A little over a year ago, I wrote an article called “Rap In Musicals, And How We‘ve Been Getting It Wrong.“ In it, I made two major arguments: one, that rap was as well-suited to musicals as pen to page, and two, that most uses of rap in the musical theatre thus far had largely failed to realize the extraordinary synergistic potential of these two forms. I then went on to list techniques in the musical theatre that rap would complement perfectly.
I could reiterate all of my points here, but I no longer have to. I can now just point to Hamilton and say, “yeah, basically that.“ Nonetheless, let‘s briefly run through these ideas and examine them in the context of Broadway‘s latest runaway smash.
I don‘t usually post my Cinemibus videos on this blog anymore, but this one is musical-related, so there.
I’m going to do a bit of dramaturgy on a work you might never have given more than half a thought to: Shrek, The Musical.
There are plenty of complaints you might feel tempted to make about the show, many of them no doubt valid, but there is one element that I love, and confidently call an unqualified improvement on the original movie: the characterization of Princess Fiona.
I think that we have been approaching the use of rap in the musical theatre the wrong way all this time. In the paragraphs that follow, I hope to briefly convince you of two things…
1. That rap is well-suited to integration in a musical theatre idiom, and
2. That some fairly basic misconceptions about the dramatic strengths of rap have prevented this integration from being carried out in a manner and to a degree that matches its potential.
Being laughed at for something we take seriously is a more or less universal fear, but it is especially potent in storytelling because often the integrity of an entire scene or even of the entire work can hinge on a moment not being interrupted by unwanted laughter. If you are a playwright, however, you do have one final recourse – not an ideal one, by any stretch – in the form of the players in whose mouths your words have been placed.
Author and playwright Jean Kerr once said, “It‘s very embarrassing to say to an actor, please try not to get that laugh.“ This reminded me of one of the best examples I have ever seen of needing to overcome the comedy in the material, and it happens to come from one of my nostalgic favorites: the musical 1776.
Before we begin, let me just lay it out there that I actually enjoyed much of Galavant. Like the Mel Brooks When Things Were Rotten comedy aesthetic it frequently tries to ape, any cringing a bad joke might induce is minimized by a brisk pace and an admirable reluctance to dwell for too long. And even in spite of all the probably quite horrible things I am doubtless going to say about it, I will be sticking with it for at least the first few weeks, so that is something I suppose.
A good adaptation is like a game of Jenga. You are going to have to pull out some blocks, there must be no mistaking that, but the trick is to pick which blocks to pull out so that the whole thing does not come tumbling down. I bring this up because any discussion of the recent movie of Into The Woods among musical theatre aficionados will inevitably come back to what was left out, so let us address that first.