The Differences Between 21st Century Hollywood Musicals And Classical Hollywood Musicals

Table of Contents


This is an introduction to the topic. It provides an overview of what will be discussed.

Plot elements and narrative elements

Contextual Factors


Form and setting

In conclusion,


This is an introduction to a new concept or idea. It is meant to provide an overview of what is to come and to give an indication of the potential that lies ahead.

Hollywood musicals, such as Moulin Rogue!, Chicago Mamma Mia or Les Miserables, have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Comparing the current musicals to those produced during the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood musicals between 1930-1960, there are a few differences that have prompted experts to look at how the genre has changed and adapted to today’s society. Langford noted the uniqueness of this genre. It is different from other types films in that it does not need to be realistic, and is therefore free of historical authenticity or expressive naturalism. Other genres have their themes and subjects implied by the definitions of those genres. Musical films have a singular, distinct feature: music. Music can either be used to enhance a story or be the primary element in a film.

The analysis of contemporary and classical musicals shows that music is used to support and explain the plot. This helps the audience gain a deeper understanding. Singin’ in the Rain from 1952 opens with an unrelated musical number that is meant to entertain the viewers before they are introduced to the plot. It is more accurate to say that there is a distinct break between the initial scene of Gene Kelly with Debbie Reynolds dancing and singing in the blue rain on an artificial backdrop and the next scene of actors being interviewed about the premier of a new movie, but in a very realistic setting. Chicago (2002) starts with “All That Jazz”, an opening song with a darker connotation, cynical sensibility, in line with its story. It also features dark themes, including cynicism. violence, crime, and corruption. Unlike the musical number in Singin’ in the Rain’s opening, “All That Jazz,” is integrated seamlessly into the film. It is also connected to the scenes that follow in a more seamless manner.

Cohan’s observation is that the Hollywood musical genre was created in a socio-cultural, historical context. Viewers were accustomed to plots and impossible numbers with spatial, temporal and logical contradictions. To understand the newfound success of Hollywood musicals, it is necessary to analyze how modern musicals differ in their style, message, and socio-cultural significance from their classical counterparts.

The essay examines the relationship between two highly acclaimed yet very different movies: Singin’ in the Rain, and Chicago. These productions can be compared to reveal the changes in the musical genre from the 1930s. They will also give an insight into why the genre is reviving after many years.

To understand the evolution of the musical genre from a narrative or structural perspective, it is necessary to first examine the plots and features of the films.

Singin’ in the Rain, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and starring Lina Lamont, is a light-hearted story that depicts the struggles Hollywood actors faced in the 1920s when silent films were replaced by the “talkies” or sound films. Singin’ in the rain presents a lighthearted story centered on Don Lockwood (a silent film celebrity) and Lina Lemont (a talking film actress). They must produce their first sound movie to stay up to date with other studios that are also switching to talking movies. Don and Lina may not be romantically involved but they use their relationship to promote themselves. Don hides his humble background in flashbacks. As a result, he prefers to give a glamorous, slicker version of it. Don’s satirical flashbacks highlight his lies, and his embarrassment. Although the film has many artificial elements it is based off a significant event in the history of filmmaking, which was the introduction to sound-synchronising. It was possible to integrate a large number of complex elements into a film with a straightforward and simple story, such as flashbacks. The parodic treatment of Lina’s recording difficulties makes the film a fun and lively story.

Chicago is part of an era in musicals that began at the dawn of the 21st Century with the release and success of films like Moulin Rouge, which was dark, powerful, and award-winning. Sweeney Todd (2001), Les Miserables (2012), and Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Chicago, a 2002 release, is set in the prohibition era. Velma, a woman who had an affair with her husband, was arrested and charged with murdering him, as well as her sister. Roxie Hart, who had been having an affair with Fred to gain fame, is arrested not long after Velma. The themes of corruption, cynicism and vanity are explored through musical numbers and dances at the Cook County Jail. Billy Flynn’s character embodies these flaws or qualities as he instructs the clients so they can deceive a jury and escape prison, even though they are guilty. Chicago, unlike Singin’ in the Rain focuses on satire in order to critique the U.S. legal and mass media system’s ability in shaping and manipulating public opinion.

