Adam Lenson’s conclusions about the state of the musical in Britain are impossible to reject. Musical theatre here is obsessed with the past and we venerate and uplift numerous American shows each year while refusing to make way for writers and talents of our own. Musicals are expensive to stage and perhaps we do not have impresarios who take risks any longer, but on the fringe why is it – this is me, not Lenson – that we get all those off Broadway musical staged time and again when there are British composers and writers out there seeking a stage for the work? As for the West End it is the tried and trusted that get staged and even though Covid forced closures those long running shows which should have been put to bed years ago get resuscitated.
The book is a series of essays in which he makes his case for the musical as an art form He also points out that nothing lives for ever and while we should continue and display the successes of the past we must give people something new to see. In other words something other than those long running shows who thrive on the fact that if you run long enough there is a new audience, the sons and daughters of those who made it a hit in the first place, possibly even the grandsons and daughters, who will come see it. But the show itself has become a museum piece. Revivals can breathe new life into them. Simply carrying on regardless, following the blue print of the original, substituting the stars who maybe gave them life with players, competent of course, who cannot bring something of their own because the playbook requires what was there in the first place, means that we need what he suggests – “a funeral for the past” and “Give people something new to see.” He says one must live in the present and the future, and space must be given to those who seek to replace those shows of the past. It is a stimulating book. I don’t agree with everything and probably neither will you, but the central message of the book is clear and should be heeded. This is a splendid, sometimes splenetic, look at the bread and butter of commercial theatre – the musical and what needs to be changed about how we treat musical theatre here.
Breaking into Song – why you shouldn’t hate musicals – by Adam Lenson – Salamanderstreet.com £12.99