The Success of La La Land: Exactly What This Means for Production

Musicals may be making their comeback

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

by Declan Riley Kunkel, Producer, Designer, and Consultant

Broadway has gone from banished to A-List. Turn on the television and you are bound to find “Broadway-style” musicals. Who would have thought? I’ve known for a while that Broadway can mean big dollars, as have dozens of theater producers. This time around, however, networks—and big-time dollars—seem to be catching on, too.

Let’s do a brief recap: in 2013, NBC kicked off the live musical trend with The Sound of Music Live!, starring Carrie Underwood as Maria. Then came Peter Pan Live! and The Wiz Live!, both on NBC. Soon, Fox got into the act with Grease: Live!, The Passion, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. NBC brought it home in December with Hairspray Live! 

Truth be told, I didn't really think much about these musicals—I watched a few of but generally moved on. However, these productions signal a broad change in the media—and more than just an overwhelming use of exclamation marks. 

I recently watched La La Land at a Texas theater. I was a little embarrassed; I didn't know that the film was a musical at all, or that musicals were the “next big thing” in entertainment. Frankly, I questioned if this type of film would do well, critically or financially. Why is this? Some contend that the American musical is dying, and the unique glimmer of Broadway’s lights seems to be fading away. Within the past few years, we’ve seen dozens of show closings, big time flops, and thousands of underemployed actors and actresses. While there have been more closings than I like to see, it is largely an issue of funding. Investors—and studios—just have not liked to make musicals.

To my surprise, La La Land netted 14 Academy Award Nominations. So, clearly, something is working, and studios are taking notice. We will see more and more of these movie and television musicals. So what does that mean for you?

  1. Respect the sound team. Seriously. Watching Hairspray Live! was, at times, brutal. There were mic dropouts, missed “pick-ups,” and mixing imbalances. In live theater—both on Broadway and on tour—the mixers are the boss. Sometimes sound can play second fiddle set, but in musical theater, this just isn't possible. In order to have the best possible showing, take a hint from Broadway.
  2. Watch the dancing. It is often tricky—especially on live TV—to capture the intricacies of musical choreography. How can we do this? Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. In past shows that I’ve worked on, we’ve integrated the camera crews into the rehearsal room during blocking so that they can plan their own choreography around that of the dancers.
  3. Remember that things go wrong. Even the most hardened theater veterans know that musicals mean that things go wrong. Musicals have so many moving parts—dancing, singing (live!), acting, pyro, sets, automation—it is often surprising that more things don’t go wrong. So if you are producing and directing, expect the best but plan for the worst. 
  4. Patience makes perfect. Musicals are hard for a variety of reasons, and people are often short tempered. Like they say in Annie, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”

About the Writer - Declan Kunkel 

Declan Kunkel is an American Producer, Designer, and Consultant. Having held nearly every title in entertainment, from “box pusher number 2” to producer, and from taking I.A. calls to making bank withdrawals, Mr. Kunkel’s experiences in entertainment have brought productions to millions of people around the world. Through his experiences in production, Mr. Kunkel has had the ability to work with an absolutely incredible group of performers, artists, and industry professionals, and for that, he is incredibly grateful. Follow him on Twitter at @declankunkel for the latest inside scoop, updates, and more!
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