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The Woman in White...??? 
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Post THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
Jaded Mandarin wrote:
Some of the other terrible lyricists Lloyd Webber has worked with, such as Ben Elton... (display) awful wordsmanship (that) becomes etched in one's memory for all time. Just mentioning his name makes me think of Elton's awful lyrics for The Beautiful Game:

"Oh, I do hope there's plenty of lead in my pencil when I pop her cherry, cause I don't half fancy her."

jackrussell wrote:
Ben Elton actually did a much better job on the lyrics for The Beautiful Game than he's given credit for, especially as he had no background in writing lyrics. Even the bit (mis)quoted above is far more believable than "I believe my heart, it believes in you, it's telling me that all I see is completely true" which is little more than meaningless nonsense.

Hans wrote:
I think he did a much worse job on the TBG lyrics than he's given credits for. Those are easily the worst lyrics in musical theatre. You don't need a background in lyrics to know what words rhyme and not. You just have to be sane.

I agree with jackrussell's point that he did a better job on the lyrics for The Beautiful Game that most people believe. There is more to a lyric than perfect rhyme; indeed, I am certain there are songs in musical theatre that rhyme perfectly but which have such poorly conceived content that no amount of perfect rhyming could save them. Besides, if one goes through all of the lyrics in the show, Elton does some good work in places and I think one should remember that a set of lyrics that is half bad is also one that is half good. Consequently, his work on the show when assessed as a body of work as opposed to his work on one song, such as this, is brought down to the level of mediocrity rather than being one that displays no merit whatsoever.

With the exception of "The First Time", the song that is misquoted above, every other lyric in the show has something to commend it. "The First Time" is the only song that in the score that is truly unsalvagable and would be better off being cut, though I think it is worth noting that the reasoning behind the song is solid from Elton's perspective. It was not simply a lyric written to fill the space: Elton's intent, as he has mentioned in interviews, was for the lyrics to contrast the lush Aspects of Love style music and to create a kind of comic clash between the two. The purpose of that is to keep the mood of the scene "up" because, as those who have seen the show or at least spent enough time to go through the show with a synopsis will know, it's pretty serious from here on out. Ultimately, the choice doesn't work - it certainly didn't raise much of a reaction when I saw The Boys in the Photograph last weekend - and I think that what Elton needs to do to counter the tragic events that follow John and Mary's wedding, he needs to play into the romanticism of the scene rather than try to contrive a comic "upper" for the audience. I think this would work particularly well given the new ending written for the show.

As for the comparison between this song and "I Believe My Heart", I'm not convinced that "The First Time" has a better lyric. I think the contexts that define the songs, even in terms of how much meaning they (are required to) make, are vastly different and I'm beginning to come around to what Lloyd Webber and David Zippel are trying to achieve in The Woman in White. I'm not ready to articulate this all quite yet and still need to spend a fair bit of time going over the book and score to get to that point, but for now I'll say that the sentiments expressed "I Believe My Heart" are not that far off from the kind of things that characters in literature of that century, say a character in Sense and Sensibility or North and South, might say. The expression is simple, but these days I'm in doubt as to whether this is unsuited to the characters from whose mouths these words are communicated, which is in direct opposition to the way I felt when the show was first produced. I might change my opinion after an in-depth examination of the show, but I'm holding off committing myself either way at this point.

Jaded Mandarin wrote:
To give Elton his due, there are some songs from The Beautiful Game that I really like, such as "God's Own Country" and "All The Love I Have". Elton's lyrics for "Our Kind Of Love" feel much more honest and genuine that Glenn Slater's lyrics for "Love Never Dies".... Elton's "Our Kind Of Love" is more honest about the demands that love places upon people, whereas "Love Never Dies" is shot through with romantic fallacies.

