‘La La Land,’ ‘Beauty’ herald more halcyon days for musicals

‘La La Land,’ ‘Beauty’ herald more halcyon days for musicals

LOS ANGELES – The Associated Press
‘La La Land,’ ‘Beauty’ herald more halcyon days for musicals “La La Land,” the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling musical, which won six Oscars, has been racking up box office numbers that are remarkable for a musical – nearly $417 million globally so far, according to comScore – and even more for an original one with no previously known songs or story. Damien Chazelle’s eye-popping, toe-tapping creation ranks third in all live-action film musicals, behind the 2008 “Mamma Mia!” and the 2012 “Les Miserables,” neither of which were original.

“That’s big-time money,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at comScore. “At times, the musical genre has been marginalized or not taken seriously. But this is serious business.”

It’s enough to make a musical fan break into sudden, joyful song – perhaps on the way to the multiplex, where this weekend Emma Watson’s “Beauty and the Beast” is expected to have a huge, $120 million opening.

And if a Disney tale featuring a Harry Potter-caliber array of top British actors isn’t your thing, you need only wait; there’s a slew of other live-action musicals in the works, a combination of originals, sequels and remakes. 

This Christmas, we’ll have Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman,” with music by “La La Land” lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a year later the high-profile “Mary Poppins Returns” with Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Meryl Streep, among others. Also reportedly on tap: a Will Ferrell-Kristen Wiig original musical about the little-known world of corporate musicals, and a Josh Gad musical with songs by Broadway luminaries Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. A musical version of the Broadway megahit “Wicked” is also coming down the pike.

In a broader cultural sense, is the musical undergoing a renaissance, or at least a major moment? Or is it all just a happy coincidence? Certainly, it’s been a great time for musicals on Broadway, where Miranda’s “Hamilton” has been breaking all kinds of records (and bringing with it a hugely enthusiastic, youthful audience) since it opened in July 2015. And on TV, there’s been the trend of live musicals like “Grease,” “Peter Pan” and “Hairspray.”

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Mandy Moore, the choreographer of “La La Land,” who’s also worked extensively in television. “I think it went away for a while, that style of storytelling, and that style of music, and it’s like anything – bellbottoms were cool, and then they were not cool, and then they were cool again. People throw it away for a while and then come back to it and remember, oh, that was really cool, and why don’t we reinvent it?”

To Menken, who composed the music for “Beauty and the Beast,” the moment for musicals has been happening “for quite a while.”

“Look at the box office. It’s just an explosion of musicals. And this new generation coming up who were sort of weaned on our influence, and they’re kicking butt,” he said. 

Platt and Moore, of “La La Land,” also point to the younger creative voices injecting life into musicals in various forms; Chazelle is 32, and Miranda is 37.

“Beauty” director Bill Condon credits animated musical films with getting audiences comfortable with the simple act of a character breaking into song.

“And then if you let it happen, it turns out that the audience actually loves that,” Condon said. “There’s a wider audience for it, for just the joy of breaking out into song. It feels like the audience has caught up again.”

They may have caught up, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for future screen musicals to capture the “La La Land” magic, said Dergarabedian. “It’s not going to happen every year. That was lightning in a bottle.”