A recent family tragedy brought me on a trip to Greece which enabled me to see the musical biopic MIKIS THEODORAKIS about the life, times and music of the much vaunted Greek composer who is well reknowned for the theme song to Zorba, the Greek. A melody which has become Greece’s calling card worldwide. The show took place in the newly converted Badminton Theatre in Athens, a building that was built during the 2004 Olympics to house the badminton competition. It has been successfully converted into a functional 3000 seater theatre in the heart of Athens.
The show itself was enjoyable, albeit very long (over 3hrs 30 mins). The music, the singing, the orchestra were superb. The drama iteself suffered as a piece of musical theatre mainly because it unfolded largely in the third person as a kind of docu-drama. The standard of the performances were very good, particularly amongst the lead characters and soloists but even this kind of quality could not salvage the drama which in many instances unfolded as tableaux underscored by a back-up singer who sang the actual songs. Personally I would have preferred that the writers and directors find a way to use the music and songs of Theodorakis to be sung by the actual characters in a sung dialogue or monologue style. When they did manage this it worked well. More often than not however we listened to the songs in an almost concert style so the musical unfolded more like a grandiose musical revue rather than an actual musical. What really struck me the most was the way the Greek audience sang along with every song. Living proof that Theodorakis was an artist of the people whose work penetrated deep into the modern Greek psyche.
This led me to think more and more about what it is that makes a ‘great’ musical? I don’t have easy answers but I have always felt that the great musicals of the world canon have great scripts, good properly conceived characters, songs and music that advance the plot, choreography that is cleverly integrated into the action of the show, and loads of entertainment value and dramatic pace. I find myself thinking of my great ancestor Aristotle, who in his treatise The Poetics, spoke of the balance between entertainment and efficacy. I cant remember if he referred to actual fractions like Euclid and his ‘Golden Mean’ but somehow the idea of 51% entertainment and 49% efficacy remains in my mind. If purely entertainment, it ‘vulgarises’ itself over time as it needs to become more and more entertaining every time. If possessing too much efficacy, it comes across as a lecture! The ‘balance’ he said was very delicate and of utmost importance to attain the accolade of being a ‘great’ work. So when one analyses the modern ‘great’ works using this standard they all rise to it. My favourites always do!