I agree that there is a fair deal of material that works in The Beautiful Game: I have discussed in detail the merits and problems of each song in the score in my blog analysing the original cast recording. On the songs you've isolated here, I would say that Elton's lyrics in terms of his poor craftsmanship dilute the effectiveness of both "God's Own Country" and "All the Love I Have". In fact, "All the Love I Have" has less to do with his craftsmanship than it has to do with his use of trite, meaningless phrases; the sentiment of the song really needs to be expressed more meaningfully. "Our Kind of Love" is better, but still has some carelessly constructed lyrics, particularly in the final verse. I also feel that it fits more neatly here in its shortened and re-orchestrated arrangement than it does as either "The Heart is Slow to Learn" would or "Love Never Dies" does in Love Never Dies, where the song - as you've mentioned - has little to say, no dramatic impetus and sits in a key where it has to be warbled by a legit soprano instead of being belted passionately by a character in whose mouth the song actually has some substance.

Jaded Mandarin wrote:
Elton and Lloyd Webber's hearts were in the right place with The Beautiful Game and of all Lloyd Webber's failures, The Beautiful Game is probably the most noble. It is trying to grapple with serious issues and difficult themes, and for that reason I find it more enjoyable to listen to than some of his hit shows, like Cats. But still, I find a lot of Elton's lyrics absurd and ultimately I feel that this detracts from all the show's good intentions.

Their hearts certainly were in the right place and The Beautiful Game is a noble project. I'd go one step further than saying that it tries to grapple with serious issues and difficult themes: it achieves this, particularly when taking into account the extensive book of the show which is more typical of books by Oscar Hammerstein II than those normally attached to a Lloyd Webber production.

Yes, Elton's lyrics do detract from the show's good intentions, but not in their absurdity. As mentioned above, there is some good work in The Beautiful Game, but I believe firmly that if Elton was meticulous about his craftsmanship in his lyric-writing, then most of the problems with the lyrics would be solved.

Jaded Mandarin wrote:
Still, The Beautiful Game was indisputably a much braver show than The Woman In White - and it's a shame that the failure of The Beautiful Game seems to have caused Lloyd Webber to retreat back to more blatantly commercial, less daring projects.

Despite the points discussed above, I think we begin to plant ourselves in dangerous territory when we say that a show has more merit simply because of the intentions behind it. The kudos (and the brickbats, for that matter) given to a show should be based on what is there, on the show itself. I also think that the context in which Lloyd Webber's works takes place needs to be taken into account if we are to offer any opinions on his choice of projects: he is one of the few theatre-makers creating work for an incredibly commercial milieu. He's not using fringe theatre with its lower costs to develop new theatre, which might allow him to be more daring, and whether he should be doing just that is a separate debate.

Certainly he deserves credit, as he has been awarded here, when he takes a chance on a show that is more risky, but I think that allows him the space to choose when he takes on a more commercially viable project - in the way that Harold Prince did The Phantom of the Opera to make up for the losses on works that might have greater artistic integrity but which had no impact at the box office. It's a very complicated equation, one that ends up with artists having to support their families and their lifestyles. It's even further complicated by the fact that Lloyd Webber has to create what satisfies his needs as an artist, whether you or I or anyone else likes it or not. I don't think that Lloyd Webber had great stakes in The Beautiful Game and it's a very atypical show for him. It's Elton's baby, he was the driving force behind the show originally and he basically only worked on Love Never Dies to get Lloyd Webber to work on the revisions that have led to the creation of The Boys in the Photograph, something that Elton has stated fairly clearly in recent interviews.

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Sat Jun 26, 2010 10:29 pm
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
RainbowJude wrote:
There is more to a lyric than perfect rhyme; indeed, I am certain there are songs in musical theatre that rhyme perfectly but which have such poorly conceived content that no amount of perfect rhyming could save them.


Of course. Rhymes alone don't make lyrics. But correct rhyming (provided the lyric is supposed to rhyme, of course!) is the very least one must be allowed to expect from lyrics.