Chicago’s narrative is definitely more complex than that of Singin’ in the Rain. While Roxie, the main protagonist, is the star, she’s surrounded by powerful characters whose goals and stories are interwoven with Roxie’s. Velma is willing to go to any lengths to make Roxie look bad, even if it means she has to testify against her. Billy is portrayed as a skilled lawyer who can manipulate the legal system and media by staging fake reconciliations and manipulating facts and evidence. The musical’s structure encourages the audience to view Roxie as an inspirational heroine. However, Roxie’s journey to freedom has many obstacles and dangers, which aren’t minimized by the happy musical numbers. Chicago, however, has a subtle tendancy to magnify and highlight the characters’ fears, concerns, conflicts, or crimes. Cell Block Tango tells the stories of a number of murderesses so that they can justify murder and revenge under certain circumstances. Mitchell points to Chicago as a play that aims at surprising and destabilising the audience. Chicago turns Roxie, a victim of a crime, into an arrogant, cynical, and fame-hungry criminal. Chicago’s narrative structure and content can cause conflict and anxiety.

From a structure perspective, Singin’ In the Rain has 13 musicals, the majority of which aren’t perfectly integrated into plot. Chicago presents 16 musicals that are integrated well into the story, and they provide useful information on each character, their background and personality.

Contextual FactorsAs Cohan, Kuhn, and others have noted, satires and simple plots with happy endings are indicative of the utopian, escapist, and utopian nature most classical Hollywood Musicals. Kenrick claims that it was the escapist approach of classic Hollywood musicals which allowed them to flourish in the Great Depression. At the time, people wanted to escape the everyday stresses of life by watching lighthearted films. The studios released over 100 musicals in the year 1930, which caused the public to become tired of unrealistic and escapist films. The Depression was over and peoples’ wants and needs began to evolve, so only 14 musicals could be produced in the year 1931. Woll claims that it’s wrong to dismiss the importance of classical musicals as mere escapists. For example, productions like For Me and My Gal from 1942 served to raise awareness about war-related issues during World War II.

Feuer points out that, since the advent of sound, musicals have been forced to adapt to new industrial patterns and changing viewer needs. Environmental factors are therefore important to consider when analysing a musical film. Feuer’s evolving theory is supported because while between 1930’s-1960’s musicals aimed to appeal to families, Hollywood began producing teen musicals during the 1980’s as a way to reach an even younger audience. This led to a musical shift towards films with lots of rock music. However, in terms of narrative, plots continued to revolve around Altman’s three main themes: folk, show, and fairytale. Cohan asserts that despite the fact that artificial and unrealistic representations do not fit with the need of contemporary audiences for realistic narratives, musicals remain popular because they have artistic and spectacular qualities.

EndingsSuch narrative differences and teleological differences are reflected in the films’ conclusions. While Singin’ in the Rain offers a closed happy ending in which Kathy is revealed to be the real star of The Dancing Cavalier while Lina is publicly humiliated in Chicago, Roxie, a woman found innocent, rejects Amos her faithful husband who stood next her in the courtroom despite Roxie’s unfaithfulness.

The audience is left wondering about Roxie’s future, even though her story appears to be happy. When comparing classic musicals like Shall We Dance (1937), An American in Paris (1951) and their modern counterparts it becomes clear that the former are more likely to have happy endings that honor justice, romance and other positive qualities, while the latter surprise audiences with unfair endings in which love and justice do not always triumph. Sweeney Todd’s macabre end, where the character murders his wife.

As Sikov points to, the “mise-en scene” is one of the key factors to analyse in order to evaluate films in a critical manner. The term mise en scene is a very broad one and can include a number of different elements. These may include lighting, props or costumes for actors, makeup on performers, etc.

Smith reported that the idea behind Singin’ in the Rain is to use the movie as a showcase for a selection of songs composed between 1929 and 1938 by MGM’s Arthur Freed. Singin’ in the Rain’s form and structure is revealed by this seemingly unrelated fact. It is true that the film’s structure and direction were designed to focus more on the musical number than the plot. That would explain the appearance of the story being adapted for or written around musical numbers. The fragmentation and discontinuity of the scenes give this impression. Viewers are exposed to many different styles, colours, costumes, accessories, props and settings. The scenes of Don and Lina in “The Dancing Cavalier”, where they perform, change from modern clothing, settings and wigs to seventeenth century costumes and sceneries. The scene in which “Beautiful Girl”, a musical number, is performed and the characters observe the making of another sound film adds to this feeling of discontinuity. The audience is given a new perspective by this scene as well as the scenes that show Don and Lina playing in The Dueling Cavalier. After Don transforms The Dueling Cavalier to a sound movie, a new scene begins where Don sings the song “Gotta Dance”, but in an entirely different, artificial setting. Here, Gene Kelly sings in front of crowds and dances with Cyd Charisse. These scenes are not directly related to the story and have a remarkable artistic value. It is clear that they were added to highlight Gene Kelly’s dancing and singing skills to entertain the audience.

Singin’ in the Rain’s performance is characterized by a series of extreme poses, exaggerated emotion (especially laughter and rage) and satirical pauses. All of these are designed to emphasise the comic side in certain scenes, as well as help the characters poke fun at one another when they’re being too serious. Don’s first meeting with Kathy is a great example. He tries to make fun of Kathy’s acting career, but his jacket gets caught in the car’s door and causes Kathy to laugh. This film’s bright, colourful and joyful style is reflected by its settings.

Chicago is known for its darker colors such as black, grey, and red. Vaz da Silva notes that humans easily associate colours like black and red with concepts and qualities. For example, the colour red can be associated with blood while black is associated with sexual desire, regeneration, death and other concepts. In order for the audience to understand better the scenes that follow, some scenes are rehearsed in actual theatres. This is done to highlight the connection between corruption, popularity and manipulation. Chicago’s scenes have a dark tone and use colourful lighting mainly for musical numbers. The actors also interact directly with camera during these moments, as though they were performing in front of a live audience. The red and white light is used to distinguish between the real and imaginary worlds.

Singin’ in the Rain is a movie where the actors dance and sing with normal objects (e.g. Chicago has umbrellas and hats . They complement their musical numbers with chairs, pianos and extravagant show costumes decorated in feathers. Chicago’s dancing is also marked by postmodern elements. These include references to Marylyn Monroe and fake movements, which are meant to remind audiences that nothing in the show is natural. Singin’ in the Rain’s dancing numbers, on the other hand, are designed to appear spontaneous and let characters express their emotions. This is especially true during romantic and happy moments.

ConclusionThis essay has shown that the contemporary musicals have many differences from their classical counterparts. The context of the Golden Age of Musical Films revealed, for example that Hollywood’s target audiences were families searching for entertainment. Things changed, however, in 1970, when Hollywood was forced to adapt its films to the expectations of rock-loving teenagers. Musicals are still popular today, but not solely because they’re escapist. Despite the fact that today’s public is against artificiality, musicals are still appreciated for their artistic and nostalgic significance. Chicago is a film with darker themes, such as crime, corruption, violence and crime. From a narrative perspective, Chicago has many thematic differences. Singin’ in the Rain uses a flexible narrative to highlight the musical talent of the characters, while Chicago is more tightly integrated with the plot.


  • treyknox

    I am Trey Knox, 26 years old, and I'm a education blogger and teacher. I blog about various subjects in education, and I also teach high school English and writing.