Are Cast members performing instruments live on stage the new staple of Musical Theatre?

During the last six months I have noticed a significant link between many of the Musicals I have watched, the ones I’m referring to being Once, Sunny Afternoon, Beautiful, The Commitments and Let It Be. I’m sure you’ve guessed the link..yes they all involve instruments being performed live on stage by the cast.

The last five years has seen a change in the Musical Theatre components, the ‘juke box’ Musical has mutated in to something quite exciting. As well as singing the songs of a particular artist or band, the casts are actually becoming them in every possible sense, which often includes performing on an instrument. This new wave of musical is biographical, so as an audience we are given an overview of the artists life, as for example Beautiful which charts Carole King’s early career.

Actor/ Musicians are now being given roles in music theatre that show the full depth of their skills. This is without doubt recognition for those who have worked hard in different musical fields, such as classical or jazz. I am saddened to see Once close in the West End as most of the cast are skilled musicians who quite honestly look like they are having a ball on stage, with their love of making music very evident. 

 A rich diversity and versatility in Musical Theatre is important as it means new productions and genres can be explored. The Guildford School of Acting have recently developed a new BA (Hons) Actor Musician course to commence in 2015 subject to approval, this is testament to the general consensus that can be felt in the Musical Theatre community. A course such as this one, incorporates both actor and musicianship skills to work side by side and nurtures individual interests and talents. The Guildford School of Acting describes the course on its website in these words ”The programme aims to develop versatile highly skilled performers able to work professionally as either actors, musicians, or, as is becoming increasingly called for, as performers who can combine musicianship and acting on stage”.

What will be next for the new Musical, Theatre has to evolve like everything, but which direction will it take? I would like to think that as well as acting and performing the music of legends, more new instrument based musicals will start to emerge. With the writing talent we are surrounded with in Theatre, it would be a great thought, that in the next couple of years we see more and more of this work translating to the stage.


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