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Sun Jun 27, 2010 4:16 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
Hans wrote:
Of course. Rhymes alone don't make lyrics. But correct rhyming (provided the lyric is supposed to rhyme, of course!) is the very least one must be allowed to expect from lyrics.

The very least one must expect from lyrics is that they, like any other dramatic element or theatrical device, communicate meaning. The conventions of any kind of literature still represent language used for communication. Elements of style, in whatever order of importance, are secondary to that primary function. A lyric can still communicate without rhyming or rhyming perfectly.

The issue becomes more complex when we consider that meaning and communication cannot be separated: as in the relationship between content and form, one is dependent on the other. This means that what we can debate is how rhyme effects the quality of the communication.

I think you would say that a rhyme that sets itself up to be a set of pure rhymes that doesn't achieve a set of pure rhymes affects the process of receiving meaning in a process of communication in a detrimental fashion. I would agree with you, but many wouldn't. Most of the people who were in the audience with me at The Boys in the Photograph last weekend were either not aware of words that didn't rhyme purely in the show or, if they were, weren't concerned enough to discuss the inconsistency in rhyme in the show during interval or after the show. What they were able to discuss was the meaning the show made and I would say that their conversations reflected to a large extent what Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to communicate in this show. This introduced a concept that even further complicates this model: the idea that meaning is read differently by different receivers.

To add to the argument regarding how rhyme affects communication, I would add that rhyme that is overly self-conscious, that draws more attention to itself that it needs to, is even more detrimental to the communication process that a set of rhymes that are mismatched. If one comes away thinking more (or even only) about the ingenuity of the rhyme that what the rhyme was attempting to help communicate, then I would say there is a definite problem with the lyric as an element of drama.

There's obviously a fine balance between these two points, but the thing to remember is that lyrics carry and release meaning. That is their primary function and that is the very least one must be allowed to expect from them.

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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
RainbowJude wrote:
I think you would say that a rhyme that sets itself up to be a set of pure rhymes that doesn't achieve a set of pure rhymes affects the process of receiving meaning in a process of communication in a detrimental fashion.


Exactly :)

I think that form and content reflect each other in texts. Analytically, they can be separated, but not in interpretation. Therefore imperfect form represents imperfect content.

How can one trust the meaning of a text is what the writer intended if the form is flawed? In my opinion, one can’t. (There is a continuum, of course, but the principle is clear.) Granted, lyrics is only one aspect of the form of a text, but it is also the most immediate.

So while I couldn’t agree more that meaning by and large is most important in a text, form (in this instance rhyme) is the very least one must expect for the meaning to be valid.

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Mon Jun 28, 2010 1:37 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
Hans wrote:
I think that form and content reflect each other in texts. Analytically, they can be separated, but not in interpretation. Therefore imperfect form represents imperfect content.

Form and content do reflect one another, but content still dictates form and therefore form is still, even if only to the most minor degree, subordinate to content. They are not equal to one another and they are separable. If form and content were inseparable, we would never be able to recognise the patterns that constitute a particular form and to explain them via abstraction as theory.

For example, if what you're saying is true, we would never be able to say what constitutes the form of an English or Shakespearean sonnet as opposed to that which constitutes an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet because we would never be able to separate the principles that govern their respective structures. One could write about the same theme in either of these forms - or in free verse, for that matter - and the form chosen would certainly help to focus the content in one way or another, but if one uses assonance rhyme instead of perfect rhyme in lines 5 and 7 of an English sonnet, the content itself isn't flawed, only the form is.

Hans wrote:
How can one trust the meaning of a text is what the writer intended if the form is flawed? In my opinion, one can't.

This is only true if you're isolating lyrics as the sole creator of meaning in a text. This is only possible when examining the written lyrics in a context that ignores the book and, even to an extent, the score. Furthermore, as I indicated earlier, even if what you're calling "the form" is perfect in theory, the effect can be as destructive - and I'd say possibly even more destructive - to making meaningful meaning if one ends up focusing more on the techniques used to create this perfection rather than one what is being communicated. Otherwise put, if "the form" overrides the content, then the communication loses all meaning and therefore one cannot necessarily trust the meaning of a text even if it is not flawed in terms of the way it uses rhyme, because the meaning it is primarily creating has to do with the poetics of the song and the lyricist's prowess rather than what the song is attempting to communicate.

