Yesterday afternoon I went to see La La Land. I knew I was not going to enjoy this movie but I went anyway. I keep trying with musicals. I have an overriding desire to be normal. La La Land was not as bad as Les Miserables or most of the other musicals I have endured over the years. At no point did I actually say the words, “stop singing” loud enough to irritate the people sitting in the row behind. But, you better believe I was saying, “stop singing,” over and over inside my head for the entire two hours and thirty minutes. (Also “stop doing that tappy thing with your feet,” and, “stop doing that thing where you sort of speak your way into a song,” and, “stop swinging round immovable objects such as lampposts and grand pianos,” “just stop, stop, stop.”)
I do not enjoy musicals. No, let me rephrase that slightly, I do not understand musicals. Where did they come from? Who thought they were a good idea? Why is everybody singing all the time? At no point in my life have I ever felt the need, (or even the smallest inkling of desire), to burst into spontaneous song or dance. The singing bit is bad enough but dancing, for me, is an experience akin to enduring a root canal; a procedure best approached slowly, avoided if possible and only to be tolerated under the influence of some kind of mind numbing substance. (Insert something about being raised Presbyterian here. Insert another thing about growing up in Ballymena). I don’t believe that normal people just break into song and dance numbers on the side of the road/at the drive-in/in the grimy back alleys of revolutionary France. I’ve only seen it happen once in real life. (spontaneous Backstreet Boys dance off circa 2002). Everyone passing by, (and boy did they try to pass by quickly), was mortified for those involved in the impromptu “singing” and “dancing”. Those involved were young Americans. Perhaps, I mused this, this sort of thing was considered acceptable on their side of the pond. But it definitely wasn’t in Newtownards on a Saturday night.
When I watch musicals I cannot get past the singing. It makes me want to laugh and point at the singing people and say, “isn’t this ludicrous? Why don’t the rest of you find this ludicrous?” But no one else ever seems to find the singing or dancing ludicrous. No one but me looks like they are struggling to believe the bits where the actors don’t sing because the parts where they do sing are so very silly. No one else spent two thirds of Rent muttering, “don’t sing it, just say it,” in an increasingly loud voice. No one else hasn’t actually seen The Sound of Music, (out of choice). No one else wishes Baz Luhrmann would leave well alone when it comes to musicing-up his movies. Seems like it’s just me and a handful of serious Opera fans who want to stress the enormous gulf between their version of sing-acting and the sing-acting which is done by people in primary-coloured swingy dresses and two tone shoes.
Basically, most normal people appear to like musicals. They like to watch them live. They like to watch the film versions on DVD. They like to sing along to the stupid soundtracks, (which make very little sense beyond the context of the script), in their cars on the way to work and back. I don’t. I like to watch plays with no singing, and films with subtitles, and Radio 4 for the daily commute. I have absolutely no sunshine in my heart. I am a bad person. I do not like musicals.
Many of my musical-loving friends do not seem to be getting the message about me and musicals. (I have similar issues with my animated feature-loving friends). They say things like, “I know you don’t like musicals Jan but this one’s completely different.” To these people I say, “How is it different? Does it have no singing?” Inevitably it will be just as full of singing as the last musical they tried to convert me with, but the singing will be hip hop singing, or singing based on David Bowie songs, or singing done by people who are also really good dancers, or singing which is a clever commentary on social injustice. This musical will not make me like musicals. I would only like a musical if it didn’t have any singing in it. Or maybe one really good song, right at the end, over the credits, where you could only hear the music and not see the actors actually singing about it. I don’t think I’m ever going to change my mind about musicals. I haven’t changed my mind about not liking baked beans or Queen or continental markets either. I think I am one of those people who get stuck in their ways. Here are the ten things I learnt from watching yet another “this musical will make you like musicals,” musical. Thanks for trying friends.
- It takes much longer to sing a thing than it does to say it. Therefore musicals are much longer than ordinary films. (Like a significant amount of time longer).
- In a musical if the lighting lowers even a tiny little bit it means someone is going to sing a saddish song. (NB the appearance of a grand piano or moonlit vista will also indicate you are venturing into the land of the lonesome ballad).
- Whilst singing people in musicals can bend the laws of physics. Sometimes they fly. Sometimes they go backwards or forwards in time. Sometimes two singing people are able to be in the same place while singing even though they’re actually quite far away from each other. In the real world this only happens when two people are very much in love, or in sci fi movies.
- At some point someone is going to flip a hat in a jaunty fashion.
- In musicals it is perfectly acceptable to dance on top of the table in a crowded restaurant. If anything, this kind of behaviour is actively encouraged. It is not the same in real life.
- Every musical will contain one line of melody so irritatingly impossible to shift from your memory it is like the sonic equivalent of a hiccough. The good folks who write the music bits of musicals are particularly wiley and have long since realised to repeat this refrain ad nauseum throughout the performance. This is what you will wake up to every morning for the next week.
- If someone in a musical is wearing a pair of tap shoes, even if they’re just wearing them whilst casually walking down across a parking lot or buying some cereal at the grocery store, you better watch out, clicky heel dancing is imminent.
- People in musicals have enormous groups of close friends and associates who follow them round at some distance just waiting for the opportunity to dance in loose formation around the edges of the scene.
- The close friends and associates know better than to make a move on centre shot during these dance sequences, except maybe for one of them who will briefly do a back flip or some other difficult move, the main actors are not capable of.
- Sometimes I go to films I know I won’t enjoy just so I can have a good moan afterwards.