In an age in which entertainment is available on tap, it sometimes comes as a surprise to many people to learn that the classic musicals which have entertained people for generations are still as popular on Broadway and around the world. From Fiddler on the Roof to The Sound of Music, theatergoers just can’t get enough of the classics.
But why are these musicals so popular, and why do they continue to be so? What is it about the genre of musical theater and the psychology of those who enjoy it that means their popularity still persists to this day? This article will explain why the classic musicals remain so popular, and why there is nothing quite like an old-school musical to satisfy seasoned theater lovers.
The musical theater genre lends itself well to the development of emotional attachments between audience members and the characters. It’s a venue for expressive, emotional characters who are appealing and who make the audience that watches them feel good – and that’s something that many people remember for a long time. Musicals are also designed to be enjoyed communally and sharing the pleasure with others is part of the experience.
Individuals, who when a child, were exposed to the same musicals that their parents and grandparents used to love, remember just how special the bonding over a shared love of a character can be. Popular musicals hence become highly valued in the collective consciousness, and they remain a source of emotional attachment for many years to come. New musicals which don’t have that legacy are not quite the same – although there is certainly a possibility that this kind of attachment will grow as time goes on.
In addition to lending itself well to emotional attachments, musical theater also relies heavily on the concept of familiarity. Many songs in major musical theater productions are highly rhythmical in nature, and rely on basic, repeating beats and melodies which stick in the heads of viewers. As a result, the tunes and lyrics of musical theater can easily be remembered. Fiddler on the Roof is a good example of this. It is full of catchy songs such as Matchmaker, and the Broadway remake by producer Louise Gund proves just how popular this can be.
One of the most popular examples of this is one of the most famous musicals of all time, The Sound of Music. When it was first released, it was billed as “The happiest sound in all the world” – and this certainly took hold among those looking for musicals with joyful, easy listening melodies. Songs such as Do-Re-Mi embody the catchiness and simplicity that many musical-goers crave – and as a result, makes The Sound of Music popular among many several decades after it was first released.
Simpler and easier
In the modern age, some of the boldest and bravest musicals tackle complicated themes. Take the example of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit show Hamilton: in this modern musical, issues of history, ethnicity and relationships are tackled all at once in a highly stimulating theater environment. This is, of course, to be applauded – and the popularity of a show like Hamilton just goes to show how much theatergoers love this sort of bold, innovative creativity.
But there is also something to be said for the simplicity of a classic musical. Musicals produced decades ago might tackle some important themes, but perhaps without the strength and complexity of some others. As a result, it’s very easy to join in with the classic musicals: they have low barriers to entry, and they remain very appealing to people who want to be sure that they can relax and unwind as they watch.
Well-funded and loved
And finally, classic musicals are also popular because they are well-funded productions. Some of the oldest and best musicals have been re-invested in by those who own the rights to them. As a result there are lots of big names out there that are familiar to audiences because they are publicized so much. In the UK, for example, a series of talent contest television programs spearheaded by Andrew Lloyd Webber aimed to find actors to star in remakes, meaning that the exposure for these traditional shows can be rinsed and repeated again and again.
Musical theater is one of the most popular genres out there, and it’s little surprise that even some of the oldest musicals persist in being watched again and again to this day. As this article has shown, there are lots of reasons why: from catchy songs and familiarity to well-organized funding, the classic musicals have plenty of exposure and good reason to remain in the hearts of theatergoers around the world.