In this article we’re going to try to explain just what it is that makes a musical a musical and go over the more technical aspects of the form.
By technical definition, musical theater is a form of theater that combines music, songs, dancing and spoken dialogue. It is actually closely related to opera, while purposely avoiding many of the conventions of opera in order to have a more general appeal.
The musical components of a musical is called the score. The sung lines are called lyrics as opposed to plain spoken dialogue which is simply called dialogue. Usually the person writing the lyrics to the musical is not the same person who has written the actual story. An example of this would be “Wicked” where the songs were written by Stephen Schwartz, the script by Winnie Holzman and the book that it came from by Gregory Maguire. This is not uncommon in musical theater.
A musical can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours long. The average running time for a modern musical is about two and a half hours with an intermission about half way through the play. Some musicals however do run straight through if they aren’t too long. The intermissions, when they are present, are about ten to fifteen minutes long. An average musical will have about twenty to thirty songs. Some will be very short pieces and others can be quite long. Most musicals usually start with an overture which highlights several of the songs that will be heard throughout the play and set the mood for what is about to come. Some musicals, like “Tommy” can be sung through from beginning to end, which can really blur the fine line between a musical and an opera. As a matter of fact, Tommy is actually considered a rock opera more than it is considered a musical.
Usually the highlights and most dramatic moments of a musical are done in song. The reason is because these are the moments that the creators want you to remember the most and it is much easier to remember a well done three or four minute song than it is to remember three or four minutes of spoken dialogue. If the emotion that needs to be conveyed is too strong even for song then in those cases dance is added to or even put in place of singing. A perfect example of this is the fight scene in “West Side Story” which was done entirely in dance.
Finding a balance between spoken dialogue and song is not easy. On top of that the writers must be careful to write songs for each character that actually fits the character. For example, a character who is an evil villain is not going to sing songs about being happy and in love.
Also, it is difficult to establish the drama in a musical because a five minute song has fewer words in it than five minutes of spoken dialogue. When an hour and a half of your musical is actual music, this makes it very important that the writers make very good use of the lyrics for each song as this will be the vehicle for telling most of the story.
Musical theater is a truly unique and wonderful form of entertainment. If you haven’t had the pleasure of going to see a modern day musical or even a revival of an old musical, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is an experience you will not soon forget.
Source by Michael Russell