Musicals, Then And Now

Denby turns up his nose at the new Les Misérables:

The music is juvenile stuff—tonic-dominant, without harmonic richness or surprise. Listen to any score by Richard Rodgers or Leonard Bernstein or Fritz Loewe if you want to hear genuine melodic invention. I was so upset by the banality of the music that I felt like hiring a hall and staging a nationalist rally. "My fellow-countrymen, we are the people of Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin! Cole Porter and George Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Burton Lane! We taught the world what popular melody was! What rhythmic inventiveness was! Let us unite to overthrow the banality of these French hacks!" (And the British hacks, too, for that matter.) Alas, the hall is filled with people weeping over "Les Mis."

McArdle pushes back:

The reaction of Denby et al seems perilously close to dismissing the movie precisely because it’s the sort of thing that really resonates with ordinary people—those sentimental fools. I find it interesting that in his piece, Denby speaks admiringly of the musical comedies of yesteryear—he endorses the music as more innovative, and its pleasurable escapism as somehow more authentic. Did Denby’s historical counterparts praise all that musical innovation and pure escapism when it was new? Or does middlebrow entertainment become appealing only when it has aged into a minority taste?