Reflecting on the Musical


I’m going a day early with the blog post this week, for reasons which will become evident.

On Thursday evening, at about 10.30pm, I was buzzing. Not literally buzzing, that would be disconcerting, but now I think about it, yes, almost-literally buzzing. I had just seen the Castlebar Musical and Drama Society musical production for this year and it had left me buzzing.

This year’s show is a production of ‘All Shook Up’ and, yes, I can almost hear you thinking about that because that’s the way I was thinking about it too.

“It’s a Jukebox Musical,” I was thinking, “loads of Elvis songs. It’ll be happy and clappy and I’ll see some of my favourite people up on stage and it will all be very well done and I will have a fair-old time.”

But it’s better than that.

It’s way better than that.

I’ve seen all the CMDS musicals bar one, (due to Covid). From Oklahoma, through Fiddler to White Christmas my expectations have always… well… not so much been exceeded as blown out of the park. So perhaps this year’s production is not the best production ever. Perhaps I’m too close to it to be objective, the buzz of it still lingering on a bit. Perhaps that’s it…

But I don’t think so, not really.

I think this year’s production is the best ever. A delight from start to finish. A fantastic cast. I’m not going to single people out but, by golly, there is talent up there. A great production and set. A Rockin’ band/orchestra. Directed, choreographed, designed, arranged, and managed to the highest degree. An uplifting experience.

I went expecting something really good and I got myself more than that.

A word about the ‘book’ or the play itself. As I said, it’s a Jukebox Musical. The songs get crammed in and the story generally bucks and swerves to apply some logic to the running-order. All of that, yes. But the writer, Joe DiPietro, here took it all a subtle notch further. Unexpectedly, the character who delivers all the Elvis energy is not even the central character to the story. He acts as an Agent Provocateur, shaking up the populace of a sleepy small town, in all the ways you might expect but in a couple of other unexpected ways too. Before the final curtain metaphorically falls (to a thunderous standing ovation) issues of race and gender and aging and social equality will have been probed and poked in clever little ways. It’s a Jukebox Musical through-and-through, make no mistake. But like that swivelling roustabout, it makes some nice moves.

So the reason for the early post is to tell you that there are just two more shows left and both of them are today (Saturday 11th March 2023). One is this afternoon and one is this evening. I don’t even know if there’s tickets, there shouldn’t be, but if there is, you could do a hella lot worse than to rock up to the TF here in Castlebar and then tell me I’m not wrong – that this is a great show.

This all got me thinking. What is it about a Musical that comes out of the local community to entertain us? Why does it work so well?

The first thing to say is that it doesn’t simply work so well. It has to be made to work so well. It has to be dragged, kicking and screaming along the theatre floor and thrown onto the stage on opening night with all the energy and professionalism and hope and faith that everyone can muster.

There’s an old perception that the community musical is a rather dusty old thing that you haul yourself to see out of a sense of duty and you gain some modicum of distraction by seeing your local butcher pretend to be a Siamese regent.

But it’s not that anymore, at least it’s now here in my place, where Castlebar, Claremorris, Ballinrobe, among others, move heaven and earth every year to stage the most outlandishly professional productions you could imagine. The most talented professionals are enlisted to bring whatever musical is chosen to the stage and it shows. Casting processes are tough and unbiased with the best person ending up in the best place. The result is invariably something to behold and, when it all clicks perfectly, as it has for Castlebar this year, it is little short of astonishing.

But here’s the thing I most wanted to say. The thing that got me sitting here typing on this sleety Saturday morning.

It’s the people. It’s really all about the people.

What I’m trying to say has is origins in that musty perception I referred to earlier, that it’s great to see the butcher asking you ‘shall we dance.’ But that’s not it… Let me think…

There is so much superb talent in the world, and all of it can’t make it to dance on the top of the pin. Not everybody can grace the Oscars, and the Emmys and the Grammys. Not everybody can fit up there. And you can have all the talent to take you there but it just never happens. That’s life. That’s Entertainment.

But this thing, this Musical Endeavour, it allows us to see and appreciate the literally world-class talent that lives in our towns and cities. The chartered accountants, the school teachers, the company managers, the sales assistants and yes, the butchers.

It’s not about someone getting up there and fulfilling some misguided ambition at the expense of a tolerant audience. It is all about very real and superb talent being granted a deserved moment in the limelight, with full orchestra and in glorious costume. It is a very, very good thing.

And we, the audience, we benefit from this too. We get to see something special, something successful and, what’s more, we get to see our peers, our colleagues, do it.

It is nothing less than a Communion. An instance of sharing. Talent and Appreciation of Talent, mutually exchanged and appreciated.

I mean, is it any wonder I was buzzin’?


Fles said...

I miss local operatic productions. When I was a kid, my dad was in the Amateur Operatic Society - he started out doing the scenery, then joined the chorus line and even had a couple of major parts. I used to love going to see those shows: they were so utterly invigorating! There's nothing like that around where I live know, alas, although there are a couple of local dramatic groups that I make a point of following - they're very good, but I do miss the razzamatazz of a decent amateur musical. The professional productions don't do it for me, somehow; they're very good, I suppose, but they seem to lack the passion and joy that goes into an amateur gig.

Jim Murdoch said...

Talent. We're supposed to have something we're good at, our party trick. I never watch talent shows nowadays but back in the day I rarely missed Opportunity Knocks and, later on, New Faces. So many of the acts who girded up their loins and brassed their necks never made it as stars but that didn't mean they didn't have talent and not simply balls. People often wonder why successful actors wander out of the limelight and decide to do something else but it's really not hard to fathom. Fame isn't for everyone. I'm certainly not interested in becoming the next Will Self. That doesn't mean I don't occasionally turn into Terry Malloy. You know who I mean: "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender." Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not.