In my series on how to modernize movie musicals to overcome some of the typical criticisms of the genre, I looked at ways of better meshing the stage influences found in early musicals with modern audience expectations, to take the “break into song” cliché and essentially erase it.
The thing is, while I can diagnose, I can’t control audiences. Interestingly enough, the worst of all worst perpetrators of these hated and cursed techniques happens to be the most successful—Kenny Ortega’s High School Musical franchise.
Honestly, look at any clip of the movies, and you’ll see all my suggestions gone to waste. You have actors singing and dancing directly into the camera, pretty much acknowledging the audience that isn’t there during the dialogue scenes. Some of the kids are very talented singers, while others try their best. And while the musical staging doesn’t seem to come from a different performance style from the book scenes, a number of those kids graduated too quickly from the Nickelodeon School of Acting.
What’s most odd about it all is that it is helmed by Kenny Ortega, who did such a brilliant job on all fronts with Newsies. Whatever rules he worked with in that musical, he boldly threw away for the High School Musical series.
Recently on Nightline, Ortega spoke about learning to make film musicals from the master himself, Gene Kelly. Interesting, you can, indeed, see those old school influences in the HSM movies.
The Broadway Mouth
October 23, 2008