Thank 'South Park' for the comeback of the American musical

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2003

Pundits have been penning the obituary of the American musical for three decades now. Apparently, musicals aren't listening.

Albert Innaurato, in the New York Times Magazine, is the most recent: "Let's stop pretending that there's any life left in the once-transcendent American musical or any way to revive its bloated corpse given the immense costs, corporate greed and reactionary old guard that now stifle all theatrical creativity."

It is true that Broadway has been taken over by corporate ghouls. It pretty much had to be - costs have soared to the point where mere humans can't afford to stage productions (from $250,000 in the 1960s to $10,000,000 today). The beginning of the end was clearly in sight with "Cabaret," which is an anti-musical if tapping your toes to Lerner and Loewe is your definition of a musical.

But really, can this possibly matter to anyone who lives above - far, far above - 42nd Street? There have been great film musicals during The Musical's Official Demise (1969-1999); "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "All That Jazz," "The Life of Brian," "The Blues Brothers" and "Monty Python's Meaning of Life."

Things tapered off as the British took over Broadway in the 1980s, and Disney in the 1990s, but as the millennium approached, something odd happened. The musical rose once more from the grave.

The resurrection came from an unlikely corner: "South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut" is the best musical of the past decade. (At 399 curse words, it also beats the former title-holder, "Pulp Fiction," for most foul-mouthed film, to a pulp.)

In 2001 musicals were back in a big way. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Moulin Rouge!" and a certain remake of a 1968 picture into the biggest Broadway blockbuster ever: "The Producers."

The trend continues. In 2002, there were two musicals with 8 in the title: "8 femmes" (French farce), and "8 Crazy Nights." "Chicago" is coming to town, and another version of "The Singing Detective" is in the works.

Let the pundits prattle. The American musical will sing and dance on their graves.

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