Sunday, Dec 17, 2017 | Last Update : 04:02 AM IST
Musical theatre has the power to elevate, exaggerate, heighten every emotion and yet be intimate at the same time.
Over the weekend, La La Land, the musical film swept the Golden Globes. In his acceptance speech, winner for Best Song, Justin Paul, dedicated the award to “musical theatre nerds everywhere”. And just as in Hollywood, it appears that there is a resurgence of the musical, in our very own Maximum City.
A decade ago the Prithvi Theatre Festival hosted a festival of musical plays. And while these threw up an entire generation of musical theatre actors, they were still limited to the small scale. Our folk forms have music and singing intrinsically woven into their fabric, therefore over the last few years, there have seen numerous productions with live singing. Stories in a song, Aaj Rang Hai, Piya Behrupiya, Maro Piyo Gayen Rangoon, etc. have all been created thanks to the phenomenal singing and acting talent that was unearthed. However, these kinds of productions were in existence even before, albeit not in Hindi or English.
Yet when we use the term “musical” it often refers to the Western musical. The one with huge chorus numbers, large sets and massive orchestral scores. In the Eighties and early Nineties, the city was full of them. Evita and Cabaret are still fondly remembered. The Man of La Mancha was another favourite, and of course My Fair Lady and a version of The Sound of Music. There were even original musicals like Jaya and Roshni, which kept all the fanfare of the Western musical, but were Indian in content. However as different mediums of entertainment began to take hold, the lavish musical was soon on the wane. Producers struggled to find the capital to mount the spectacles required, and bit by bit they trailed off. This all changed about four years ago when Raell Padamsee’s ACE Productions decided to take the bull by the horns. In quick succession, she staged three musicals, all in limited and intense runs: The Sound of Music, Grease and Jesus Christ Superstar. Each one was sold out well in advance, and suddenly grand-scale musicals made sense again. Disney jumped in with Beauty and the Beast, and forever changed the paradigm of what a stage musical can be for the city. New boys Silly Point Productions premiered their Gandhi The Musical in August and audiences flocked to the large proscenium, and finally, the year rounded out (and 2017 began with), Mughal-e-Azam. Although in Hindi, and a recreation of the motion picture, the live singing and scale of it, truly places it in the great pantheon of musical theatre. In spite of an unknown cast and demonetisation, the January run sold out, a month in advance. The formula is simple: Lavish productions, limited runs, and expensive tickets.
Musical theatre has the power to elevate, exaggerate, heighten every emotion and yet be intimate at the same time. The large scale musical seems like the latest entertainment trend after Stand Up Comedy. Commercial audiences have finally begun to appreciate the specialness live singing, and also the unique experience that the large scale creates, which is un-creatable in any other medium.
This is why musicals are so popular internationally and why they are becoming a staple part of the Bombay theatre calendar. Therefore the New Year can look forward to quite a few new musicals: some based on mythologies, some on classic plays and some re-stagings of Broadway hits. Hopefully Musicals will act as a ‘gateway drug’ to live theatre, bringing in audiences who have never seen a live play, and introducing them to the magic of theatre. Maybe they’ll stick around and sample other types of theatre and add to the audience base. That’s my theatre-wish for 2017.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee is a Bombay-based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP.