I hear people all the time criticizing musicals by saying “why can’t they just say what they mean instead of singing and dancing about it?” and for years the only answer I’ve had was a smile and a shrug, but I finally just figured it out.
It’s because the words by themselves aren’t enough.
Outside the song, there would be almost no moving passion in Javert’s words “This I swear by the stars.” How would He Had It Comin’ be anywhere near as dangerous and vengeful without the lighting and the dance routine? The reprise of Wouldn’t It Be Luvverly is essential to underlining just how much Henry Higgins has changed and damaged Eliza Doolittle. The Mary Poppins chimney sweeps would just be weird guys off the roof if they didn’t have their whole zany song and choreography to make them a funny and interesting group. And there aren’t any words in any language to describe the complete change in Leslie Odom Jr.’s voice as the music cuts off and he solos “I…wanna be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens.”
The reason we have musicals–and the reason we have music in general–is because words aren’t enough.
“Whoa, I never meant to brag But I got him where I want him now Whoa, it was never my intention to brag To steal it all away from you now But God, does it feel so good Cause I got him where I want him now And if you could, then you know you would Cause God, it just feels so It just feels so good”
“Now the, the qualifications… item one: a cheery disposition. I am never cross. Item two: rosy cheeks… obviously. Item three: play games, all sorts. Well, I’m sure the children will find my games extremely diverting.”