One thing that never fails to amuse me is when, increasingly rarely, we have one of our open recruitment days at work.
All of a sudden our drab little office gets transformed – you turn up and the Duty Managers are dressed as Pirates, Fairies or Christmas characters; the desks are festooned with balloons and streamers and posters adorn the previously bare walls. Senior Managers may be wearing special T-shirts and have even been known to smile.
But the most amusing aspect is the email that gets sent around requesting everyone to “engender a happy working atmosphere” (actual wording, I kid you not)
This says rather more about the working environment than perhaps the Managers meant to say and always provokes me to ask exactly how we will go about engendering such an atmosphere: are we all supposed to sit there singing “Hi-ho, Hi-ho”??
Of course, in reality it is very rare for an entire staff to burst into song – as they do in the increasingly annoying Halifax adverts where bank buildings sail off into the sunset to advertise interest rates in the style of the Crimson Permanent Assurance (look it up) instead of, for arguments sake, spending the money on providing you with better services.
But sometimes I think it would be interesting if people did go about bursting into song at inappropriate moments, performing song and dance routines down the street. Let’s face it they couldn’t do any worse than Andrew Lloyd-Webber (no offence AL-W, but if I see another audition programme for one of your musicals I may well be tempted to throw a brick through my TV)
But of course the world of the musical is that most bizarre of places and I remain ambiguous about its artistic merits. When it’s done well it can be entertaining, but for me it often stretches credibility and, as Barry Norman (Film Critic) once said: it is one thing to ask an audience to suspend their disbelief, it is quite another to ask them to hang it by the neck until it is dead.
Take for instance the musical Grease. For many years I managed to avoid seeing this film until my girlfriend persuaded me to watch it. The upshot of the plot: Two teenagers meet on holiday and fall in love: however they are from different worlds. John Travolta (you see, I enjoyed it so much I can’t even remember the name of the character) fails to mention that he is a rough boy in leathers with a penchant for Scientology, Olivia Neutron-Bomb meanwhile is just a normal girl who wants to be accepted. Moral of the film: if you want to get the man of your dreams dress like a tart. Women of the world seem to love this movie, despite its amoral sub-context. Best moment? "The Worst Thing I Can Do" - sung much better by Alison Moyet this is a song about a girl who gets pregnant from a one night stand. So much for the feelgood factor
The Sound Of Music: perennial favourite of the Christmas TV schedules. A film that lasts from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day (or feels that way) about a Austrian count who doesn’t seem to mind when a local nun comes and cuts up his curtains for clothes (If he’s a count why can’t they afford new clothes? Tell me that?)
All very nice until the last few minutes of the film where, on her wedding day, the nun’s all sing “how do you solve a problem like Maria”. Way to stick the knife in girls. Things to worry about in SoM - why aren't the Nazi's guarding the doors of the concert venue? What does Maria want from the Lonely Goatheard? Did Rogers and Hammerstein spend a whole week trying to describe "La" before just giving up and saying "Sod it, it's a note to follow So - that'll have to do"?
Xanadu (or possibly Zanadu): actually a favourite of mine just for its surreal central concept – the Greek gods come out of retirement and send down Olivia Neutron-Bomb to form a paradise on earth…by creating a roller disco (nope, again, not making this up)
To be fair though the musical can be quite a fun way to tell a story – but the only thing worse than a musical is a bunch of songs forced together to form a musical. By this I mean the likes of “We Will Rock You”, “Our House” or “Mamma Mia” – musicals where the works of a particular band (respectively Queen, Madness and ABBA) are forced together to tell a story that they were never intended to tell, based on the idea that fans of the music will want to see the show. Thus we get plots where a group of people are Under Pressure by a Killer Queen or some such nonsense.
I can’t really complain though – one of my favourite films is Lagaan – a Bollywood movie about a cricket match, interspersed by song. Fortunately no one, not even once, sings about cricket! Who knows, maybe they just couldn't think of a rhyme?