Monday, June 13, 2011

My Life Is Not a Musical

I saw Billy Elliot the Musical the other day, and all the trees look like dancers.  I love that about ballet.

I loved the movie Billy Elliot.  I wanted to see the musical version of it the last time I was in England, but I was roped to a high maintenance, mentally unstable, young roommate for the duration of our tour there, so I had to see what she wanted, which was not Billy Elliot.  I wish I weren't so nice.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised when it came to my area.  But then I faced a dilemma, which is the fact that I loathe musicals.

I wasn't always like this.  I actually acted in a lot of musicals up through high school.  I still regularly have lyrics and music I sang nearly 20 years ago get stuck in my head.  So why can I hardly stand to watch musicals?  I guess it's because they make things feel so trivial.  On a positive note, musicals are about words and movement, and there were moments with a lot of angry words and violence and dancing in the movie.

Billy Elliot was so dark and nuanced and political that I was pretty sure turning it into a musical would destroy it because of the nature of the genre-beast.  Musicals like to take the most powerful/poignant/emotional moments and dwell on them.  To death.  In a movie like Billy Elliot, the strength lay in the lack of over-dramatizing, in the careful restraint from any descent into sentimentality, in those quick moments of awesome beauty in an otherwise, cold, angry, brutal, awkward, real, grounded and gritty world.  Another strength was the reserve and inarticulateness of the characters.  These are not things that scream "great musical" to me.

It's a good thing there was some outstanding acting going on.  Stealing the show was a grandmother who I don't think was actually even in the original.  She was amazing.  The woman who becomes Billy's teacher was pretty great, too.  The music was very good, and some of the dancing was well done.  The fusion of a lot of different styles really worked in the numbers that weren't too exaggerated in typical musical style.  Billy's actor that day was pretty good, too.  His dancing-acting was incredible; his acting-acting was not quite as good, but he was trying to speak in an unfamiliar accent in a language that was not his first, so, you know, I'm going to cut him some slack.  That's a tough role to play for anyone, and he mostly pulled it off, even the copious swear words.  (Yeah, it wouldn't be what it was if they didn't leave those in there. :)

I enjoyed it, and I cried at the end because it turned out to be the last performance, and that always choked me up in my theater days. 

Have you seen any good musicals or plays lately?

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