The duo of music and storytelling has yielded some of the most beloved and memorable moments in cinematic history. There is a certain joyous energy that pops off the screen when you're watching a musical.

The musical genre in film and television has the power to transport audiences to worlds where emotions burst into song, and choreography adds a layer of spectacle to the narrative.

From classic Hollywood extravaganzas to modern TV series, the genre continues to captivate viewers with its ability to evoke emotions, tell stories, and provide an immersive audiovisual experience.

Let's explore the musical genre in film and TV together.

The Musical Genre Definition

The Scarecrow, Tin Man, Dorthy, and the Cowardly Lion walking down the yellow brick road in 'The Wizard of Oz''The Wizard of Oz'

Credit: MGM

The musical genre in film and television is a captivating and distinctive category that combines storytelling with music, song, and dance to create a unique and immersive cinematic experience.

In musicals, characters break into song and choreographed dance routines, allowing their emotions, thoughts, and motivations to be expressed in a lyrical and often larger-than-life manner.

This genre melds the auditory and visual elements of storytelling, contributing to the narrative, character development, and emotional impact of the film or TV show.

The Tropes of the Musical Genre in Film and TV

The ensamble cast of 'The Greatest Showman'

'The Greatest Showman'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

There are certain things audiences expect from every musical out there. We call those elements tropes.

From classic musicals like The Wizard of Oz to modern hits like La La Land, the musical genre continues to captivate audiences with its ability to combine the power of music with the art of storytelling.

It offers a unique form of emotional expression, inviting viewers to experience narratives in a way that is both visually captivating and emotionally resonant.

Let's look at some tropes of the genre:

  1. Opening Number: Many musicals start with a dynamic and catchy opening number that introduces the tone, setting, and sometimes even the main characters of the story.
  2. "I Want" Song: Often in the beginning of the film, a character expresses their desires and goals through a solo song. This helps establish the character's motivations and gives insight into their journey.
  3. Love Ballad: A staple of musicals, the love ballad is a heartfelt song where characters express their romantic feelings for each other. It's a pivotal moment in developing the central romance.
  4. Villain's Song: Antagonists in musicals sometimes get their own song where they reveal their motivations and plot. These songs can be darkly captivating and provide depth to the villain's character.
  5. Dance Numbers: Elaborate dance routines are a hallmark of musicals. They can express joy, celebrate an event, or convey emotions that words alone can't capture.
  6. Reprise: A reprise is when a song is sung again later in the story, often with altered lyrics or a different context. It can highlight character development or emphasize changes in the plot.
  7. Showstoppers: These are big, impressive musical numbers that are often the highlight of the film. They're designed to amaze and entertain the audience.
  8. 11 O'Clock Number: A powerful song that usually takes place near the end of the musical, often giving a character a moment of realization or transformation.
  9. Breaking into Song: In some musicals, characters break into song in the midst of their daily lives, sometimes leading to surreal and humorous situations.
  10. Big Finale: The grand finale often brings together key characters and reprises important songs, providing resolution and closure to the story.
  11. Fantasy Sequences: Musical numbers that transport characters into imaginative and fantastical worlds, revealing their innermost desires or fears.
  12. Group Numbers: Ensembles of characters come together to sing and dance in lively, energetic scenes that celebrate camaraderie or a common purpose.
  13. Tap Dancing: A classic element of musicals, tap dancing adds rhythm and energy to dance sequences, creating visually impressive performances.
  14. Parallel Songs: This technique involves two characters or groups singing separate but related songs simultaneously, showcasing contrasts or connections between their situations.
  15. Breaking the Fourth Wall: Some musicals have characters directly address the audience or acknowledge that they are in a musical, adding a playful metafictional layer.

History of the Musical Genre in Film and TV

The ensamble cast of 'West Side Story' dancing

'West Side Story'

Credit: 20th Century Studios

The roots of the musical genre in film can be traced back to the early days of cinema. The marriage of sound and moving images gave birth to the first synchronized musical sequences, with iconic films like The Jazz Singerintroducing audiences to the magic of sound and music on screen.

As technology advanced, the musical genre evolved, producing legendary classics like Singin' in the Rain and The Sound of Music.

These films not only showcased the talents of actors but also pushed the boundaries of choreography and visual storytelling.

Modern Musicals in Film and TV

Cast of 'Glee' singing in a matress store


Credit: Fox

In contemporary cinema and television, the musical genre has expanded its horizons. It's not just about characters bursting into song; it's about integrating music into the narrative fabric in innovative ways.

TV series like Glee and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have seamlessly blended original songs into their storytelling, creating a unique viewing experience where characters' inner thoughts are expressed through melodies.

This integration brings viewers closer to the characters, fostering deeper connections and emotional resonance.

More Examples of the Musical Genre in Film and TV

  1. Singin' in the Rain: This classic musical showcases the transition from silent films to talkies in Hollywood's Golden Age, featuring memorable song and dance numbers.
  2. The Sound of Music: A beloved musical about a governess who brings music and joy to a widower's seven children during the backdrop of World War II.
  3. West Side Story: A modern retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, set in the streets of New York City and featuring unforgettable dance sequences.
  4. Grease: A high-energy musical set in the 1950s, following the romance between two high school students amidst the backdrop of rock 'n' roll.
  5. Moulin Rouge!: A visually stunning and contemporary musical that weaves popular songs into its narrative, set in the bohemian world of 19th-century Paris.
  6. Chicago: A dark and stylish musical that explores the pursuit of fame and the lengths people will go to attain it, set within the backdrop of the jazz age and crime.
  7. La La Land: A modern musical that pays homage to Hollywood's golden era while telling the story of two aspiring artists falling in love.
  8. Les Misérables: Based on the famous novel, this musical epic follows several characters during the French Revolution, touching on themes of redemption and sacrifice.
  9. The Greatest Showman: Inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, this musical celebrates the spirit of imagination and the birth of show business.
  10. Glee: A TV series that follows a high school glee club as they navigate personal challenges while performing popular songs.
  11. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: This musical-comedy TV show follows a woman who moves across the country in pursuit of love and happiness, with characters breaking into song to express their inner thoughts.
  12. Smash: This series provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a Broadway musical, highlighting the creative process and personal dramas.
  13. Galavant: A comedic medieval musical that follows a knight's quest for revenge and the reclamation of his lost love.
  14. Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: A show about a woman who suddenly gains the ability to hear people's inner thoughts through song and dance.
  15. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: A mockumentary-style series set at the real-life high school where the original High School Musical movie was filmed, featuring new musical performances and drama.

The musical genre in film and TV is a symphony of creativity, weaving music, dance, and storytelling into a whole. It transports us to worlds where emotions are amplified through song, where characters communicate through dance, and where the power of music enriches every frame.

From classic Hollywood glamour to contemporary explorations, the musical genre continues to enchant audiences, reminding us that sometimes, the most profound expressions are found not in words, but in melodies.

Let me know your favorites in the comments.