History of the Singapore Musical
Is There a Singapore Musical Theatre?
Singapore Musical Theatre
Prescription for Singapore Musicals
Content Development For Musicals
The Singapore Musical
Singapore Musical Theater
Creative Industries
Five Foot Broadway 2007
Musical Theatre Workshop
Musicals in the Raw
Why New Musicals?
Incubating Musicals
Impossible Dream
How to Write a Musical
Writing Musicals
Future of Musical Theatre
Musicals Dead?
Jukebox Musicals
The Story of Chess
Sondheim v Webber
Fred Ebb
Film Musicals List
Break a Leg
Musical Dissonance
Flop Musicals
Are Critics Necessary?
Writer's Block
Five Foot Broadway 2005
Report 5 Ft Broadway
The Next Wave
New Wave 3
Admiral's Odyssey, The
Atlas Unbound
Big Bang!
Bunga Mawar
But Now We See
Chang and Eng
Corporate Animals
Firefly in the Light
Forbidden City
Good History, A
I Have a Date with Spring
It's My Life
Kampong Amber
Kung Fu Tale, A
Lao Jiu
Lao Jiu (2012)
Lost in Transit
Magic Paintbrush
The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical
Makan Place
Making the Grade
Mortal Sins
Mr Beng
Nanyang the musical
Oi! Sleeping Beauty!
Pagoda Street
Phua Chu Kang
Roses & Hello
School House Rockz
Shanghai Blues
Sing to the Dawn
Singapura: the musical
Sleepless Town
Snow Queen, The
Snow Wolf Lake
So You Want to be a Nurse
24 Hours
Twist of Fate, A
Viva Lah! Singapura
Women on Canvas
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Why New Musicals?


Why New Musicals?

by Kenneth Lyen

Opera, both Western and Chinese, has been in decline over the past century. The average age of the audience has increased inexorably, while audience size has dwindled. It was replaced by musical theater. And during the half century stretching from the 1930s to the 1970s, musical theater has had its heyday. But in the past few decades, it too is suffering the same fate as opera.

The demise of musical theater is a combination of factors. The total cost of production has escalated because of the increase in rental costs, the rise in salaries, the high cost of sets, costumes, sound and lighting. The upshot is that ticket prices have skyrocketed out of control, and the young can no longer afford to watch musical theater. The audience has therefore grown progressively older. Look at the rise of musicals like Abba's "Mama Mia", Billy Joel's "Movin' Out", Queen's "We Will Rock You", and the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations". All these target the Baby Boomers who are now in their 50s. Worse still, sometimes the average age of the Broadway audience is even older. Stephen Sondheim quipped during an interview that he, in his 70s, was probably one of the younger members of the audience.

The second reason why the young no longer watch musical theater, is that the music styles have lagged behind contemporary pop music. Stephen Sondheim has only managed to attract an eclectic intellectual following, and Andrew Lloyd Webber is now considered old hat. His last few musicals have closed after only a few months. Claude Schonberg and Michel Boublil have not managed to replicate their success of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. In the last couple of decades, both Broadway and the West End have been reviving old musicals, which are safer commercial propositions. This has further widened the generation gap.

The third reason for the decline in musical theater is that live performances cannot match cinema in terms of excitement. The special effects of musical theater cannot come close to matching the pizzazz of blockbuster movies. I often hear my friends say, "I'd rather watch a movie than a musical." Then, as a give-away, they would add, "For the price of one musical, I can watch ten movies". Films are like weeds choking the flowering of new musicals.

Then quite suddenly last year, New York suddenly burst into the limelight with its Festival of New Musicals 2004, which featured 31 new musicals. In 2005, Cardiff hosted its second international festival of new musicals. Chicago's Theatre Building has also been developing new musicals. The Edinburgh Festival boasts of a whopping 90 musicals this year!

Let's look at the Chicago example a little bit more closely. They have a multi-stage approach:

1. The Pitch: A 10-15 minute excerpt of a musical performed with narration. The cast size, scenes, etc. are mentioned during this presentation.

2. The Sit-Down Reading: The full cast reads from the book (= play) and score. This enables one to have a preliminary assessment of the structure and feel of the piece.

3. The Staged Reading: The cast reads, sings and dances the musical, holding the script and score in one's hand.

4. The Skeletal Production: This is a fully staged and choreographed presentation, in which the cast has memorized the book and score. There are no sets or costumes.

5. The Full-Scale Production: The last stage is the full production with sets, costumes, props, etc.

There is a sort of natural selection process going on, in which only the fittest musical will survive to the bitter end.

Singapore has had a paucity of new musicals in the past few years. Perhaps it is time to adopt a strategy of incubating new musicals. These infant musicals can then be given a no-frills raw reading with singing, but without sets or costumes. The advantage of this guerilla tactic is that it is cheap, and one can sample the musical before investing in a high-risk full-scale production.

Come, let's hatch some new musicals! Hopefully this will rejuvenate our dormant musical theater scene.

25 January 2005