The Musical Disease

May 7, 2008 at 9:09 pm (culture, history, musical)

It’s spreading again, rearing its ugly head yet once more to threaten innocent bystanders and seduce its numerous fans: The Musical Disease. In case you don’t know how this diabolic sickness manifests itself: If someone starts singing cheery songs, accompanied by more or less accomplished choreografies – RUN!!! For in that case, The Musical Disease is very, very close and reaching out to you, seeking to devour and seduce you. If it succeeds, you’ll want to listen to cheery or sentimental tunes about memories, love, Jesus, wizards and such for the rest of your life. And you’ll want to express your emotions by dancing and whirling around as if you had taken some strange unknown drug that’s by no means legal.

The Musical Disease originated way back in the 19th century – yes, it’s true! The Black Crook (1899) is commonly thought to be the original virus whereas Showboat was the first musical taken seriously. The Broadway in New York played a crucial role in bringing this disease about; so did guys like Leonard Bernstein or Gene Kelly (you all know Singing in the Rain, right?). With the rousing success of television and the movies, the disease found its way into our homes and cinemas as well – titles like The Wizard of Oz or Mary Poppins come to mind. However, there is one guy who’s particulary responsible for spreading The Musical Disease – let’s just call him Andy. You see, Andy had this weird dream of making everybody sing and dance, stage ambitious productions with elaborated choreografies – and he succeeded. He gave the world touching stories like Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom of the Opera. By now, you might actually having started to wonder where I’m getting with all of this – shortly, I’ll reveal the shattering truth. Just be a little patient.

Where was I? Oh yes, Andy and his ambitious dreams. All of a sudden, The Musical Disease became all the rage even though it had existed for a long time already, especially in the theatres on Broadway but also in movies. Now, however, it started to spread to European theatres as well, and soon it had infected theatres all over the world. Of course, some mutations of The Musical Disease are still cool and trendy today, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Hair – probably because they’re not embarrassing, have a cool story and great music whereas The Phantom of the Opera is, well, mainly about tragic love and tacky even though the novel is not.  The Phantom of the Opera therefore is, among others, an excellent example of what can happen to a great story if a guy like Andy decides it needs to be staged as a mutation of The Musical Disease.

This, now, finally brings me to my main point: Virtually everything is nowadays being made into a musical. Nothing is holy. Aida, for example, has been transformed into a musical. Why? Giuseppe Verdi wrote this beautiful opera long ago; the story doesn’t need any dancing and cheesy lyrics. It especially doesn’t need Sir Elton John to tackle it. But as I said, nothing is holy, nothing is sacred. And so there are musicals about composers (Mozart), empresses (Elisabeth of Austria), cult movies (The Fearless Vampire Killers – who on earth ever thought of making that one into a musical? Dancing vampires? Hello?), equally cult books (Dracula – dancing vampires again; not even all the garlic in the world could prevent this; The Three Musketeers – singing and dancing French cardinals, warriors and royals) and, yes, historical persons. The latest addition to the never-ending list of musicals is – brace yourselves, for this is truly awful – none other than the pharaoh Tut-Ankh-Amun. Yes. Egyptian history has been turned over to The Musical Disease. I don’t dare to imagine what this might actually look like, and I will refrain from travelling to Gutenstein in Lower Austria where this latest installment of The Musical Disease will premiere in July. However, if any of you should feel inclined to do so, here’s the link (just in case you don’t believe me): http://www.festspielegutenstein.at/ I cannot help wonder what will be next: The Knights Templar – The Musical? Surely each and every one of us has always wondered what a Knight Templar in full armour might look like when singing, dancing and prancing whilst in batlle. Or how about staging World War II as a musical? Wouldn’t that be fun? No? Exactly.

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