If flaws completely rule out the potential for trusting the meaning creating by a musical, then we're at sea. I doubt any musical is completely free of flaws, in terms of rhyme or otherwise.

Hans wrote:
Granted, lyrics is only one aspect of the form of a text, but it is also the most immediate.

On the page, lyrics could be viewed as one of the most immediate markers of meaning. However, this only applies to texts viewed as writing in isolation from some of the other elements of drama as well as from many of the elements of theatre and the constraints of time. In live performance, lyrics pass by so quickly that, as makers of meaning, they are less accessible than music because of what we could call its "universal language"; less accessible than visual elements like lighting, costume and gesture because we are generally so much more visually literate than we are aurally literate; and less accessible than the spoken word which is not as restricted as lyrics are by time. Furthermore, a bad lyric can find compensation in other theatrical elements, like performance: for example, a flawed lyric can be acted so that the flaw is not apparent in the actor's interpretation. Does this mean that the text is not flawed when considered as drama? No, but the text remains playable and capable of making meaning in the theatrical act because of its multi-modal nature.

Hans wrote:
So while I couldn’t agree more that meaning by and large is most important in a text, form (in this instance rhyme) is the very least one must expect for the meaning to be valid.

BUT.... rhyme is not form: it is an element of style. The form that primarily shapes the content of a song is the form of the whole song itself, which encompasses the rhyme scheme, but not the individual rhymes. Therefore, while an occurrence of imperfect rhyme might compromise the form of a song, it does not invalidate the meaning of the content of the song.

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Mon Jun 28, 2010 2:45 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
I think you are partially misreading me, as I just wanted to elaborate on how I agree with you, and most of what you write here more or less corresponds with my own opinion, though I may have been bad at forming the argument (which ironically sort of proves my point, hehe).

RainbowJude wrote:
[E]ven if what you're calling "the form" is perfect in theory, the effect can be as destructive - and I'd say possibly even more destructive - to making meaningful meaning if one ends up focusing more on the techniques used to create this perfection rather than one what is being communicated.


I don't disagree that if the techniques cklaims the focus instead what is communicated, it is destructive. But I'd say that it's more often flawed technique, the unintended break in the pattern, that draws attention to itself rather than a perfect pattern, which at its best works to frame in the important meaning.

RainbowJude wrote:
[W]hile an occurrence of imperfect rhyme might compromise the form of a song, it does not invalidate the meaning of the content of the song.


As I said, I see it as a continuum. One occurrance of false rhyme does not necessarily invalidate the entire meaning of an entire song. But, in my perception if nowhere else, it causes doubt (however slight) about the ability of the writer to express exactly what he or she intends to express.

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Mon Jun 28, 2010 2:58 am
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Post THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
Hans wrote:
I don't disagree that if the techniques claims the focus instead what is communicated, it is destructive. I'd say that it's more often flawed technique, the unintended break in the pattern, that draws attention to itself rather than a perfect pattern, which at its best works to frame in the important meaning.

Yes, but the point is that if the technique draws attention to itself, even if the rhyming is perfect, then the technique is also flawed. So a lyric like 'You know that our parting breaks my heart' is more destructive to a song because of the proximity of the rhyme (which makes an already empty sentiment sounds like a nursery rhyme) than 'It's our mothers and fathers, our heroes and martyrs', which is a double assonance rhyme rather than a pure rhyme, but which would probably go unnoticed in performance and which is pretty hard to catch even on the page because the corresponding lines that give away the inconsistency are so far apart. (Both lyrics are taken from The Beautiful Game.)

