40 Years of Broadway: Big Trends
The Mega Musical Era
I came upon the Broadway scene as the Mega Musical Era was just ramping up. While Evita was a harbinger for things to come a few years earlier, it was really Cats that got this particular ball rolling. It makes sense, really, that the 80s through mid-90s was the time for this. It was the Decade of Excess, after all.
I'm referring to Cats (1982), Starlight Express (1987), Les Misérables (1987), The Phantom of the Opera (1988), Miss Saigon (1991), and Sunset Boulevard (1994).
Today, it seems quaint, passé and really kinda silly (depending on your feelings about these relics). I mean, singing cats? Trains that sing and dance on roller skates? But they were all the rage, trust me. Their hallmarks were mostly sung (even completely) scores with belt your face off power ballads, very presentational staging, huge sets that were characters in the show by themselves, and iconic set pieces that people left talking about (usually more than the show itself). Loud volume = brilliant music. People stopping dead in their tracks and singing in loud unison = standing ovation guarantee. Opulence = ticket price justification. As I write this, I am beginning to see some similarities between them and now...
These were the days before social media and internet searches. And yet, even people who knew nothing about theater knew these shows. I'm talking world-wide. They made their rounds on late night talk shows, and rarely on daytime TV (not like today), and, of course, they did the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. But what really got this out to the masses was their incredible word of mouth, punctuated by genius marketing and merchandising. Everyone instantly recognized their logo iconography, and I do mean everyone* knew what these symbols meant. (* = My dad, who never stepped foot in a professional theater not only knew about Phantom, he actually took us to see it as a family!) Wearing one of those show shirts around college campuses gained the wearer instant status. And it wasn't just shirts - posters, backpack buttons and coffee mugs permeated the suburbs from coast to coast.
It also helped that, except for the train show, the national touring companies were nearly exact duplicates of Broadway, so you didn't have to live on a coast to see the real thing.
So much of all of this continues to this day, and we have these shows to thank for it. (Again this may depend on how you feel about this kind of show today.) I still enjoy them, and have some very fond memories. And I still wrap myself up in my (now vintage) show shirts. I had them incorporated into a great quilt!
Where do you stand on the Mega Musical front? Love it? Hate it? Or does it depend on the show? More importantly, do you still have any original merch from these shows? Let us know!
Contest Question #10:
4 of the above Mega Musicals have music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Which two did not have music by him?