Comments On David Mallory's Article About Musical Theater

In Dec. 2011 David Mallory (a musical theater composer) wrote a thought-provoking piece in, titled:  A Slushy in the Face: Musical Theater Music and the Uncool.  Here is the link:

In it he reviews the history of musicals and concludes that, in spite of their popularity,  most musicals are considered "uncool" by the general listening audience (at least those who read Rolling Stone and Wired).  What he critiques is what he calls the traditional Broadway sound that musical theater composers tend to produce (while the majority of listeners outside of this genre were listening to Led Zeppelin II or Miles Davis' Bitches Brew).  Mallory complains about a trend in musicals that become parodies of themselves (such as The Book of Mormon).  As he states, instead of being authentic, the musical becomes mainly ironic.  He thinks that musicals have become "uncool" because they lack authenticity -- that musicals should be written by people who compose songs in general.  He complains that in a musical, when a performer is singing, it is an actor that is singing lines; in contrast, when an actual singer/songwriter is on stage, the audience is experiencing the real person.   He complains that there is too much focus, in musical theater, about how the music relates to the narrative and that the musical theater composers forget that

"the music itself is paramount and all too often it’s an afterthought."   He concludes: "We need composers and singers that come from rock clubs, cabarets, basements, not undergraduate musical theater programs. We need singular, creative musicians, playing music that is inventively arranged and not beholden to any preordained sound. … We need to get more bands out of the pit and onto the stage."

As you might imagine, Mallory got a lot of responses, many of them from angry musical theater fans. But I think he does make some interesting points.  It is true that musicals can come about from two different sources:  1. Those trained in musical theater and 2. singer-songwriters who primarily compose songs for rock, pop, classical, blues or jazz markets but,  for whatever reason, at some point decide they want to try their hand at creating a musical.  I guess I'm in that group.  I hope that both musical theater fans and "regular" song lovers will enjoy my Dragon's Blood musical (but if not the musical itself, then at least the songs within it :-)

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