This is even more complicated when perfect rhyme is used to disguise a flaw in content, which I think is worst of all: the use of 'hung' instead of 'hanged' simply to create a perfect rhyme with 'tongue' is far more destructive to the character of Higgins in My Fair Lady than the rhyming of 'together' and 'forever' is to the character of a teenager living in Belfast in 1971 in The Beautiful Game.

Hans wrote:
(False rhyme) causes doubt (however slight) about the ability of the writer to express exactly what he or she intends to express.

In contrast, it expresses more clearly what the writer intends to express because the expression is not fully encoded into the convention of rhyme. In cases such as these, it is the writer's technique that is in question rather than the content of the expression.

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Mon Jun 28, 2010 3:47 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
RainbowJude wrote:
[I]t is the writer's technique that is in question[...].


Yes, that's exactly what I mean - the technique of putting one's thoughts into words, which is the content of the expression.

Bear in mind that I'm not saying one HAS to choose to rhyme when putting one's thoughts into words. Using rhymes is something you choose. If it's something you aren't capable of, then you should have chosen a different way to express yourself.

I recognise that many people regard flawed technique (including the inability to rhyme properly) as a sign of authenticity of feeling and "pure expression", but I strongly disagree, and find it shallow.

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Mon Jun 28, 2010 4:06 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
Hans wrote:
I recognise that many people regard flawed technique (including the inability to rhyme properly) as a sign of authenticity of feeling and "pure expression", but I strongly disagree, and find it shallow.

I wasn't suggesting that flawed technique was a sign of authenticity, only that it is logical to suggest that an imperfectly rhymed lyric is closer to a writer's content as it was conceived in his/her mind than a perfectly rhymed lyric because a less complex process of encoding followed in the creation of an imperfectly rhymed lyric, which means that a less complex process of decoding is required of the receiver. As I said, this is indicative of flawed technique rather than of a rift between the writer's content as intended and the writer's content as expressed as described in your earlier post. This is because, as I outlined earlier, there is a marked difference between form and content, in spite of the close relationship between the two and rhyme is, in any case, an element of style rather than one of form in any meaningful usage of the term.

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Last edited by RainbowJude on Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:36 am, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:54 pm
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
RainbowJude wrote:
[I]t is logical to suggest that an imperfectly rhymed lyric is closer to a writer's content as it was conceived in his/her mind than a perfectly rhymed lyric because a less complex process of encoding followed in the creation of an imperfectly rhymed lyric, which means that a less complex process of decoding is required of the receiver.


What you say is logical, but it doesn’t seem to take into consideration that a lot of thoughts aren’t necessarily very carefully conceived. Perhaps what is expressed is what the writer intended to express, but what he or she wanted to express wasn’t thought out very carefully. Sloppy form is an indication (not an evidence) of sloppy thinking, therefore sloppy form gives reason to doubt that the content is carefully thought.

Even if it's not true, this doubt will influence the reader's/listener's perception of the text.

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Tue Jun 29, 2010 1:45 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
Hans wrote:
What you say is logical, but it doesn’t seem to take into consideration that a lot of thoughts aren’t necessarily very carefully conceived. Perhaps what is expressed is what the writer intended to express, but what he or she wanted to express wasn’t thought out very carefully. Sloppy form is an indication (not an evidence) of sloppy thinking, therefore sloppy form gives reason to believe that also the content is sloppily thought.

I don't think this logical at all. If the drama communicates meaningfully in spite of what errors appear in rhyme, as many and possibly even the majority of musicals do, then the expression has to have been considered in thought to too great a degree for the thought to be considered "sloppy", even if precision is lacking in the creation of rhymes.

Besides, as I argued earlier, specific rhymes indicates poor style, not poor form. To bring this back to The Beautiful Game, "If This is What We're Fighting For" is an Irish rebel song, taking the form AAB AB. The form of the song is solidly conceived and communicates the thought of the character effectively. The rhyme scheme is implied in the form, but the specific rhymes are not. Does the minor flaw in the rhyme of 'grieving' and 'believe in' negate the anti-war stance of the song? Does it mean that we can't trust that Ben Elton intends this to be communicated as such? Obviously not.

