Ever since the birth of theatre, along with that of cinema, musical productions have been a staple part of cultural entertainment.
The right songs, performed in the right manner by the right people as part of the right show, can elicit a vast array of feelings from the audience. Tears of sorrow, laughs of joy and other intense emotional experiences can result from the music we see performed on the stages and screens around the world.
It takes a person of immense talent to write the kind of lyrics that provoke this sort of reaction. To appeal to the human spirit on so many levels requires skill and understanding, as well as musical prowess.
One person who displays these skills is Stephen Schwartz, who has written prolifically as a lyricist both for the theatre and for musical films. His theatrical projects include Godspell (1971), an upbeat re-telling of Matthew’s Gospel; Pippin (1972), a circus-style tale about a king’s troubled relationship with his princely son; and Wicked (2003), a prequel to the original story of The Wizard of Oz (1900) by L Frank Baum, a story which has itself been retold in many forms.
There is something genuinely uplifting about the words that Schwartz writes in his music, interspersed with the occasional tragic notes. One need only listen to the songs he has penned to feel inspired. To see those songs performed onstage takes the inspiration higher and further.
Schwartz’s film work includes Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Enchanted (2003). The first three films in particular focus on characters struggle to find their place in the world around them, with the songs written by Schwartz picking up on this theme. This feeling of not belonging is one which many people can relate to, adding an identifiable element to Schwartz’s words.
Another lyricist whose work can be witnessed extensively on stage and screen is Sir Tim Rice. With plenty of honours and a great deal of acclaim to his name, Rice has earned his place as one of the great musical writers.
His theatre work includes Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat (1970), Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) and Evita (1978). Among his many film credits can be found Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994).
Similar to the style of Schwartz, much of Rice’s work is mainly uplifting, with moments of poignancy mixed in to keep audiences on their toes. There is something very true to life about this emotional quality to the music written by Rice and Schwartz: nobody ever knows where the next tear, or the next laugh, is coming from.
There are a number of comedians who have tackled the world of lyricism. One such comedian is Ben Elton, the stand-up comic and writer best known for his political rants.
Elton’s efforts at writing lyrics have been concentrated on theatre, with two prominent examples including We Will Rock You (2002), based on the music by the legendary band Queen, and Love Never Dies (2010), a sequel to the original story of The Phantom of the Opera (1986). While neither work set the world on fire in their early stages, both have earned substantial praise as well. When music is powerful enough and strong enough, it is bound to resonate with somebody.
Another comedian who has written lyrics for the stage is the Monty Python veteran, Eric Idle. Along with his work in many films and television series, Idle has been known as a proficient musician, with most of Python’s musical successes emanating from him.
This musical success found its peak with Idle’s stage show, Spamalot (2004). It is a surreal and deliriously silly tale, with the highlight for many people coming in the form of the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (originally released as part of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979). For many Monty Python fans, this is one of Idle’s biggest and most recognisable successes.
Music has great power over people, exerting influence over its many fans. The stage and screen are merely two ways of channelling that power. The people from whom that music originates are usually people who appreciate how special music is.
The world’s appreciation for theatrical and cinematic lyrics is truly special indeed.
–Luke Mayo, Editor (Art)