Historical Musicals!

Hallo, leute! So, I’ve been kind of busy working with my WIP in preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo which starts up at the beginning of April! If y’all are writers too, you should 100% look into it (it’s 100% free!). An online writer’s retreat? Yes, please! Anyways, I’ve been working on cover design for Stolen Score and such which has been kinda tough because I didn’t actually take the pictures myself this time and so I’ve had to search for pictures that are in the free, public domain. But I finally found those pictures and put together a pretty decent looking cover, I think! (Stay tuned until the end of the post to see it!)

But what’s this post really about? Well, I figured that I’d dedicate this post to one of my favorite genres of musicals: the historical musical. Yep! I love history and I love musicals! And thus, the historical musical is one of my favorite things in the world! No surprise there, I guess! But I thought that I’d talk about a few of my favorites and also talk about elements of historical musicals that I think are absolutely phenomenal! Los geht’s? Ja!

So, first, let’s talk about my favorites in the genre:

· ELISABETH is a musical that tells the story of die Kaisarin von Österreich (the Empress of Austria), Elisabeth (1837 – 1898). The story’s told from the POV of Luigi Lucheni, the anarchist who killed the empress and features death himself (der Tod) as a character. The line “Alle tanzten mit dem tod doch niemand wie Elisabeth” (“Everyone has danced with death but no one like Elisabeth”) practically sums up the whole musical. ELISABETH is easily my favorite musical for being a historical musical. It’s a musical that really plays with the emotions and shows a deeper level to life (and death).

Annemieke Van Dam as Sisi in ELISABETH

· LES MISÉRABLES is really a story about humanity. That’s the only way to really sum up LES MIZ. While the first half of LES MISÉRABLES deals little to do with actual historical fact, it’s very true to what was going on in France in the 1800’s, post-revolution. But then, when the rebellion comes around, we’re dealing with the June Rebellion of 1832 (June 5 – 6 of 1832). And while I’d say that the fact that LES MIZ is a historical musical is a pretty minute detail, it’s still one of the aspects of it that makes me love it so much. As mentioned before, I love history. So… yeah!

The Barricade

· MARIE ANTOINETTE is the story of well… Marie Antoinette, the much maligned French queen. Except it’s not just the story of Marie. It’s also the story of Margrid, a poor woman who lives a parallel (yet opposite) life to Marie. This use of the two very, very different women to tell the story of the French revolution was just… amazing. While Margrid rises, Marie falls. Marie once was the one causing much of the embitterment in Margrid’s life, but Margrid leads Marie to her death.

Curtain Call of MARIE ANTOINETTE

· SCHIKANEDER is a relatively new musical that I’ve fallen utterly in love with. It tells the story of Emanuel Schikaneder, a friend of Mozart’s and a composer / actor / singer. But it doesn’t just tell the story of Emanuel Schikaneder, but also of his wife, Eleanore. And a lot of it deals with the ups and downs in their relationship. The musical is overall pretty lighthearted, but it’s not without its heartbreak (Toby Joch, the understudy Johann Friedel calls this part “the LES MIZ of SCHIKANEDER”). I’ve fallen head-over-heels for this musical in the short time it’s been a part of my life!

Mark Seibert as Emanuel Schikaneder and the Ensemble of SCHIKANEDER

I could go on and on about my favorite historical musicals—there are so many! But I think I’ll cut it off here because I think that it’s a pretty good handful! So, let’s go on to what I think makes a good historical musical, shall we?

1. Uniqueness is super duper important when it comes to historical musicals. No one wants to see a history book being performed onstage, so you’ve got to find something to help you stand out! With ELISABETH, that unique element is the fact that death is a character. That’s pretty unique if you ask me! With LES MISÉRABLES, I think that the unique aspect is how many sides of the story it shows. For MARIE ANTOINETTE, that whole parallel lives thing is pretty drop-dead unique (no pun intended). Then, with SCHIKANEDER, I think that the romantic comedy spin is pretty unique!

2. Great characters are absolutely essential. One thing that I’ve noticed with people who dislike history is that they feel like historical figures are so out of reach and seem almost otherworldly. While I feel like it’s very much the opposite (maybe that’s why I love history so much!), I think that making characters come alive for the audience to connect to and fall in love with is absolutely essential. With ELISABETH, Sisi is a pretty memorable, easy-to-connect to, relatable character. In LES MIZ, there are so many characters to just fall in love with. In Marie Antoinette, the characters and their struggles really come alive! And in SCHIKANEDER, you laugh and cry with those characters.

