Musical Theater and Straight Plays are different. I’m not just talking about the fact that one has chorus girls and sequins and higher price tickets. There is an inherent difference in the expectations of the audiences that creators of musicals need to recognize.
Need an example? At the end of Romeo & Juliet, what happens? They both die. Tragedy.
Sadness. Love itself dies with them.
Now, let’s look at the musical adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story, arguably the greatest musical ever written because of its seamless integration of music, book and dance.
What happens at the end of West Side Story? Only ONE of them dies. Ah ha! Already
you’re starting to see the difference. But wait for it . . . wait for it . . . West Side isn’t over yet.
After Maria’s feisty “How many bullets are left” speech, the Jets start to carry off Tony’s dead body. But, like Jesus carrying the cross, they falter. Who comes running to their aid? A Shark! That’s right; the two warring gangs come together right before your eyes. And a ray of sunshine is cast on what was a very dark tragedy. Suddenly, there is hope that the future will be better.
Doesn’t sound like R&J, does it?
Musical theater audiences don’t mind tragedy. In fact, they love a little drama. But you can’t leave them with a tragic aftertaste. No matter how dark your tale, it’s important to leave them with the idea that things could get better. That the sun will come out . . . you know when.
Want another great example of this? Look at the ending of the original London production of Miss Saigon. Then look at what they did when they came to Broadway. It’s a subtle change that demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about.
Email me if you figure it out.