mob to look after, and Nick quits the band. After tragedy hits Frankie, he creates the hit song Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, the band reunites over time, sets aside their differences and continue on as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (IMDb, 1990 – 2019). With the storyline based on Frankie Valli’s real story and The Four Seasons so accurately, and the songs all being their hits, it’s hard to argue that this musical isn’t a musical jukebox. Jersey boys was one of few jukebox musicals to make it big, there are contrasting views as to why, in an interview with Jesse Green, Ben Brantley, Elisabeth Vincentelli and Scott Heller, (Green, 2018) states “One of the problems of the regular kind of jukebox is that the songs are not, typically, theatrical and, as such, often just flop on the stage like dead fish.”
When Heller enquires about her criticism of jukebox musicals (Green, 2018) further says “It’s just that pop song forms are not the same as narrative song forms…..But partly because they were pre-written for a different context…..and partly because they tend to cycle through one generic emotion, they make character development difficult.” These statements conclude that many jukebox musicals aren’t popular due to the types of songs used to help move the storyline along, the audience struggle to connect with the characters due to the lack of development, and that’s why you’d have to be familiar with those characters to be able to enjoy the story properly, which may be why musicals like Jersey boys or Mamma Mia became so popular because they were based around the well-known bands; Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and ABBA. Moving on to the French Revolution and Les Miserables ‘ dramatic lyric story. Set in France in the 19th century, Les Miserables follows the story of a prisoner, Jean Valjean. This musical falls under the subgenre of sung through with the story being told entirely through song. According to Oxford Dictionary, a sung musical is “entirely or almost entirely sung, with few or no spoken passages.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2019). This definition matches Les Miserables by telling the story through song it follows the codes and conventions of a sung through musical.
Les Miserables opens in a scene in France in 1815, introducing prisoner Jean Valjean, convicted of stealing a loaf of bread. Released on parole by Javert after nineteen years of imprisonment, he later breaks his parole after a change of heart due to a Bishop’s kindness, and creates a new identity under which to live, but Javert vows to spend his life seeking to bring Valjean to justice. Valjean has created a whole new life for himself after eight years and is now very rich. He owns his own factory where a lady called Fantine works, to send money to her daughter, who lives in Thénardier’s brothel with their daughter Éponine, unfortunately this is discovered and the factories foreman dismisses her. Later, when she is involved in an altercation and arrested by no other than Javert, Fantine’s and Valjean’s paths cross again, Valjean interrupts the proceedings and takes Fantine to a hospital where she later dies, he then vows to look after her child Cosette. Before going to find Cosette, Valjean learns that Javert captured a man he believes to be his prisoner, not wanting an innocent man to be sent to prison, Valjean announces his true self in the courtrooms, then escapes taking Cosette with him and they make a new life for themselves. Nine years later, Marius, a student plotting the revolution with his friends, sees Cosette and at first sight they share a look of love together. Later, Éponine, now friends with Marius, takes him to meet her, and they confess their love for each other, heartbroken that Marius will never have that feeling for her, Éponine returns to join the revolution.
As the revolution begins Javert goes undercover to spy on them however he’s found out and taken captive, Valjean is later given the opportunity to execute him however sets him free, as this is happening Éponine loses her life by saving Marius and professes her love for him in her dying words. The students end up fighting to the death, everyone has died apart from Marius who was rescued and pulled into the sewers by Valjean after realising the love between Marius and Cosette. Javert finds Valjean exiting the sewers and threatens to shoot, but Valjean ignores him focussing on Marius’s safety. Javert throws himself off a bridge into the Seine river conflicted between his civil duties and morality. Valjean reveals that he must leave to Marius, but he is not permitted to tell Cosette, Marius and Cosette marry, and find out that Valjean saved him from the sewers. They find Valjean in a convent and rush to be by his side as he dies. Before his death he gives Cosette a letter revealing his entire past and drifts off with the spirits of others who died, to stand at the Barricade on the rue Soufflot (IMDb, 2019). With such iconic songs such as I Dreamed A Dream, One Day More, Bring Him Home and On My Own, this dramatic musical story is entirely sung through. Sung through musicals are quite controversial for viewers tastes, and pose the question; what is the difference between a sung through musical and an opera? Stephen Sondheim states “Essentially, the difference, I think, is in the expectation of the audience….. But primarily an opera is something done in an opera house in front of an opera audience. And a show….. is something done in either a Broadway or Off-Broadway theatre, in
front of that kind of audience.” (Vineyard Theatre, 2015) Such musicals as Phantom of The Opera and Evita, however, are commonly classified as operatic musicals, so where is the line drawn? Anthony Thommasini wrote “Both genres seek to combine words and music in dynamic, felicitous and, to invoke that all-purpose term, artistic ways. But in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theatre, words come first.” (Vineyard Theatre, 2015). This concludes why sung through musicals are such a big hit as they are so similar to an opera, the heart of musical theatre. Finally, the movical Frozen, one of the biggest Disney movies to hit the screens in 2013, was turned into a musical to hit the stage in 2017. As Frozen first began as a film and later became a musical, it falls into the category of a movical, the definition of a movical being; “the term used to describe the recent trend of the musicalization of popular movies” (Thrice The Sun, 2013).
Frozen as a musical follows the same storyline as the film, so it follows a movical’s codes and conventions. In the land of Arendelle live a King and Queen with two daughters, Elsa and Anna, Elsa has the magical gift of controlling ice and snow with her hands, unfortunately after a terrible accident Anna has no memory of her sisters gift due to the healing of the rock trolls. In fear of being able to cause a lot of destruction, Elsa locks herself away from everyone in her room. When Elsa turns twenty – one it’s time for her coronation to be named Queen of Arendelle as her parents tragically passed away, Anna is excited to open the gates. She runs into Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, later in the evening after a smooth running coronation, he proposes to Anna who gleefully accepts, they ask for Elsa’s blessing on their engagement but she refuses, Anna argues her case and persists with questions as to why she was shut out of Elsa’s life for so long, causing Elsa to accidentally reveal her powers. Fearful Elsa flees into the mountains, creating fro herself a giant ice castle, but leaving Arendelle in an eternal winter. Anna pursues her and leaves Hans in charge of Arendelle, whilst struggling through the mountains she meets Kristoff and his reindeer Sven who offer to help Anna in her quest. Whilst on their journey they meet a snowman created by Elsa, named Olaf, Olaf agrees that he can guide Anna and Kristoff to where Elsa is in her castle. In the meantime, Prince Hans is sending out a search party to ensure the safety of Anna and to find Elsa.
Once they get there Anna reveals that because of the eternal winter Arendelle is covered in snow, hearing this news Elsa is frustrated that she can not control her powers and accidentally hits Anna with ice in her heart. Scared she will cause more harm she insists they leave. As they make their way down the mountains Anna’s hair starts to turn white and she becomes ill. Kristoff takes her to see the rock trolls, who explain that they can do nothing to help and the only way to stop the curse is an act of true love. Hearing this news, Kristoff races her back to Arendelle to be with Hans, while Elsa is captured by Prince Hans ‘ soldiers and brought back to Arendelle. With Anna safely back in Arendelle, she learns that Prince Hans never planned to marry her, that by eliminating both sisters he wanted to take control of Arendelle, he leaves Anna locked in a room and goes to charge Elsa with treason. Olaf saves Anna from the locked room and they wander into the blizzard formed by the capture of Elsa to find Kristoff, who really loves Anna. At the same time Elsa breaks free from her chains. Fighting her way to Kristoff, Anna notices that Hans is about to kill Elsa and jumps in front of her to save her, Anna freezes completely over which stops Hans ‘ blade.
Devastated Elsa runs to Anna, who is slowly defrosting as her sacrifice was an act of true love, realising that through love she can control her powers, Elsa clears the eternal winter and returns as Queen of Arendelle. Prince Hans is arrested, Anna and Kristoff become a couple, Olaf receives his own snow cloud to keep him alive, and Arendelle lives in harmony. (The Musical Lyrics, 2018). With this storyline being the same as the film, this musical is successfully a movical. Notwithstanding the popularity of these stories, some critics have different opinions, saying that instead of uplifting and inspiring audiences like your classical musical, movicals are more of a marketing scheme to sell more DVDs and merchandise. Composer Michael John LaChiusa describes them as “’faux musicals’ that don’t ‘aspire to be the next West Side Story’ but merely go through the paces” (Unknown, 2005). Nevertheless, for decades, movicals have been a popular subgenre of musicals, with performances such as 42nd Street and Singin ‘ in the Rain, and are increasing in popularity with Disney’s help.
The majority of modern movicals are all stage versions of popular Disney movies such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and now Frozen, and are taking the nation by storm with The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast grossing $4.25 billion worldwide (Unknown, 2005). With Frozen’s addition, movicals may be one of the music theater’s most popular subgenres. Conclusion To conclude, the three subgenres focussed on within this essay are each popular in their own way, jukebox musicals are popular due to their focus on a particular artists songs, sung through musicals are popular due to the dramatic story told entirely through song, and movicals are popular due to the focus on an already popular movie franchise. Each musical fits into its subgenres codes and conventions, as Jersey Boys focuses on the story and songs of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Les Miserables is sang entirely the way through, and Frozen was first a popular movie before it became a musical.
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