3. Great music is well… important to any musical, really! But with historical musicals, this can also be the win-or-lose mark. With historical musicals, there’s this weird middle ground. Do you go with music from that era? Or do you go with a mix? And while there’s really no correct answer in general to this question, there is an indefinitely correct and incorrect answer for each individual musical. With ELISABETH, the mix was the perfect answer. Mixing the classical with the more dark, somewhat metallic tunes, you get this perfect mood for ELISABETH. With LES MISÉRABLES, going with pretty traditional music was just right! MARIE ANTOINETTE did a bit of a mix as well (but kept things more on the classical side) and I think that was pretty fitting! SCHIKANEDER’s hardcore classical. Y’know, in the style of Mozart? And that’s absolutely essential.

4. Tear-jerker scenes are almost a guarantee with historical musicals. History is far from perfect—things go wrong all of the time. And a lot of the time, those sad, heartbreaking moments are perfect in historical musicals. And well, getting that added reaction from the audience is always amazing. I will say this: I cry the most during historical musicals than any other type of musical. And I cry a lot. But also, tearjerker moments are also moments that get people crying because they can relate. Or they can feel. You’ve got to make the musical and the characters feel accessible to the audience. Like they’re somehow like them in some way. With ELISABETH, there’s plenty of tearjerkers, but the loss of a family member is probably one of the strongest there. With LES MIZ, there’s so many tearjerking moments. Maybe you’ve suffered from unrequited love. Maybe you’ve lost friends and family members to war and riots. The possibilities are endless. With MARIE ANTOINETTE, the struggles of both the women and the feeling of being out-of-place and being misunderstood are prominent. Finally, in SCHIKANEDER, the ups and downs of love are laid out bright as day and there for everyone to see.

5. Beautiful costumes is pretty key. And well… unless it’s part of making the musical unique, striving for historical accuracy is a plus! In ELISABETH, we get some stunning, stunning costumes—some of which were taken from real life (recreated of course!)! With LES MIZ, while not all costumes are exactly historically accurate, many are and they’re all beautiful, memorable costumes! In MARIE ANTOINETTE, you get the full French revolution get-up going on and that’s pretty fun and memorable! Then, we’ve also got SCHIKANEDER with those stunning, stunning costumes that I can never get out of my mind and that just really bring the story to life!

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So, that’s it for me! Just some of my favorites and 5 of the key things in the making of a historical musical! Of course, there’s way more to it than that, but those are the five really important things, I think! What do you think? Oh, and as promised, here’s the cover for Stolen Score! Feel free to tell me what you think of it! Tschüss!


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12 thoughts on “Historical Musicals!

  1. I honestly am not a big fan of history. But in the case of Les Mis, it is fascinating. By understanding the history side of Les Mis, I ended up falling in love with the plot even more. Les Mis opened me up to learning about the early 1800s and I am always correcting people when they say that the musical takes place during the French Revolution. The Rebellion is one of the best parts about Les Mis despite how many people died at the barricades, but the barricade in my opinion is the best set piece. I love the passion that the students have for the Rebellion especially Enjolras and love how they take in Gavroche and they are basically the only family he has

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    1. I think that the rebellion aspect of the musical was what really got me interested in seeing Les Miz a second time. I’m kinda a fanatic when it comes to the 1800’s and history in general so it really hooked and drew me in! I also love the students and their interactions with one another as well as, as you mentioned, them taking in Gavroche!

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      1. I don’t know what made me interested in seeing the movie a second time even though right after the first time, I automatically started researching the musical and requested the songs on Pandora. But I still did not know if I liked the movie or not

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      2. That’s highly plausible–I think that it was much the same way with me that first time around. I went in with an expectation of it being quite a bit different than it ended up being and maybe that threw me off as well

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  2. Great post! I have yet to watch Marie Antoinette but since Sabrina Weckerlin and Roberta Valentini are both in it I think I really should get around to it 😛

    I don’t mind history, but I’m not one to do extensive research on it, but after watching Elisabeth I actually went to read articles and such on her life. It’s kinda cool how much you can learn from just a musical.

    There aren’t a whole lot of historical musicals, but I guess there are a couple more like Bonnie & Clyde, Sound of Music, Mozart, Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Hamilton? Also, would you count Newsies as one? Like it didn’t really happen but it was based off actual events 🙂

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    1. Thanks! I’m sure that you’ll love Marie Antoinette when you get to it! 😀
      There is definitely so much that one can learn from musicals! It’s pretty amazing!
      I think that I’d probably count Newsies! Newsies, I think, is kinda like Les Miz in a sense of being a historical musical, I think

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