For a start, the mega musical is still going strong, though huge set pieces have seen a slight decline. Disney continues in the field, regularly adapting a new work from screen to stage (with accompanying merchandise, of course). And we have also witnessed the appearance of my most hated form of musical theatre: the jukebox musical.
These shows take songs from a famous singer or band and weave a show around them, often with only the vague outline of a plot. Mamma Mia was an early success (and it’s one of the more bearable ones), but more and more have followed. And why not when the band/singer’s fans provide a guaranteed audience? I don’t see them ending anytime soon, and that’s a pity since their prevalence has seen a decline in new original shows, and the few fresh works that do appear tend not to last long.
There are exceptions, of course, as with anything, and one of those would be Hamilton, which has had huge success around the world and which brings a taste of modern rap and hip hop to musical theatre in an intriguing blend of innovation and tradition.
Other notable shows from the last twenty years include Next to Normal, The Grinning Man, Spring Awakening, and Legally Blonde, the latter of which demonstrates another new trend: turning popular films into stage musicals. These have had mixed success. Dirty Dancing worked well; Ghost less so, despite some impressive visual tricks.
Finally, we’ve also seen an upcoming run of pop-based musicals aimed at a predominantly teen audience, such as Dear Evan Hansen and There’s Something About Jaime.
What does the future hold? It’s hard to say, because musical theatre really has branched out in a number of different directions of late. Certainly what I’d like to see is a drop in jukebox musicals and a resurgence of original, well-crafted shows, including those that blend traditional musical theatre with modern musical styles. But all we can do is wait and see what happens.
What are some of your favourite shows of recent years? Which trends do you like/dislike?
Join me once more in November when I will wrap up this series with a brief overview of the modern European musical theatre scene.