Book review: Breaking Into Song by Adam Lenson

Adam Lenson has something to say about musicals. After a year in which he took his popular showcase for new British composers, SIGNAL, online, and, eventually, brought a full musical into the West End, he’s challenging your perceptions of what a musical can, is, and might be.

Breaking Into Song has the subtitle “why you shouldn’t hate musicals”, and seems particularly relevant as a number of pro-shot shows and filmed adaptations have recently made their way to cinema and pay TV: Come From Away, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, Dear Evan Hansen, and, er, Diana the Musical.

While live theatre was put on pause, there was a great spurt of creativity which included many new musicals making it to the internet in either audio or video format. Just as the definition of what a musical film can be is constantly challenged, so too should be what one considers to be a musical on the stage. In fact, Lenson posits that pigeonholing musicals as a genre is a misnomer.

In a series of essays, Lenson looks at musicals large and small, traditional (whatever that means) and original. He considers the longevity of big budget musicals on the West End and Broadway stages, and whether having immediate access to the same productions worldwide is a good thing. Is creativity stifled for commercialism?

Breaking Into Song is a book which is filled with love for the stage musical. If you like them, you might find your perceptions challenged. If you don’t like them, you might be persuaded to give them a chance. After all, if you find one film lacking, you don’t stop watching all of them.

Each essay is both deeply personal and yet strongly objective. Lenson’s views on the creation of the musical, on composers and writers, and on whether a musical should be planned with its future in mind, are both interesting and provocative.

This is an essential text for theatre and musical lovers, and for those with any interest in the the genre. Buy it for yourself or for that person in your life who has a blind spot about the mix of stage and song.

Breaking Into Song is now available at retailers or from the publisher direct at (RRP £12.99).