Lady Gaga and the rise of the Insufferable Theatre Kid Nerd

From A Star Is Born to The Greatest Showman, are actors who cut their teeth in musicals finally taking over?

Just prior to the October 2018 release of A Star Is Born, a senior writer at New York magazine’s The Cut website dropped a Twitter bombshell, placing herself directly in the target range of one of pop’s more demonic fan bases. You mess with Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters at your own peril. They didn’t earn their collective noun by playing nice.

“L*dy G*ga,” she began, taking cautionary measures to outwit their search engines, “is proof that we, as a society, have to stop insufferable theatre kid nerds getting famous.” The responding abusive tirade of aggrieved Gaga worship turned swiftly into mob-handed online vigilantism. Another day, you might think, another social media firestorm.

Yet as she readies herself for a rousing duet of her inescapable power-ballad Shallow – becoming once more the latter-day Stevie Nicks to Bradley Cooper’s icy-eyed, furry-chested Don Henley, in their sleek update of Leather and Lace – at the Oscars ceremony, it is Gaga herself who is silencing her naysayers. Her best actress nod for A Star Is Born is matched by the picture’s nominations for actor, supporting actor and best film at the gala. It appears the Insufferable Theatre Kid Nerds have, at least, temporarily inherited the Earth.

A clean decade after the first season of Glee aired, transposing the pop hits of the day with a sprinkling of yesteryear favourites for fully choreographed, all-singing, all-dancing reappraisal, musical theatre has become the dominant musical force. Gaga isn’t the only one swapping her unwavering early ambition to become the new Madonna for unleashing her inner Bette Midler.

Mamma Mia putting Abba’s golden greats into the mouths of actors, Frozen’s Let It Go becoming a likely contender for song of the decade, La La Land legitimising the idea of A-listers doing jazz-hands and the transatlantic virality of Hamilton have all turned out to be mere dress rehearsals for the new spring-loaded musical theatre revolt. Pan Stik at the ready, plastic opera goggles in hand: in 2019, off-Broadway is the new CBGB and Elaine Paige is the new John Peel.

The Greatest Showman.
The Greatest Showman. Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox

Last year’s biggest pop star, by several stretches, was Hugh Jackman, star of The Greatest Showman. The soundtrack of his outrageously voluble musical-theatre assault on the PT Barnum story comfortably outsold its nearest album rival (the markedly less theatrical George Ezra) by more than two to one. Jackman will crown his achievements as premium Broadway crumpet with a six-night run at London’s O2 on the back of it. This summer’s solo The Man. The Music. The Show. extravaganza is a spectacle that promises to make Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s best-selling buddy revue look like the work of a couple of struggling Redcoats.

The Insufferable Theatre Kid Nerds aren’t disappearing any time soon. In autumn, the most successful songwriter of the century, Max Martin, will re-orchestrate his work for Britney Spears, Ariana Grande and Backstreet Boys, among others, in the jukebox musical & Juliet. Frozen 2 will throw its arms to the spotlight and unleash a new army of whimsical feelgood earworms. Live-action versions of Cats, Aladdin and The Lion King will take bona fide 21st-century pop powerhouses Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Donald Glover and pivot their professional axis toward the hungry musical theatre market.

In other news, the Green Day musical American Idiot is in development at HBO. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the hit West End show about the non-binary schoolkid who goes to prom in drag, is being prepped for film, its ambitious eye cast on emulating Billy Elliot’s success arc in reverse, from stage to screen. This year’s Bohemian Rhapsody will be Rocketman, the Elton John story, in which Taron Egerton steps through the door left open by Rami Malek, earning himself the ultimate musical theatre prize of making out with Richard Madden.

The most anticipated US TV show of the year is Fosse/Verdon. Even the most musical theatre-allergic must surely be down for Sam Rockwell starring against Michelle Williams in the Bob Fosse story, a tale driven by more sex, drugs and madness than Bradley Cooper could squeeze into the back pocket of his A Star Is Born denims.

Whether Lady Gaga triumphs at the Oscars is now by the by. At this moment, as pop flips on its head to warble a showtune and receive another warm ovation, she has rarely looked more ahead of the curve.

The Insufferable Theatre Kid Nerd has powdered its nose, learned its lines and let cash tills look after themselves. An Elite Powerbroker West End Wendy is born.


Paul Flynn

The GuardianTramp

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