A musical is any presentation in which a major part of the exposition and/or action comes through the medium of song (and often, but not necessarily, dance as well
). This sounds simple, but it has so many permutations that it is a loaded term for most people. For example, if you were to say that the only real difference between an Opera
and a musical is in what theaters they're showing it in, expect vehement protests — and yet, trying to come up with definitions that will perfectly separate one from the other is just about impossible. It doesn't help that musicals evolved directly out of opera—specifically the comic genre of "light" opera or operetta—and that many late-19th and early-20th century plays-with-singing could easily be classified as either. A prime example is the works of Gilbert and Sullivan
: at the time they were called operas (they didn't call the company and theatre G&S wrote for the D'Oyly Carte Opera
Company playing at the Savoy Opera
for nothing), but today they are often considered to be the earliest notable examples of musicals.
By far the most common perception of a musical is properly termed "musical theater", in which a play is performed with several songs interspersed at major plot points in the story. In the United States, these are most often associated with Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, and can be either original material or adapted from any number of sources (though adaptations are far more common than original musicals; see All Musicals Are Adaptations
A distinction is made between "book musicals", in which songs are interspersed between chunks of spoken dialogue and action (the spoken dialogue being referred to as the "book"), and musicals that are "sung through" like an Opera
, i.e. nearly every word is sung from curtain-up to curtain-down, with only occasional spoken lines.note Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
and Guys and Dolls
are examples of book musicals; Cats
and Les Misérables
are sung through. Each variety has its advantages and disadvantages: with a sung through musical, there's the danger of having too much utterly mundane dialogue set to music in a way that draws the audience's attention to the blatant artificiality of the concept; with a book musical, the transitions from musical scenes to spoken dialogue and vice versa can be awkward and forced if they're not handled carefully.
In the West, musical films are often either animated
, like classic Disney films
, or adapted from stage musicals
. Film adaptations of stage musicals have to deal with two major issues:
- First, theatre is typically more forgiving of grand, melodramatic gestures, such as... well, bursting into song at highly emotional moments... that just look silly on film. Directors often deal with this by adding in some sort of frame story to justify all the singing (as in Chicago, where the songs are envisioned as taking place inside Roxie's head; the song "Class" had to be cut because there was no way to make it fit that scheme); alternatively, they can just go with the inherent high camp of the genre and hope they get away with it.
- Second, films have bigger budgets than stage plays and often need to have "big names" to make sure of having an audience to justify the budget — but most Hollywood-standard "big names" can't carry a tune in a bucket. There was a time when the standard solution was to hire a real singer to dub over the "name" (as, for instance, with Natalie Wood being dubbed by Marni Nixon in West Side Story — Nixon also dubbed Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), but this has fallen out of favour — with the result that many "musical" films are distinctly unmusical. The alternative solution of hiring popular singers to play the roles brings with it the possibility that they can't act, which can be equally painful to watch.
There's also the problem that film and theater are very different media (as are television and film) and there are important differences that don't always translate well:
- Film can zoom in and pan out to control the audience's focus. Theatre controls this with dialogue and blocking (how actors and props are positioned). No less a luminary than Stephen Sondheim has said that one reason why it's hard to adapt a stage musical to film is that in film a close-up can tell you everything that a song can — so why bother with the song?
- Film is image driven, where theater is dialogue driven. Film can have little or no dialogue and tell the story with pictures; theater can have very little physical movement and tell the story with verbal images.
- Theater can be effective with very sparse or abstract sets, movies demand detailed and authentic backgrounds.
- Singing well requires the sort of physical movement and concentration that, on film, looks like overacting.
However, film and theater have one thing in common: you get 90 minutes of butt time, and if you run longer than that, you'd BETTER be good.
The movie/musical adaptation cycle goes both ways, with many Broadway musicals nowadays being based on films — the reasoning being that if it's already been a success in one medium, it's less of a risk — and the musical versions of the films then being adapted and returning to celluloid again (e.g. The Producers
, Little Shop of Horrors
There's also a new trend of the Jukebox Musical
; adapting a musical play or film from the existing catalog of a musical artist, when the songs therein might not have anything to do with each other. Mamma Mia!
(adapted from ABBA
), Movin' Out
(adapted from Billy Joel
), and Across the Universe
(adapted from The Beatles
) are just a few examples. Moulin Rouge!
