Many musicals have played pivotal roles in highlighting social injustices. However, theatre comes at a premium. Cheap tickets can compromise views or comfortable seating. Less expensive options like weekday matinees are largely inaccessible to working people. These shows’ messages of hope should be universal, yet theatre marginalises those whom its stories seek to represent. Film offers a more accessible medium; even if you cannot go to the cinema, you can probably watch the film online more cheaply and at your leisure (essential to the pandemic era). Musical films are a gateway for cinephiles to enter the musical theatre world, offering the familiarity to encourage a first-time theatre experience.
Some musical aspects are better suited to film. Dream sequences are a common feature, but staging limitations can make these confusing at the theatre. In contrast, films have editing and special effects that enhance this aspect. Moreover, filming on location can provide clarity about settings and plot, reducing suspension of disbelief and placing greater focus on story improvements. Modern filmmakers also pay homage to classic musicals through their cinematography, colour palette, and other Easter eggs. The highlight of rewatching these films is unearthing these small details and discovering obscure musical gems.
There is, however, a compromise in this debate. Pro-shots, like Hamilton on Disney+, have brought a curated theatre experience to the mainstream, and one-off TV events, like Grease! Live, have let us enjoy live performances from our sofas. The success of these formats has made it increasingly clear that the strengths of musical film and musical theatre should be used to enrich one another.
One thing that always impresses me is the fact that it is all performed live. Every performer on that stage has run through thousands of rehearsals to deliver that magical belt, each clean dance routine, and the acting needed to pull the entire show together. When you are sat in the audience, you are surrounded by the sound and atmosphere of a full production, and though the silver screen has its own charm, it just isn't the same. There's something truly special about witnessing these actors do what they do best under the bright lights and applause. As Aaron Burr from Hamilton says, "I want to be in the room where it happens."
And if all of the above was not enough to convince you, I leave you with one last word: Cats.