A Different Form of Theatre: The Musical Movie


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A collection of some of the movie musicals released in previous and current years. Courtesy of Google Images

Most people have seen a musical movie at least once in their life, whether it be Disney classics like ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Frozen,’ or more renowned musical theatre like ‘Rent’ and ‘Grease.’ However, seeing these musicals live on stage is not something that most can say they’ve done. Although these two forms of entertainment both serve the same purpose, they have different ways to convey their stories.

Shows that originated on Broadway or off-Broadway such as ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Rent,’ can also have musical movies. Although both versions tell the full story of the show, they do it in very different ways. Musical theatre student and lead actress in the current school musical production, McKenzie Morgan, believes that the differences in musical movies and live musicals are a lot more than people think. 

“To me, the differences between musical movies and live theater are very different. Even though they both have music, singing, and dancing, movies have more takes, different lights, and they can also edit the film and create movie magic. In the theater, everything is right in front of you and the acting and magic is right up in front of you. There are no barriers and you are plunged into a totally different world right in front of you,” stated Morgan. 

Musical theatre student and senior, Jordana Garcia, thinks that one of the biggest differences involves the sets and scenes of the shows.

“Some main differences between movie musicals and actual musicals is the set and scenes. There is a bigger opportunity for larger sets that can be explored when producing a movie whereas on the stage there is a certain amount of space available to produce a scene. My favorite musical movie is ‘The Sound of Music.’ Some of its main differences are the songs that are used because they tend to serve the same purpose but have different situations due to the scenes that can be created on a live stage,” said Garcia.

Choir teacher and musical director of the current school production, Philip Glenn, also agrees that the changes to the set and scenes are a big difference between the two. 

“With movies the setting is wider because they can take you into the streets of a city or on a mountain, but in a live musical they have to create that illusion for your mind. I prefer it on stage because you have to use your imagination more,” stated Glenn. 

The previous year, 2021, has been the year for musical movies. Nine highly anticipated musical movies came out, including the already award winning ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ and ‘In the Heights.’ Morgan can’t wait to see these new films. 

“I am super excited to watch the musical movies of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘West Side Story.’ They have just come out recently and I can’t wait to see how they put the movie magic into classic musicals. Also, I have seen ‘Dear Evan Hansen’  in theaters so it will be fun to compare,” said Morgan.

Another thing that differentiates the two forms of theatre are the actors and singers who are playing the roles. Even if an actor originates a show on stage, they may not always get the opportunity to audition for the show’s renewed musical movie. This can lead to fans of the live show to be hesitant about the new musical movie and how it may compare to its original live show. Glenn believes that sometimes musical movie cast directors may choose less talented people for their roles.

“A lot of times movies pick singers who are not fit for the part just because they’re good actors or well known. I like a good stage production because usually their voices are really really good,” said Glenn.

The average cost to see a Broadway show is usually around $123.87, which is not something some people may be able to afford. Movie musicals provide a different cheaper setting for live theatre to thrive in a different way; in the end, exposing more people to the art of musical theatre. Glenn believes that movie musicals are a good option for those looking for a cheaper route. 

“I think movie musicals are a good way for people who may not sit down and see a stage production, especially since going to Bass Hall and AT&T is kinda pricey to go see it live, but you can spend $10 to watch a matinee version and be exposed to the same show,” stated Glenn. 

Morgan also believes that musical movies are a good substitute for live musical theatre. 

“I think musical movies absolutely expose people to theater and I think it’s great. Even though both can be very different, seeing the emotion and music on the big screen can show how powerful the theater is and can definitely make people interested in how it would play out live on stage,” said Morgan.

Even with the differences between movie musicals and live musical theatre, they both accomplish the overall goal of any musical: for the audience to be exposed to their art.