, which didn't stick to one artist but repurposed a few decades of pop music, was likely a trend-setter here. Of course, this technique goes back a ways
—Singin' in the Rain
reused older songs—and prolific composers would often take songs from their less-successful shows and reuse them in new productions. For example, Gilbert and Sullivan
took the song, "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain" from their nigh-forgotten first collaboration, Thespis
, and recycled it in The Pirates of Penzance
with minor changes in the lyrics.
The Rock Opera
is an especially popular variant which may be album-based
Since far more people can see a Hollywood film than a Broadway musical (even one that runs for years), films adapting stage musicals are especially prone to Adaptation Displacement
. It is very rare in the West for live-action musical films to be original, rather than adaptations.
In the Indian Hindi-language film industry known colloquially as Bollywood
, musicals are the default genre. Japan has Takarazuka
, among other classes of stage theater.
Generally considered to be strongly related to or descended from Opera
. See also its bastard cousin, On Ice
When this is incorporated into a TV show, see Musical Episode
. A frequent sufferer of Title: The Adaptation
, probably because All Musicals Are Adaptations
Arguably, any non-fantasy musical could be considered an example of Magic Realism
If you were wondering just where all that singing
was coming from, see Musical World Hypotheses
. Compare Hollywood Darkness
, Musicalus Interruptus
For a list of tropes related to Musical Drama and Songs you get to sing, see Musical Number Index.
- 8 Mile
- The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
- 42nd Street
- Across the Universe (The Beatles)
- The Addams Family
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- Ain't Misbehavin'
- All Shook Up
- Altar Boyz
- American Idiot
- An American in Paris
- American Psycho
- Anchors Aweigh
- Animal Crackers
- Annie, based on the classic newspaper comic strip.
- Annie Get Your Gun
- Anyone Can Whistle
- Anything Goes
- The Apple Tree
- Aspects of Love
- At Long Last Love, one of the most notorious flops in movie history.
- Avenue Q
- Back to the Eighties
- The Band Wagon
- Bare: A Pop Opera
- Batman The Musical
- The Batterys Down
- The Beatles LOVE
- Beauty and the Beast
- Bells Are Ringing
- The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
- Big River
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Musical Adventure
- Billy Elliot
- Blood Brothers
- Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
- The Bonesetter's Daughter, the (Chinese/American) opera.
- Bonnie and Clyde, which was not adapted from the well-known film.
- The Book of Mormon
- The Boy From Oz
- The Boys from Syracuse
- Bran Nue Dae
- Bring It On: The Musical
- Bugsy Malone
- Bye Bye Birdie
- La Cage aux folles
- Calamity Jane
- Cannibal The Musical
- Carmen Jones
- Cats, until 2006 the longest-running show on Broadway.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Children Of Eden
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- A Chorus Line
- A Christmas Carol has at least three, including Scrooge 1970, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and the 1994 Madison Square Garden musical, which recieved a TV film adaptation in 2004 A Christmas Carol The Musical
- City of Angels
- The Cocoanuts
- Crazy For You
- Creating Rem Lezar
- Damn Yankees
- Dancer in the Dark
- Darling Lili
- The Devil's Carnival
- Disco Inferno
- Doug Live!
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
- Dracula: A Love Stronger Than Death
- The Drowsy Chaperone
- Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, a bit of a weird example in that it's a video game, and all the songs are sung by the Big Bad.
- Everyone Says I Love You
- The Fantasticks, off-Broadway but tops both Cats and Phantom with its 42-year run.
- Fiddler on the Roof
- Finians Rainbow
- The Fix
- Flower Drum Song
- Flying Down To Rio
- Footlight Parade
- Forbidden Broadway, the Troperiffic ever-changing parody revue of classic and contemporary Broadway.
- Freaknik: The Musical
- Funny Face
- Funny Girl
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
- Gold Diggers of 1933
- Good Vibrations
- Guys and Dolls
- Hair, the original Tribal Love Rock Musical
- Hallelujah, Baby!
- Hello, Dolly!
- High School Musical
- High Society
- Holiday Inn
- Holy Musical Batman
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- I Can Get It for You Wholesale
- I Married An Angel
- I'm Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night
- In the Heights
- Into the Woods
- Jekyll & Hyde
- Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris
- Jerry Springer: The Opera
- Jersey Boys, a musical biography of Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons
- Jesus Christ Superstar
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
- Juno And Avos
- Keating The Musical, based on the life and times of Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating
- The King and I
- Kiss Me Kate
- Kiss of the Spider Woman
- Knickerbocker Holiday
- Legally Blonde, based on the movie of the same name.
