On NPR this morning I heard a tease for an interview with Tom Hooper, who directed the new movie version of Broadway’s Les Miserables. In it they had him talking about how unnatural it is for characters to break into song every so often, the way they do in the typical musical. I wasn’t in the car long enough to hear the actual piece, and there are only highlights available online as I write this, so it’s entirely possible that the tease was completely misleading and Hooper segued into a brilliant defense of the stage musical as it’s come down to us through Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bernstein, Kern, Sondheim, and the rest. Maybe, I don’t know.
But what I heard got me thinking about how often people have told me they don’t like musicals because they can’t accept the convention of the sudden song. Nobody does that in real life, they say, so it’s not believable.
That’s wrong on so many levels.
First of all, who says nobody does it in real life? Based on personal experience, I’d say there are songs going through people’s heads all the time—and more than a few of them are made up on the spot, as when you’re driving along ad-libbing lyrics about the guy in the Hummer ahead of you. The fact that you don’t share them with anybody is a technicality. You’ve got the music in you, kid.