Theatre fans are a select group. You may not initially think that to be true, but in comparison to other forms of entertainment, theatre is a very specific taste. Theatre fans tend to socialise with other theatre fans, getting together for trips to the West End, talking about their favourite musical/performer and so forth. We exist within our own little bubble of jazz hands and it can be deceiving because, although there are millions of theatre fans across the globe, we are still vastly outnumbered. Theatre isn’t a mainstream form of entertainment like television, for example. The majority of the population own a TV set, sitting down every night to watch their favourite soap or documentary, etc. Many of these people have probably never seen a stage musical in their lives – so how do you change that?
One way would be to utilise the power of television to turn viewers on to the joys of theatre. When Glee first premiered, I know that a lot of people were optimistic that this could be a great encouragement for musical theatre. Based around an American high school glee club, one of its central characters (Rachel Berry) is a musical enthusiast who dreams of making it on the Broadway stage. In High School Musical style, the characters spontaneously break into song and dance routines and a number of songs from stage musicals have featured in episodes, along with a visit to New York where two of them sneak into the Wicked theatre to perform on its stage. The problem with Glee however is that, although it started off strong, it has gradually disintegrated into yet another show which panders to popular pop trends. Even though a number of its actors have decent voices, Glee has become so heavily autotuned that it doesn’t even sound like them anymore – and don’t get me started on the awful miming. In my opinion, the integrity of the show/actors would be much improved if they actually sang live during filming. It’s not only that though; Glee has lost all its originality with its ‘theme weeks’ where they focus on a particular pop artist. Every number turns into a near perfect replica of that artist’s music video – for Britney Spears week, you could have been watching a countdown of her greatest hits on MTV for all intents and purposes.
I can’t help but think that Glee has missed a golden opportunity. It caters to the younger demographic and it could have been a great way to promote the virtues of musical theatre in a way that makes them excited about the art form and encouraged them to explore it for themselves. Instead, last week’s episode in which the kids talked about their dreams for the future had them talking about wanting to become actors and famous singers, the likes of Whitney and Mariah. It’s hardly the healthiest example to set an impressionable generation who think that fame is the golden prize to aim for.
If Glee has fallen short of the target though, a new series could perhaps be the redeeming arrow of American television. Smash is a musical drama series which centres around the development of a new Broadway musical based on the life of American pin-up Marilyn Monroe. I must confess that I haven’t seen anything of it yet, but I have heard a multitude of positive feedback from people within the theatre industry who have. The core of this series is the stage musical and it is further bolstered by the appearances of Broadway stars such as Norbert Leo Butz. There is already a lot of buzz surrounding it and I have high hopes that this could succeed where Glee failed, although only time will tell.
The point is, there are so many wonderful qualities about musical theatre and if more people opened themselves up to the experience, it could rise to become a far more mainstream art form than it currently is. There’s no doubt that theatre has its fans, but it’s time to look at new ways to bring in the yet to be converted audiences that surely exist out there.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Monday 23rd April 2012