- The Likes Of Us, a musical based on the true story of Thomas Barnardo, who founded homes for destitute children during the Victorian Era.
- Lil Abner
- The Lion King
- The Little Mermaid
- Little Miss Sunshine
- A Little Night Music
- Little Shop of Horrors
- The Lord of the Rings, the opera.
- Mack & Mabel
- Mame, a musical adaptation of Auntie Mame
- Mamma Mia!! (ABBA)
- Man of La Mancha
- Martin Guerre
- Mary Poppins
- Me and Juliet
- Meet Me in St. Louis
- Memphis, A New Musical
- Merrily We Roll Along
- Midnight Channel The Musical, a fan-produced adaptation of Persona 4.
- Les Misérables, the longest-running musical in the world, bar none - it's been running in London's West End since 1985.
- Miss Saigon
- The Most Happy Fella
- Moulin Rouge!, a Setting Update of Verdi's La Traviata, based on the younger Alexandre Dumas's La Dame aux Camelias.
- Movin' Out (Billy Joel)
- Mozart L'Opera Rock
- All movies featuring The Muppets
- The Music Man
- The Musical of Musicals
- My Fair Lady
- My Week With Marilyn
- Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
- Next To Normal
- 9, based on Felini's 8 1/2
- Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Now Here This
- Of Thee I Sing
- Oliver!, adapted from Oliver Twist
- On A Clear Day You Can See Forever
- On the Town
- Once On This Island
- Once Upon a Mattress
- Once Upon A Time In New Jersey
- Paint Your Wagon
- The Pajama Game
- Pal Joey, notable for introducing the first Broadway Anti-Hero.
- Passing Strange
- Pennies from Heaven
- Peter Pan
- Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)
- The Phantom of the Opera
- Phoenix Wright Musical Project
- The Pirate Queen.
- Pokémon Live!!.
- Priscilla Queen Of The Desert
- The Producers
- Promises, Promises
- Really Rosie
- Reefer Madness: The Musical
- Rent, a loose Setting Update of the opera La Bohème as a Grunge Rock Opera.
- Repo! The Genetic Opera
- Return To The Forbidden Planet
- Rock of Ages
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- The Scarlet Pimpernel
- The Scottsboro Boys
- Sera Myu
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- She Loves Me
- Shlomo Hameleh Veshalmai Hasandlar (King Solomon and Shalmai The Shoemaker) is a combination between a biblical version of The Prince and the Pauper, and Ecclesiastes - the Musical.
- Show Boat, created by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein in 1927, is often seen as the first modern musical, although the innovative ideas it introduced (most prominently the idea of incorporating the book into the plot to provide a logical justification for the songs) didn't really become par for course until Rodgers and Hammerstein created Oklahoma!! in 1942.
- Silence! The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs.
- The Silent City
- Singin' in the Rain
- The Slipper and the Rose
- The Sound of Music
- South Pacific
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
- Spamalot, based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which gleefully parodies many of the tropes of Broadway musicals.
- Spring Awakening
- A Star Is Born (1954 version)
- Starlight Express
- State Fair
- Subways Are for Sleeping
- Sunday In The Park With George
- Sunset Boulevard
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- Sweet Charity, based on Fellini's Nights of Cabiria.
- Tanz der Vampire
- Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny
- Thoroughly Modern Millie
- tick, tick... BOOM!
- Titanic, which surprisingly is not based on the hit film from the same year.
- [title of show]
- Top Hat
- Total Drama World Tour
- Tripod Versus The Dragon, based on Dungeons & Dragons.
- A Very Potter Musical and its sequels.
- Viva Elvis
- Were the World Mine
- West Side Story, another loose Setting Update of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
- We Will Rock You (based on the music of Queen)
- When Midnight Strikes
- Witches The Musical
- The Wild Party, two unrelated adaptations of the same poem, by Michael John LaChiusa and Andrew Lippa.
- In addition to the well-known 1939 musical film and its screen to stage adaptations, there was a Broadway musical of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that predated the film by three decades.
- The Wiz
- X-Play: The Musical
- Yankee Doodle Dandy
- A Year with Frog and Toad
- Young Frankenstein
- You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which in turn was adapted as an animated TV special.
- Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, based on the album by The Flaming Lips with selections from their other albums.
- Zanna, Don't!