Pop music often tells you that everything is OK, while rock music tells you that it's not OK, but you can change it - Bono
If you are familiar with Broadway musicals, you are already familiar with the basics of musicals. But what you probably don't know is that a pop and rock musicals are not everyone's cup of tea. And this applies to both the performer and the connoisseur. It is, however, wrong to assume that one must be of a certain type to enjoy musicals. Today, especially, you will find different types of people enjoying show tunes and entire shows. You can't really stereotype the audience or the artists thanks to the variety of theatre fare on offer in India and the world.
If you enjoy theatre and the arts, you must be aware of the difference between the different types of theatre that you can enjoy. Many people think that an opera is no different from an operetta and a musical. You are WRONG. There are important underlying differences that you must know if you are interested in unfolding the nuances of rock and pop musicals.
What is Musical Theatre?
If you want to experience something larger-than-life, witness a musical theatre. The ambiance, the atmosphere, the intricate weaving of song, sight and deed, and how it speaks to its audience on a visceral level- they all combine to give you a magical and almost surreal experience. And what makes it all the more special and attractive is its diversity. You will often find popular musicals based on books, real life, and authentic concepts presented in the form of rock musicals, pop musicals, book musicals, concept musicals, etc.
What are Musicals?
To understand what are pop musicals and what are rock musicals, you have to first understand what are musicals to begin with. Put simply, a theatrical performance combining songs, music, acting, and dance sequences is called a musical. The medium of communication in a musical could be-
Musicals convey multiple human emotions like humor, anger, love, apathy, and others. All these are integrated with the help of technical aspects of the musical that bring the entire production together. A musical theatre may have commonalities with an opera or other theatrical forms. But the one distinctive feature of musical theatre is the importance it attaches to the music in comparison to the other elements of the production like dialogue or dance. Since the beginning of the 20th century, musical theatre has been popularly called musicals.
All around the world, musicals are very popular. In India, hindi pop musicals are pretty famous in the western part of the country. Big-budget musicals are often presented in large and expensive venues and are hosted by celebrities and socialites. Some noteworthy names in big-budget musical production houses are Broadway and West End productions. Musicals may also be performed by amateurs and even children as part of their school drama societies.
What are revue musicals?
The Genesis of the Rock and Pop Musicals
Music has always been an intricate and integral part of theatre production even a thousand years ago. Needless to say that this form of entertainment has evolved immensely and changed dramatically over the last 200 years ago.
The Evolution of Rock Musicals
Musical theatre splintered into many different types of musicals, with the rock/pop musical gaining a foothold in the late 60s. Theatre-goers were typecast into those who love a happy ending and uplifting melodies. In fact, the global scenario on pop musicals was also such. This was a big reason why ticket sales plunged and declined significantly before Hair burst onto the scene. Hair was new and it was something that none had ever seen before. On the flip side, it came complete with drug usage, promiscuity, profanity and a racially integrated cast.
Broadway was hit by an unstoppable force in the form of Hair which ran for a record 1,750 performances and even broke records in London with close to 2,000 shows. Hair broke the mold of traditional musical theatre, flinging open the floodgates of style with such abandon and glee that show writers were tripping over themselves to come up with the next bawdy, raucous hit.
Hair was quickly followed by Andrew Lloyd Webber but that was more of a rock opera than a rock musical.
Famous Rock Musicals in the Early Years
Rock and pop musicals thrilled audiences throughout the '70s. It was like a revolution that brought in a sea of change among so many people all across the world. Here are a few names that still leave audiences enthralled:
- The Wiz
- Little Shop of Horrors
Now that you know these names, it maybe a good idea to look them up and see if you can catch an old recording of any of the shows.
What are Rock Musicals?
I found the theatre and I found my home - Audra McDonald.
The Story of Tommy
This a story that made for a rock musical about a boy who was born deaf, dumb, and blind, who played in a band. Once every note was in place and every piece rehearsed, the band recorded it and took the show on tour. It left both critics and audiences bewildered. Some hailed it as a masterpiece, while others got downright hostile.
Nevertheless, the story struck a chord with everyone it was narrated or presented to. It slowly caught attention of show developers and production houses who expressed their interest to adapt it to the musical stage as a rock musical. And due to the lack of dialogues, given the scenario the story was based on, it became an opera.
Why the story of Tommy is important is this- it lays the foundation of concept albums. These are stories or musicals where every song is written and performed in relation to an overarching theme.
Popular Pop Musicals
The Rocky Horror Show is one of the most popular musicals there is. It was meant to be a tribute to B-grade horror movies of the 30's. And ever since it was performed the first time, it immediately became a hit, developing a sort of cult following.
There are many Lloyd Webber/Stilgoe collaborations that have gone on to become some of the longest running musicals both in West End and on Broadway.
Another famous name amongst rock musicals is Rock of Ages. More popular as a jukebox musical, where none of its music is written expressly for the show, it features many popular songs like Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar and Styx, among others.
And then, of course, you have Queen. A legend in their own rights, We Will Rock You went on to become something of an anthem among millions of followers across the globe.
A modern twist to the classic Peter Pan in a post-apocalyptic New York, you have Bat Out of Hell that enjoyed a relatively short run, but ended up winning several awards.
School of Rock is yet another classic when it comes to rock musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music for the stage show, while JoAnn Hunter choreographed it. This was adapted to the stage as well as made into a feature film that went on to capture millions of hearts.
So, now you have a fair idea about rock musicals and what are pop musicals. As an enthusiast, who probably enjoys musicals in general, you ought to start with these popular names, if not done already, to build your taste in musicals. In India, hindi pop musicals are an upcoming genre and branch of theatre that is now being adopted by tons of drama companies and production houses. Even big Bollywood producers and stars are betting their money and name on some of these productions. That does paint a very rosy picture and bright future for pop and rock musicals in the future.