This weekend I was informed that part of my Christmas present will be tickets to see “Les Miserables” at the Fisher Theatre on Oct. 26. I was overjoyed to hear this, as “Les Miserables” is my all-time favorite musical. In fact, it is actually my favorite stage production of anything I have ever seen, including plays, ballets, operas, orchestras, etc. Some might ask how it is possible to compare plays to musicals to ballets and so on because they are so different in nature. One could argue that it is like comparing apples to oranges. The characteristics are simply too varied to be looked at on the same level. I feel though that this is not true. Musicals are the apex of all live stage productions.

Mira Levitan

In order to back up this claim, I ask you to look at the characteristics that make up a musical. First, you have the lighting, sets, props, costumes and scenery. A musical is telling a story and in order for the audience to truly be pulled into the plot, a magical world of make believe is constructed and sewn into the very environment in which the players are acting. This in of itself does not set musicals apart from the rest of the stage production genre. This aspect though, does go a long way in creating a tale that audiences will be interested in seeing.

Another aspect of musical theatre, that is self evident in the title, is the music. Unlike straight plays, much of the emphasis of the play resides in the beautiful scores created to interlace with the action. There are some things that cannot be expressed simply through words and actions, and in this case, in musicals, the score picks up the thread of the story and weaves tapestries of emotion that explain how the actors are feeling. The music adds another dimension to the production’s storytelling capability, setting it above straight, non-musical plays.

Finally, what sets musicals above any other stage production are the words. Whether spoken or sung, words are the basis of all human interaction. In a musical, the dialogue and lyrics serve to move the story along, while keeping the audience enraptured by what is happening. In this respect, the musical is innately better than ballet. Everyone can understand words, whereas not everyone understands the intricacies that go into dancing. The carefully crafted responses of the actors to one another set musicals above opera because the emphasis is on what is being said, not on how the words are said. For some audiences, a three-word sentence sung 50 times is simply too much. And while the dialogue of a musical is probably sub-par compared to that of a straight play, the fact that the words can be sung gives it the edge over non-musicals as well.

All stage productions have their strengths, and some are definitely superior in certain areas than the musical, but overall, musicals are more accessible to more people because they utilize all techniques of the stage. Thus, if looking at a work’s effectiveness, the musical is the paramount form of the stage. It touches the most hearts, and “Les Miserables” is, of musicals, one of the best.

– Sarah is not afraid to admit her crush on Jean Valjean. She can be reached at petesara@umich.edu.



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