The common misperception is that musical theatre is low entertainment, an art form inferior to both and straight theatre. While too many musical theatre productions cater to this misperception, there is also a strong tradition of musical theatre as serious and substantial drama. In the work of Stephen Sondheim and Oscar Hammerstein, the play’s action moves forward through the songs. Each song functions as a scene, and the singer-performer does the work of actor in responding through the scene as people respond in real-life situations.
Anne Hathaway’s Academy Award is a rare recognition for a musical performer. While Ms. Hathaway is still young, she has long established herself as an actress of subtlety and depth. She also is an accomplished singer, and it was a wise choice for her to be cast in the film version of Les Miserables.
Les Mis is distant from the subtle shifts of Stephen Sondheim. Its authors, Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Shonberg, have instead modeled their musical on the large-block concert-piece forms of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Still, Ms. Hathaway, in singing “I Dreamed a Dream”, put her considerable acting talent to work.
This work constitutes musical theatre performance at its best. Her Oscar is well deserved.