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Kiran Gupta explains what a megamusical is and why they have come back into fashion.
Jesus Christ Superstar. Les Miserables. Phantom of the Opera.
These are some of the most famous megamusicals ever. They have changed the game in the musical theatre scene, shaped so many performers and connected with so many audience members over the years. And with the rise of Hamilton we are seeing a resurgence in the genre. But what exactly is a megamusical? And what makes it so great? And why are so many popping up again?
The key characteristic of a megamusical is that it is entirely sung through. In a way, this makes it a little like an opera. This may sound like an affront to music purists but the formative megamusicals like Jesus Christ Superstar were actually written with the structure of opera in mind. Although Andrew Lloyd-Webber has received some criticism for his repetition and supposedly “clunky” use of structural devices, all the hallmarks of opera are there. Leitmotifs, recurring themes, over the top staging and much more.
Another key characteristic of the megamusical is that the bold storyline. Most megamusicals follow a quasi-Shakespearean tragedy-esque story arc. This means that most of the time, the hero dies at the end of the musical. This often adds a lot of drama.
All of these things are about spectacle. This is what the megamusical brings and why it is so revered in the musical theatre world. It has drama, emotion and substance. All of the things that connect with audiences.
This brings me onto another interesting point. The megamusical genre hasn’t just hit the English –speaking market. One of its broad appeals is the universality of its messages, which means that some of the greatest megamusicals have come off Broadway. Take Notre Dame De Paris, probably my favourite musical ever. A French musical, translated very successfully into Italian, the best way to characterise this musical is to think of Les Mis, but taken up a notch. This musical does everything perfectly. A brilliant opening number, massive ensemble songs, an incredible 11 o’clock number and a heart-wrenching ending. Yet, the musical has never taken off in the English-speaking world (despite getting Australian star Tina Arena to play the leading character in the English premiere). In my opinion, this is one of the most unfortunate things in musical theatre as I truly believe that this is one of the best musicals ever and embodies everything that the megamusical is about. See for yourself below.