Why are movie musicals hiding the fact that they’re musicals?

“A new twist from Tina Fey,” posters for the upcoming Mean Girls movie read, while the first trailer showcases the film to a song from Olivia Rodrigo.

It’s therefore understandable that many outside of the theatre world have been surprised to learn the new Mean Girls is in fact a musical, adapted from the Broadway stage show.

Timothée Chalame’s new Wonka movie has also taken audiences by surprise with it’s musical content, featuring original songs from Neil Hannon, lead singer of the Divine Comedy.

It seems as though the word musical has become taboo when it comes to these movies, with studios going out of their way to hide any hint of characters bursting into song.

Timothée Chalame in Wonka

According to Deadline, it’s no accident. The publication reports that with Wonka, Warner Bros opted to intentionally avoid any musical elements in its marketing.

“Test-audience focus groups generally hate musicals and the only way to get people into the theater with one is to trick ’em,” Anthony D’Alessandro pens.

It’s fair to say movie musicals have struggled at the box office in recent years. West Side Story, Dear Evan Hansen and In the Heights all failed to turn a profit, although the pandemic certainly didn’t help.

dear evan hansen 2

However ‘tricking’ audiences feels somewhat counter-productive. If there’s a genuine belief that people hate musicals then misleading them into buying a ticket surely won’t create positive word of mouth.

What’s more, by hiding the fact that these movies are musicals, studios are also missing out on the audiences that showed up for the likes of La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

By stumping up the cash to make these movies, there’s clearly confidence that musicals can still be hits at the box office, so why act so ashamed of them?

About the author: Rachel Wise

UK based freelancer journalist Rachel contributes regularly to Stageberry with features and interviews from the hottest new shows and stage stars.


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