One of the most fascinating things about musicals is the many layers that they contain. The layers are part of the characters, plots, and the songs. In fact all three of those go hand in hand with each other.
The plots range from Cats, Singin’ in the Rain, Music Man, Sound of Music, South Pacific, Wicked, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and Les Mis. These musicals do reflect that musicals come with many layers. On that list, plots start to become more complex once you reach “Sound of Music”. Not only is the plot strong, but so are the songs as well. I just discovered that sad is part of its score. However, heartbreak is part of Cats, but the thing is it hardly has a plot to begin with.
It is usually the most realistic plots where musical plot becomes strong. Another case is that they are home to excitement, love, joy, sad, and heartbreak as well. Those five emotions are core emotions. If all five exist, then you have quite a strong musical and those are the ones that require the most vulnerability. From shows such as “South Pacific”, “Lion King”, “Phantom”, “Rent”, and “Les Mis”, you have all five of those emotions. But the difference is some of those are happy, while some are sad, but some have gotten stuck in the middle.
The layers from the plots come from the several topics that musicals cover. Those can be elements of light such as hope, compassion, friendship, etc. and elements of dark such as unrequited love, death, abuse, etc.
Even characters can have layers too. Some characters do not develop at all and really don’t have an arc. Some characters just are not that interesting to learn about because the character is way too simple. But even simple characters can still be memorable such as Annie from “Annie”. Favorite characters of mine that have an amazing complexity to them are Elphaba, Galinda(Glinda), Jean Valjean, and Eponine. There is more to them then just one thing. They all battle some kind of strong conflict, which is where their complexity comes from. It also depends on their backgrounds and how others treat them. They all are home to some kind of vulnerability because they all happen to go through some kind of pain and hurt in their lives.
The thickest kind of complexity in a musical has to be the emotions. Each musical has a different emotional world, which is in turn based off the plot and the characters. Some musicals have you feel only positive emotions. You want those musicals in the mix and those are the plots that have the most light-hearted plots, and the simple characters. By the time the score is both positive and negative, the plot become stronger because those shows have more humanity to them, which in turn is more realistic.
Each musical is home to certain emotions they will always have. Those are known as core emotions. Depending on how the actor portrays the character, certain emotions show up in a character that might not show up all the time. Emotions I have already come across are excitement, uplifting, joy, love, hope, compassion, forgiveness, passion, haunting, fear, anger, frustration, sad, heartbreak, loneliness, uncomfortable, desperation, depressing, devastation, guilt, and others that I know I felt, but can’t think of the right emotion yet.
Even an emotion such as heartbreak can be layered. An example of that belong to the songs “I’m Not that Girl” and “On My Own”, two songs about unrequited love, but I am aware of their emotional differences between them. They both have heartbreak and loneliness, but still are quite different in terms of emotions along with layers. By understanding the two characters who sing those, I was able to understand that “On My Own” is the sadder song.
Due to the complexity and simplicity of musicals, it is so hard to explain what they are capable of. I still cannot describe the layers of the different emotions musicals portray. Whenever I see a new musical, I am always hoping I will feel the positive and negative emotion, but I am still perfectly fine if the negative emotions are a no show. That is because I want the right balance to exist. There is a reason why heartbreak is not a part of every single musical and that is due to how fragile that emotion is. Heartbreak is a beautiful emotion, but filled with so much pain and hurt and you don’t want to experience such a fragile emotion in every single musical. So it is important that some musicals are simpler then others.
The links below are blog posts I wrote, which reflect back to this post. One talks more about the emotional impact. The other talk more about the two characters who sing “On My Own” and “I’m Not Girl”