Thursday, August 02, 2007

My friend Atticus Cain has a problem with musicals. He believes the performance of a play should be like an argument between two people in a restaurant: it makes you uncomfortable, but you can't stop watching (I don't whether he invented that analogy or picked it up in his voracious reading of people like David Mamet, whom we both admire). And part of the reason that you can't stop watching is that you don't know what's going to happen next. Pain (for public arguments are painful) and unpredictability make the drama.

What would happen, he asks, if suddenly one of the people in the argument started singing?

Well, of course, the drama flies right out the window. Suddenly the situation is manifestly unreal. It is visibly a performance for your entertainment, and there is no pain, nor is there unpredictablility, because everyone knows what will happen next: the singer will finish the song, singing the same notes that he or she sings in every performance.

An argument in a restaurant is entirely improvised; a musical is entirely not. Thus a musical cannot be a drama.

But this just ocurred to me: what if a musical were largely improvised? What if the music employed were jazz, which relies on improvisation. Could a jazz musical be genuinely dramatic?

And I thought, "Let me write that down."

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