Out of tune: why are audiences staying away from the movie musical? | Musicals

In a really unusual 12 months for motion pictures, the failure of Steven Spielberg’s West Aspect Story is maybe the most head-scratching growth of all. The remake of the beloved 1961 musical grossed simply $10m on its opening weekend, and whereas the movie may definitely enhance upon its lackluster debut over the holidays, it caps a 12 months of disappointments for followers of the movie musical. In the Heights kicked off the summer season with poor ticket gross sales and accusations of colorism for failing to have sufficient Afro-Latino actors in its forged. Expensive Evan Hansen created the uncommon consensus of the 12 months, hated by critics and audiences alike, and endured extended mockery on social media for its casting of the crow’s-footed Ben Platt as its teenaged protagonist. The much less mentioned about Diana: The Musical, a filmed model of the Broadway bomb that made its method to Netflix, the higher.

A minimum of folks appeared to love Tick, Tick… Growth!, the Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed adaptation of a piece by the late Jonathan Larson, though we don’t actually know what number of – Netflix continues to be cagey about viewing numbers, and the movie had solely a nominal launch in theaters. All in all, it was a catastrophic 12 months for a style that has been a mainstay of cinema since the creation of talkies. Traditionally, movie musicals have been a chance to focus on the finest of the theatrical expertise: these are movies with huge budgets, melodramatic plots that play nicely on the huge display screen, and expansive dance numbers, they usually simply don’t play as nicely at house, irrespective of how huge your flatscreen or how costly your sound system.

Studio executives and box-office pundits anticipated audiences to point out up for In the Heights, Expensive Evan Hansen and West Aspect Story, and never simply followers of the movie musical however basic audiences, as nicely. After a 12 months with out motion pictures, audiences would crave the spectacle. It didn’t occur. Viewers confirmed up for different motion pictures. They confirmed up for superhero motion pictures resembling Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Venom: Let There Be Carnage. They confirmed up for horror motion pictures like A Quiet Place Half II. And so they confirmed up for company bland-fests Free Man and Jungle Cruise, which are already on their method to being money-making franchises for Disney. The sample is damningly clear: every of the 12 months’s 10 highest-grossing motion pictures is both half of a long-running franchise or the starting of one.

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in West Aspect Story. {Photograph}: Niko Tavernise/AP


It’s too early to say if the movie musical wants a health care provider or a coroner, however what is evident is that studio executives wildly overestimate how well-liked this style is. Individuals who love musicals actually, actually love musicals, and each time one of them hits at the box-office, a collection of enthusiastic imitators tends to comply with. When Chicago received finest image at the 2001 Oscars, it opened the floodgates for the style’s revival (after principally being absent from theaters for 20 years). The outcomes have been spotty at finest. For each The Biggest Showman or Les Misérables, each of which have been enormous hits, there have been a number of like 9, Rock of Ages, The Promenade, or, worst-case state of affairs, Cats. The success fee for the movie musical is just not excellent, and provided that they usually require massive budgets to help the spectacle, it’s a dangerous proposition.

The disappointing returns from this 12 months’s crop of movie musicals might also point out a Covid-led acceleration of a long-simmering dynamic. For an important many moviegoers, there are now two varieties of motion pictures: these you go to the theater for and people you are joyful to look at at house a couple of weeks later. It appears that evidently that theater is the place for big-budget serialized storytelling with main movie stars. Superhero motion pictures, sure, but additionally the Quick and Livid franchise and James Bond. Vin Diesel, The Rock and Daniel Craig nonetheless have faces that imply extra to us up on the huge display screen. For all they needed to provide, neither In the Heights nor Expensive Evan Hansen and West Aspect Story featured a significant movie star, and there’s some hubris in the assumption that audiences would end up for these casts full of actors that they had by no means heard of earlier than. West Aspect Story did have Ansel Elgort onboard as Tony, however after he was accused of sexual assault, the distributors have been compelled to downplay his presence in the movie’s advertising (Elgort has maintained that it was consensual).

There may be nonetheless time, nonetheless, for the style to make a comeback. Tick, Tick… Growth! could also be nominated for a couple of Oscars, which might elevate its profile considerably, whereas West Aspect Story continues to be thought-about the frontrunner for finest image. It’s going to most likely keep in theaters at the very least till the Academy Awards occur in March, which can give it lots of time to extend its box-office haul. Nonetheless to be launched this 12 months is Cyrano, starring Peter Dinklage as the lovelorn poet, and that includes songs by the Nationwide. It’s unlikely to be a success, however like the others talked about, it may make an impression on awards voters.

Maybe that’s the place the musical has landed: as Oscar bait. With the hegemony of franchise film-making, any style of movie that offers with severe subject material or is designed with adults in thoughts has already been relegated to the previous couple of months of the 12 months. King Richard, Being the Ricardos and Belfast have been all made with Oscars in thoughts, and in the event that they miss out on nominations, they’ll most likely be thought-about failures. Movie musicals have been as soon as aside from that. They received Oscars, however they have been additionally beloved by the basic moviegoing public. Until one thing adjustments dramatically in the subsequent two months, these days could also be over, and 2021 could also be remembered as the 12 months the movie musical took its final bow.


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