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Aesthetics

The Beauty of a Classic – Kelly

Why do we repeat things which we have previously done?
We like the feelings which it elicits and we want to relive those feelings.

This almost defies practicality.  Why would we want to reread the same book, watch again the same film, look again at the same piece of art, listen again to the same piece of music, when there is always something more that could be read, watched, seen, or heard?  We could, instead of doing the same thing over again, find something new which may elicit the same, or an even stronger emotion or feeling.  So how do we explain returning to the same thing over and over again?

I read once that there was a man in New York who had seen Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera live on Broadway something like 150 times.  As an extraordinarily musical obsessed child, I thought that was incredible.  I was ridiculously jealous.  To me, there could be nothing better than seeing my favourite musical over and over again endlessly.  But at that point, The Phantom of the Opera was the only musical I knew.  So it had to be my favourite by default.

And then I discovered Hairspray.   And I fell even more in love with that musical, and I wanted to watch it over and over and over again.  And then came Wicked and Chicago and Les Miserables and Next To Normal and Chess and all of the other musicals that fill my iTunes library.  And while I continuously am in search of my next great musical obsession, something about The Phantom of the Opera always draws me back.

Maybe it is because it is a classic, or maybe it is because it was the first Broadway style production I ever saw, or maybe it is simply because my father drilled the music into my head as a child, but there is something I will always hold very dear to me about The Phantom of the Opera.  It is by no means my favourite musical.  I believe far more in descriptive value than normative value, so I can’t objectively say why I appreciate some musicals more than others, but The Phantom of the Opera is not my number one.  However, the feelings and emotions it elicits when I watch or experience it far surpass some of the musicals which I would say that I enjoy more.  And I believe that that has something to do with returning to an old favourite, a classic.

The Phantom of the Opera is one of those timeless pieces of art which have been portrayed across almost every artistic medium.  Beginning as a literary work by Gaston Leroux in France in 1909, the iconic Phantom of the Opera became the Broadway musical we all know today by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Charles Hart in 1986.  From there, it became Broadway’s longest running musical, had various film adaptations, and became an aspect of popular culture that most of our society recognizes.  The opening bars of the title song of the musical (linked below) stand as a representation of all that is Broadway musicals.  That song is one of the most known and loved pieces of Broadway history.

Value, however, is a very hard thing to appraise when it comes to a Broadway musical.  There are so many sides to it, and none are even remotely objective.  To someone like me, quality theatre is basically priceless.  There is nothing more astounding and awe-inspiring than seeing a group of dancers in perfect synchronization while the leading couple serenades one another in a romantic ballad.  For example.  But that is just me.  And that is coming from someone who began crying in the first five minutes of watching the film version of Les Miserables.  I am clearly not objective.

To others, the aspects of theatre which I find incredible are seen as annoying, over the top, and silly.   While I absolutely don’t agree with this, I have to acknowledge that this is a valid belief.  So, to these people, the theatrical work has very little value, and very little feeling is elicited from the experience.

According to Wikipedia, over 130 million people have seen Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera.  Clearly, it does have some value.  I would have to say that musical theatre is appraised far more descriptively than normatively.  There are certain normative aspects which make a work great.  Included in this are performance value, vocal quality, dance quality, and certain musical and technical specifics which I will not even begin to understand.  And those things are all extremely important, but, for the most part, are often constant, or at least comparable, to other musicals in the genre.  The descriptive aspects I think matter more.  How does this experience make you feel?  What emotions or memories or feelings did this experience elicit?  Do you feel as though you want to repeat this experience?

Those questions are what is important, and can only be answered individually.  When I watch The Phantom of the Opera, I see a timeless classic which has survived the centuries.  I see beauty in the music, in the dance, and in the story.  And I am reminded of the feelings I had as a child when I began to discover the beauty of musical theatre.

So, I find great beauty in The Phantom of the Opera, but the value that I associate with that is definitely not comparable to the value that anyone else gives it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej1zMxbhOO0 (Sorry.  I do not know how to embed.)

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