Located on a small expansion shelf about midway between the Third and Fourth Circles, Musical Hell is presided over by Diva, a minor demon charged with passing judgement on the worst musicals ever committed to film. (She still hasn't figured out if this is their punishment or hers.) Take a seat on the bench and have your earplugs ready, because court is now in session.

New videos posted on the first Monday of the month. Other viewpoints, news, and general ramblings posted when they crop up.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On Phantom, Vegas, and the Art of the Guilty Pleasure

So I didn't post much last week because I was off spending the weekend in Las Vegas. I have returned home exhausted, satiated, and poorer, which is how you know you've had a good time in Vegas.

 I love Sin City--an affection instilled in me by my grandfather, who had a deep fondness for Elvis, penny slots, and cheap food--so I don't usually need a specific excuse to visit it, but this time I had one. I wanted to see Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian before it closes in September. Phantom has long been high on my list of favorite musicals, a fact which I used to have a hard time talking about because it's not one of those shows that "serious" music theater fans are supposed to like. Sweeney Todd? Goes without saying. Music Man? Sure, can't go wrong with the classics. But Phantom? I almost dared not bring it up lest the self-appointed guardians of artistic integrity clutched their pearls while shrieking at me, "You admit to enjoying an Andrew Lloyd Webber show?  Blasphemy!"

But I do.  I love it.  I love the whole dark and twisted take on the Beauty and the Beast theme, I love the soaring grandeur of the score, and I love the sumptuous elegance of the costumes.  I am not so blind in my affection as to think it is a show without fault (indeed, I now feel a lot of Phantom's success is due to Hal Prince's skillful direction smoothing over the holes in the libretto and giving the whole thing a proper sense of urgency), but I still get a giddy thrill every time those thundering organ chords start in, and I probably always will.

I suppose in a way that makes Phantom my guilty pleasure, although truth be told I've long ceased to feel guilty about it.  My real guilty pleasure, the one I'm almost ashamed to admit even in the not-all-that-private confines of the Internet, is Jekyll and Hyde, a show I retain a sneaking fondness for in spite of all the bombastic power ballads and cheesy lyrics it throws at me.  Come on, how can you not like a show where the climax features the lead actor singing a duet with himself?  (Unless the lead actor is David Hasselhoff.  Then all bets are off.)

Guilty pleasures are good things.  Like chocolate, they're the little indulgences we allow ourselves to bring variety and sweet delight to our diet, giving us a little bit of shameless forbidden joy before we return to "healthier" fare.  I also think they're a good exercise in humility, and an inoculation against the "more-artsier-than-thou" hauteur that too often befalls musical lovers.  Sure you can name the original cast of Company off the top of your head and wax eloquent about the score of The Light in the Piazza, but how snooty can you be when you know, deep in your heart, that you've also seen Cats twenty-four times?

I think that's why I like Las Vegas so much: it is, above all, a city devoted to guilty pleasures.  Want to blow fifty bucks at the craps table?  Drink margaritas from a glass taller than a toddler?  Enjoy a rich, expensive meal created by a guy with his own Food Network program?  Vegas has got you covered.  And of course, this carries over into entertainment.  From big crowd-pleasing musicals to circus and magic acts, from ventriloquists to showgirls wearing little more than elaborate confections made of rhinestones and ostrich feathers, the Strip is populated by the sorts of shows that the arbiters of good taste would rather we turned up our noses at.  Vegas assures its visitors that "what happens here, stays here," a phrase that ostensibly promises an experience in no-consequences hedonism--but really, they're reassuring you that nobody back home need know you saw Donny and Marie at the Flamingo Hilton.

So go ahead.  Cuddle up with your Carrie bootleg, or put in that ticket order for The Addams Family tour.  It's okay.  I promise I won't tell anyone.

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