Four Good Reasons to Dislike Musicals

A couple weeks ago, my wonderful mother treated my wife and I to Kinky Boots at Jones Hall. As sweet as this gift was, musicals are not really my cup of tea. Having said that, we had fun and it made me want to watch the film, which I still can't believe I haven't seen.

Still, there are some great musicals that have been produced (I've played in the pit band for some and seen many over the years on screen at in the theater), yet I remain generally unimpressed. And when I talk to friends who feel the same way, we all tend to lean toward the same conclusions.

Nuance does not exist.

It is understood that there is far greater detail the more personal something is. A book is the most detailed followed by film and then, ultimately, live performance. Some is due to the condensed format and the venue and the need to bring something from imagination to reality. But musicals somehow feel like they take "play to the back row" to a new level. It is nearly impossible to discern for oneself any kind of emotional arc for the characters because they simply tell you...or shout it at you...or sing it loudly. And some of these are difficult, complex subjects with moments of great emotion. But so much of that is lost in the intensity of it all. Sometimes, I want a little to be left to the imagination.

The music is often dreadful.

With all due respect to some of the brilliant songwriters who have worked in musical theater, for every great batch of tunes, there seem to be 100 more God awful ones. Cyndi Lauper wrote the pretty awesome music for Kinky Boots. And I loved the wonderful music written by Duncan Sheik for Spring Awakening (he's a favorite singer/songwriter of mine anyway). And classics like Gershwin or Rodgers and Hammertein generated, if nothing else, some of the finest jazz standards ever written. But, my goodness, there is some terrible music written for musicals, a lot of which sounds like it was composed for children or, in modern theater, awful pop stars. If these are our modern standards, I'll stick with the classics.

Every moment, big or small, suddenly bursts into song.

Nothing is more jarring than sitting in an audience listening to a (moderately) quiet moment between two actors only to have one of them jump onto a table and start belting out a song like they were auditioning for American Idol. I get that musicals are showcasing song, but does every single moment have to be delivered with a melody? Maybe I'm not enough of an enthusiast to have seen musicals that were equal parts dialogue and song, but it sure feels like almost everything I've ever witnessed was about 100 notes for ever three words. Maybe just make a record.


This is certainly no fault of musicals, but why the intermission? If the musical lasts 75 minutes, just roll through it. I know cast members get worn out, but so does Bruce Springsteen and he does two-and-a-half hours plus nearly every night at the age of 68. The only thing I can surmise is patrons wish to dash off to the loo, but I'm sure we can hold it. If not, you miss some. Them's the breaks. My main issue is that intermission takes what would normally be about a 90-minute event (including getting in and out of the building) to nearly three hours. That's a big commitment for singing and dancing without any popcorn.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke