I remember the first time that I saw the movie “Singing in the Rain.” I was immediately hooked on movie musicals. I love all of the old musical movies, such as “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “White Christmas” and “Some Like It Hot.”
This particular genre is finally making a comeback, but it is not the same as it used to be. In old Hollywood, the actors had to be triple threats – they needed to be able to sing, dance and act. This is no longer the case.
It seems like a relevant time to examine the modern movie musical since “The Greatest Showman” was released this past Christmas.
While there are many benefits to modern movie musicals, such as the advancements in technical aspects and the budgets for big sets and elaborate costumes, there are some drawbacks.
The main one is the actor’s singing ability. The downside to this was shown in “Into the Woods” because it was mostly casted for star power and acting ability. The singing ability of the actors was not the most important part, but this is not to say that there were not some strong singers in the cast. The difference was that the live singing that was pioneered by hits like “Les Miserables” and “Jersey Boys” could not be used. Russell Crowe doesn’t have the strongest singing voice, but he carried his own.
This is the major issue in the modern movie musical. The easy fix would be to cast actors who are trained singers, such as those in professional theatre environments like Broadway.
There is also the possibility of going back to vocal dubbing such as what happened in the plot of “Singing in the Rain.” But then why not just cast the person who is doing the singing?
If one looks at the successful modern movie musical, there are usually actors with some Broadway experience.
Examples of this are “Les Miserables” with Hugh Jackman, Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit, “Rent” (in which almost the entire original Broadway cast was casted), “Jersey Boys” (in which the cast came from either those in the show on Broadway or in the tour) and the more recent “The Greatest Showman,” with stars like Jackman and Keala Settle.
There is also the question of dance ability. Some successful modern musicals with strong choreography are “Chicago,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.” The choreographer of “Chicago” was Rob Marshall, who has Broadway experience, but this is not entirely necessary for a choreographer, as the choreographer for “La La Land” is Mandy Moore. While she does not have choreography experience on Broadway, she does have extensive experience on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Ashley Wallen, the choreographer of “The Greatest Showman,” has experience in professional theatre, as he choreographed the U.K. version of “Ghost the Musical,” but he is also the dance captain of “The X Factor.”
While the choreographer is the most important aspect in creating strong dance numbers, if the actors do not have the ability to pick it up or have some dance training, then the choreography can fall flat. There is some steep competition, though, because modern actors are competing with famously talented dancers of the past like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.
The major consensus with the modern movie musical is that actors need to be chosen based on skill set and less on star power.
However, this has been a consistent problem, and it even happens on Broadway because ticket sales are a major factor in the success of a show or a movie. The golden age of Hollywood was golden because the stars were trained to sing, dance and act.
We may be headed back to a golden age of Hollywood, but there needs to be changes made in a casting standpoint and a training standpoint.