Form is like a paragraph. One can write a good paragraph or a bad paragraph, but it is the elements of style in one's writing as expressed in the way that one constructs the sentences that make a paragraph good or bad, not the form in itself. A paragraph consisting of five perfectly composed sentences is more powerful that one consisting of three perfectly composed sentences and two flawed sentences, which is in turn more powerful than one consisting of five poorly composed sentences. If one is only capable of writing five poorly composed sentences, does that automatically mean that one's though process is at fault? No, it doesn't and, although it is a possibility, let's assume that the act of writing in this case is not forced upon the writer, but that the writing is done voluntarily to try and capture the thought in a particular form. That means that there is a problem in the process of translating the thought into the form, not a problem with the thought itself.

One could read through the paragraph above, substituting "song" for "paragraph" and "rhyme" for "sentence" and it would make sense in terms of songwriting.

Now, if we wanted to say that rhyme itself equals form, we would have to shift the analogy as follows: 'Form is like a sentence. One can write a good sentence or a bad sentence, but it is the rules of grammar and punctuation as well as a lexical vocabulary that one uses to make a sentence good or bad, not the form itself.'

I don't think there's any point in reducing form to this level, because if we follow the argument through, it becomes nonsensical to try and assess a sentence in terms of the words divorced of the context that makes them meaningful. It means that for rhymes, we'd be looking at syllables, which is a meaningless exercise except in the endeavor of creating rhyme, which is a stylistic technique that, yes, is flawed when a set of rhymes that is meant to be pure is compromised by the appearance of, say, an assonance rhyme, but which does not mean that the thought behind the abstract content that is being expressed in the lyric is flawed in itself. All it means is that the writer needs to be more meticulous in refining his or her technique.

Hans wrote:
Even if it's not true, this doubt will influence the reader's/listener's perception of the text.

Which listener? Which reader? As I argued earlier, meaning is read differently by different receivers. When listening to the audience chat about the show during interval when I went to see The Boys in the Photograph, none mentioned rhyme let alone the fact that the many flaws in regard to rhyming shifted their interpretation of the show. However, all of them were discussing the war in Ireland, the injustice of war in general, the relationship between the characters depicted on stage and themselves and so on. So it clearly made little or no difference to them, as it clearly makes no difference to the many of fans of many shows represented on these boards. That doesn't mean that the technique of the lyricists concerned suddenly becomes flawless, but it does mean that lyrics are probably not an immediate marker of meaning for most people, not in any conscious manner at least. It is simply not a priority for most people when they are watching a show and part of that is because of the multi-modality of theatre as a form of communication.

Does that mean that it shouldn't be important to lyricists? Of course it doesn't. Lyricists should still endeavour to perfect their technique. That's what makes the difference between a great musical and a good musical or between a good one and a noble one that doesn't embody its full potential. However, these aren't the kinds of thing to which the man on the street pays attention; primarily, this kind of discussion provides scholars of the genre with a common ground for their criticism. It is perhaps their perception that is tailored by such things, but I don't for a moment believe that this is identical to the experience of a musical by a member of the general public.

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Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:37 am
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Post Re: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (and THE BEAUTIFUL GAME)
I'm sorry if I confuse the words here, but I think it gives meaning if you substitute my use of "form" with "style" in this context.

RainbowJude wrote:
That doesn't mean that the technique of the lyricists concerned suddenly becomes flawless, but it does mean that lyrics are probably not an immediate marker of meaning for most people, not in any conscious manner at least. It is simply not a priority for most people when they are watching a show and part of that is because of the multi-modality of theatre as a form of communication.


Maybe you're right. I'm not saying that rhyme is the only marker of meaning or even the most important one. But it is perhaps more important to me personally than several other people.

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Tue Jun 29, 2010 4:39 am
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