This free exhibition is a musical theatre lovers delight.
Every time I pay a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum I always love paying a visit to its special Theatre and Performance section as they have plenty of incredible objects and insights into the world of theatre and beyond. My only issue with it previously was that it didn’t seem to flow properly- which seems to have been rectified in this intimate but enjoyable exhibition that explores the background of musicals, the influence they have on highlighting things about society and the joy that they bring to so many.
Featuring a wide variety of original cast recordings, costumes and other important aspects of musical theatre, Re: Imagining Musicals is a well thought out display that whisks the visitor into a world of dazzling spectacle and is a particular joy for those who love this special brand of theatre. However, it also reveals just how the genre has evolved over the years and even how revivals of musicals have allowed audiences to see the story anew from a fresh perspective. For example, the section on The Wizard of Oz highlights not only the classic MGM film, but how it then evolved to shows such as Wicked and The Wiz, or how musicals about Henry VIII seemed to flop until the arrival of Six.
Each section is suitably detailed as it examines the wide range of influences that musicals have taken their cue from -including Shakespeare all the way through to the Vietnam war, capturing their importance of telling stories that will always have a powerful impact on audiences. However, it does feel as though the exhibition is a little bit constrained in places given the expansive nature of the subject and it would be lovely for the Victoria and Albert Museum to put on a bigger exhibition in one of their larger spaces to really cover even more ground.
But it has all been displayed with such a show business flair that it is hard not to be swept away by it all – in particular there are some genuinely lovely costumes that have been selected for display. Julie Andrews costume as Eliza Doolittle at the Embassy ball for example was a real treat to see or a costume from the finale of A Chorus Line adding a bit of dazzle, while the exhibition equally reflects on more contemporary musicals by featuring Satine’s bejewelled costume from Moulin Rouge and Catherine of Aragon’s outfit from Six the musical, shows the way in which this exhibition has managed to blend the past and present of musicals beautifully.
Another little bit of joy to be found within this exhibition, while a lot of focus is on the musicals that have put on in the West End, there are references dotted throughout to regional theatre as well – in particular through a lovely film at the end of the display capturing the wide breadth of musicals that have toured the UK and original regional productions. The whole thing flows wonderfully well, leading visitors into the rest of the Theatre and Performance section that continues the journey and takes people from the stage to behind the stage. It is a much better layout for the section as a whole than previously.
Overall, this exhibition is a true celebration and leaves the visitor wanting more and on a bigger scale – but for now this will more than satisfy musical theatre fans.
By Emma Clarendon
Re: Imagining Musicals is on display until the 27th November 2023.