6/16/2012
Why so perky, heart?

First, a disclaimer: I cannot claim to be knowledgeable when it comes to musicals. I've seen a few in the past - my first was an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was around eight or nine - but, like most of us, I never really spent a lot of time watching people singing out their emotions on stage. So the next few paragraphs will sound like a rant more than a well-thought piece of cultural criticism, school-style.

However, when Glee first premiered in 2009, I was one of the many who thought the show made musicals accessible to the general public. Sure, there is High School Musical, which is, in a stricter sense, much more of a musical than Glee simply because it's filled entirely with original songs. But that was seen as a niche affair, more a kid's show than anything serious. Glee, on the other hand, begged to be taken seriously, from its music choices to its storylines - and I'm just thinking of Rachel's "I want to go to New York" aspirations.

And it was fine for the first season. We all know what happened afterwards: the show became so popular, the writers lost sight of any pretense of continuity, and the whole project became an exercise in giving people publicity, coming up with the most outrageous storylines, or unleashing our inner sexual frustrations a la Fifty Shades of Grey. Three seasons later, Glee became such a chore to watch. And I'm saying this as a fan (and one-time professional gleek). It is a train wreck and you cannot look away, but it is still a train wreck, and there are dead people inside, and you just know it.

I just watched Rock of Ages - the film version with Tom Cruise, I must note - and the one thing running in my head is this: it's like watching a Glee episode. It's a train wreck.

The story is flat - then again, it's what you'd expect from a musical built around popular music, rather than the other way around. However, the musical performances also fall flat, which is quite disappointing. I mean, they're playing with the biggest rock hits of the 1980s. It's supposed to be fun, no matter what your age is (well, unless you're been fed a steady diet of Justin Bieber and his ancestors all your life, in which case, I'm sorry). But I was watching Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough duet for the nth time and I was going, "I swear, I should feel something here, but instead I'm annoyed." And then they kiss. "Typical," I literally said out loud.

Did Glee ruin the musical?

I'm pretty sure I did not feel the same way with Hairspray. Like Rock of Ages, it's a musical sent to the big screen, and that was a pretty good film. The whole civil rights thing may feel a bit too heavy considering how the film started off, but it perfectly captured the mood of the 1960s. So well, in fact, that John Travolta in drag seemed like a perfectly normal thing to see.

Rock of Ages has the same approach: capture the outrageous things surrounding 1980s Los Angeles, especially its rock scene. Of course, in usual musical tradition, there are heavy issues: lost Stacee Jaxx, lost Bourbon Room people, lost Drew and Sherrie. They all want something, so the point goes. But all I see are the outrageous bits: any attempt to give the heavy stuff some screen time gets the fast forward button instead, and I'm left with a feeling that it's all shallow. Yes, Malin Akerman is sexy. Yes, Julianne Hough has a perky heart. Yes, I get the sexual excitement. I'd be a fool to say there wasn't any. But that's it.

Maybe Adam Shankman, the film's director - both Hairspray and Rock of Ages - got too excited. The prospect of Dennis and Lonny admitting their feelings for each other to the tune of "Can't Fight This Feeling" might've sent shivers down his spine. You know, perhaps in the same way Ryan Murphy got excited when gleeks started rooting for Klaine? All that sexual energy and all, you know.

But I'm being unfair to Adam, because he did a pretty good job with Hairspray. Do I blame it on the material he had to work with? Rock of Ages is a lighthearted comedy. It could've continued that route when it headed to the silver screen, but it would've looked really shallow. So, the depth, then. Nah, it felt clunky. The music? A bit half-arsed, if you ask me. Maybe if we had the chance to sing along and let go - something that definitely happens on the stage version - we would've enjoyed it more. But maybe it's also a tool for us to overlook the story's shortcomings. I am overthinking this, yes? It is Rock of Ages, Nicksy. It's supposed to be fun. Don't think this through.

Like Glee, really. I shouldn't think it through. But I'm thinking of how good it was, and how bad it is now. Same with Rock of Ages. I had lower than usual expectations, and I was still disappointed.

So, did Glee ruin the musical?

For most of us, maybe. For most of us non-theater-goers there suddenly has to be more to the musical than the music. The hook, so to speak. The things that get you talking in the water cooler, else it becomes just a show with some random singing. "Tom Cruise touched a bunch of boobs, and I envy him!" That sort. And the musical theater types will tell you that it's not what it is all about: it's crafty storytelling, with space for fun in some cases. What's craftier than a story told in song? It's layer after layer of exposition, it helps the dramatic flow, builds it up, even. When done right it is mesmerizing.

Instead, we're getting lazy stories in between music videos. But again, I might be overthinking this. I probably should just focus on how Julianne Hough - country singer, Dancing with the Stars pro - failed to convince me that she's a rocker inside. Or maybe on how effortless the whole thing is for Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin. Or maybe on how Tom Cruise literally salvaged the film by being subtle when they wanted flashy - well, apart from that scene with Malin Akerman. But I'm still thinking of Rock of Ages as a Glee episode.

Maybe I should watch the musical itself? I mean, it's on right now, and it's got Mig Ayesa. No, too soon.

And your responses...

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