The resurgence of the musical as a creative form is no mere coincidence. Seeing several hits in close succession suggests a chain reaction, a common attitude. The Producers introduced a genre of self-mockery in which the action halts momentarily to reflect sourly upon itself. This hiatus device appeared at the NT as the so-called Jerry Springer Moment, and now, in Billy Elliot, the episodes at the start of each act when the audience is exposed to the legend of coalmining without the requirement of empathy that came with Daldry’s film.
The music in each of these shows amplifies this element of separation, licensing us to stand apart from what we are seeing and enter a third dimension where each of us can individually decide whether to take the plot literally or sardonically, whether to take offence or giggle. This degree of Ironic Detachment is the making of the post-modern hit musical.
It's a matter of debate as to whether embracing a tone of ironic detachment is enough to ensure new life to the musical as a form. But Lebrecht doesn't stop there. He goes on to argue that the seeds of this happy development can be found, in its earliest form, in Guys and Dolls, which opened in 1950.
Now, I love Guys and Dolls as much as Lebrecht, but when he writes that "Runyon sanitised and humanised his petty hoods, Loesser disinvested them of character, building his musical around situation alone," I have to wonder what productions he's been seeing. While I've never read the Damon Runyon stories on which the show is based, I would say that it was Loesser, not Runyon, who "sanitised and humanised" the characters, and that this was something the musical as a form was notorious for doing. I have no problem with it, since it helped produce glorious shows, but for Lebrecht to rewrite history to support his thesis is going a bit far.
Anyone want to comment on this?