It’s My Soliloquy, I’ll Sing If I Want To

There is an overwhelming urge to run screaming through whatever domicile you’re currently occupying when you’re sitting still, watching unrealistically good-looking people move across a luminescent screen, and suddenly they break into song.

Now, I love musicals.  I love the music in them.  Occasionally I’ll come to love the lyrics as well.  What I do not love about musicals is the fact that the characters can’t resist exercising their vocal chords every five minutes.  Yes, it’s in a musical’s nature to be musical, but does every soliloquy have to be in rhyme?

Sometimes it’s fun to hear a character giving necessary story information in song.  Sometimes it’s fun to see two characters yelling at each other in beautiful counterpoint.  Sometimes it’s entertaining to simply see the expression on the actor’s face as he begins to sing– an expression one would use while contemplating a funny, yet inexplicable occurrence.

“You mean to tell me that I can wear this outfit and sing, too?”

If you’re completely caught up in the story, songs actually can feel like funny, inexplicable occurrences.  The two characters were walking down the street a moment ago conversing quietly– but now they’re dancing around lampposts and patting dogs on the head while singing to raise the dead.  The main character was walking through a crowded marketplace, and all of a sudden everything looks choreographed and the beggars who were walking with crutches a moment ago are doing contortions while sporting ridiculous grins.  One character is explaining something important to someone and suddenly you realize he’s speaking in rhyme– like an infection with no cure, the rhyming turns to singing.

A song, as entertaining as they can be, can take you out of the story like nothing else.  When one character is explaining their complicated feelings to another to the tune of an upbeat waltz, the viewer suddenly becomes disinterested.  Who in their right mind proclaims their love for another while skipping around and clicking their heels?  And when one is completely engrossed in the story, it’s hard to convince oneself that every character in that story has a beautiful singing voice– even when it becomes apparent.

Now, I realize that when dealing in fiction, it’s unwise for one to let oneself get too involved in the story– otherwise, you think that naturally, morals are this absolute; naturally, flaming eyes can be suspended over towers in the middle of nowhere; naturally, nannies fly under umbrellas with their feet at unhealthy angles.  Though it’s never wise to fully believe anything that is acknowledged to be fiction, keeping things from getting too unrealistic is part of a producer’s job, whether in screenplays or stage productions.  Unfortunately, people bursting spontaneously into song is quite unrealistic… unless you’re me, in which case bursting spontaneously into song with a good singing voice would be terribly unrealistic.

“He’s telling me that I’ve got the wrong lyrics, and I told him that he’s terribly off-key.”

There are some points at which suddenly bursting into song is perfectly acceptable.  For instance, Hamlet-style monologues, where Shakespeare pulls together all the brilliant things he’s ever said and puts them in a single paragraph, aren’t in style anymore– people get bored at watching someone talk to himself for an entire scene.  You can get away with a character speaking his mind to another, but when a character is alone, a monologue isn’t always the best idea.  In this case, the character can start rhyming and singing his heart out and no one will care.  It’s his scene to do it with.

With a conversation between two characters, it’s rather more difficult to figure out when a song feels all right and when it just feels wrong.  When there’s an engaging dialogue going on, one character can’t take the initiative and start singing.  It gets annoying.  But when the entire conversation is given in song, it’s nice.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps it’s simply the shift from speaking to singing that gets me annoyed.

Another factor could be the likability of the characters.  If a character people enjoy begins to sing, viewers will listen.  If a character people hate (but aren’t supposed to hate, which makes a big difference) starts singing, viewers groan and volunteer their head for a Whack-a-Mole machine.  I read faster when I like the character narrating a story– why wouldn’t I listen more when I like the character singing?

In short, when a character bursts into song to say that she likes chocolate, it looks like the producer is letting the song composer out to get some exercise.  When a character bursts into song to illustrate a strong plot point, it’s a fair bit less annoying.  A musical number in the middle of a story is the same as any scene– if it doesn’t move the plot forward or add depth to characters along with providing entertainment, it doesn’t have a place in the musical, even if it has gone three whole pages without a single musical number.

With that, I’ll leave you with a spontaneous musical number in a mall in California.

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67 Comments

  1. I’ve been in several musicals at my school, and we always cut songs. The “I like chocolate” songs, the “I’m an important character (only not really)” songs, the “Hey, look at these flowers” songs – all gone. Partly because we don’t want to have to choreograph them, but mostly because we just think they’re pointless. Helpless solos are ruthlessly cut because they don’t advance the story. We have no mercy.

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  2. Charley R

     /  October 23, 2012

    Well said! I love musicals, but I’d say that unless the thing is designed to be a musical, and has appropriate mood and tone, don’t make them sing. Especially if it’s horribly out of character, or something like that.

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  3. You should watch… A VERY POTTER MUSICAL!!!!!! And its sequel. 😛 It’s about a school called Pigfarts – it’s on Mars. ‘Tis excellently stupid.

    Reply
  4. gkbookworm

     /  October 24, 2012

    You definitely should watch A Very Potter Musical. It’s excellent and *not* stupid. 😀

    Reply
  5. I saw this comment on Pinterest once… It mentioned how in musicals, often there’ll be two people singing the same song even though they’re rather far apart, and then it pondered how that would work in real life. Like, you could be doing something like shopping and all of a sudden burst into song, all because your love interest or whatever decided to sing in the shower.

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