Telling Our Stories: When Musical Theatre Isn’t So Glittery

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“Writers are given one great story to tell: their story.”

-Larry Kramer

Bonjour!

I have in fact returned to this blog, despite many signs indicating otherwise. I am going to make an excuse today for not writing sooner and that excuse is that I’m currently in the midst of putting together an incredibly fabulous project which, for now, I’m going to be cooly mysterious about (it’s kind of my only chance to be cool) but give you all more information about it very, very soon! More incentive to keep reading this blog, haha!

Ha.

Ahem.

*clears throat and attempts to look astute*

Thank you for being here.

Today I want to touch on a bit of a more serious topic than I’ve touched on in other posts.

“Lil?” you ask, a panicked waver beginning to permeate your voice, “Are you well? Have you listened to Les Miz recently? You might want to. Also: real quick, do you still know who Liza Minnelli is?!”

Not to worry, my dear friends, I am, for the most part, quite well (the part that is not well is my ankle which I twisted because I was wearing my huge (quite fabulous) non-prescription sunglasses today as I was strolling through my neighborhood, and I tripped over a protruding bit of the sidewalk that I was unable to see because without a prescription, I cannot see for the life of me. It was totally worth it) I can, in fact, be serious without losing myself in waves of sorrow.

Waves of sorrow.

Gosh that was good. Gosh, I should have won a Pulitzer by now.

As a matter of fact, many people who know me might say I actually do have serious tendencies in real life.

I know!

I also am incapable of making small talk and always ask people right away about their life goals. It’s really kind of a chum-making deterrent.

Moving on.

I think something a lot of society (and I mean a lot) doesn’t realize about musical theatre is this: we cover some darn tough topics in our “plays”.

(That was a jab at all the people who excitedly asked me about how “Play practice is going?” when I was in Oklahoma back in the ‘12’s. I appreciated their efforts, but I am unfortunately a purist.)

It is simply the truth that when you mention the words Musical Theatre to many people, the image that immediately comes to their minds is that of a razzly dazzly glitter fest of feathers, Roxette high-kicks, Ethel Merman-like belting, and humongous smiles all sprinkled with a liberal dose of comic-relief.

The thing is, all of the things I just mentioned make up the essence of what brought me to musical theatre and made me love it in the first place. We should never forget that spectacle and glitter are really how it all started and are, in fact, in our blood, as theatre geeks.

But also? Theatre is also a very powerful tool to convey serious and controversial subject matter.

What really got me thinking about this whole palooza was something sort of profane: straight theatre.

*we all die*

Actually, I am kidding. I love plays, and reading Edward Albee until I thought I was going insane (literally: I thought I was going insane) taught me how to write librettos, so I’m just saying, straight theater has served me well.

I am currently reading a play by Larry Kramer called The Normal Heart.

*dramatic pause with sip of tea included for ultimate effect*

When it was first performed in 1985 The Normal Heart was a highly controversial play, but it wasn’t written out of a direct need for drama and controversy, it was written because Larry Kramer, an already fairly infamous author and LGBTQ activist needed to get a point across and the platform he decided to use was a stage.

Most people know that during the 1980’s there was huge AIDS epidemic that was really prominent in New York City. Even though AIDS was affecting the friends and family of many of the news media during that time, very few newspaper articles were published about it and so many people were unaware of what danger they were in and also what they were supposed to do about it. AIDS was, back then, and in fact is even now, a tough topic. A lot of people, especially in the early 1980’s, were exceedingly reluctant to even mention AIDS, must less discuss it, and so, when in 1985 Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, which dealt explicitly with AIDS and its effects on a group of friends, was performed by the New York Shakespeare Festival, it really stirred things up.

Theatre has a lot of sides to it.

The Normal Heart really upset me, in some ways, but it also really got me to thinking, and it made me realize why theatre is the medium I personally want to use to tell stories.

A topic covered in theatre, specifically musical theatre, is oftentimes easier to swallow than, say, for example, the same topic covered in a movie, or a news article.

People going to see a musical tend to enter the theater without fear or trepidation. Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I’m watching a musical I always feel like every person telling the story, the actors, actresses, writers, director, all have my back and are not going to let me fall.

It sounds odd in a way, but it also makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Musical theatre was developed as a medium that’s purpose was mainly to make the audience feel like they were part of something, as well as giving them a sense of comfort.

The Ziegfeld Follies which were the very first musicals were extravagant and interesting but nothing too sudden ever happened. Now, of course, in the days of falling chandeliers and levitating wicked witches, things are perhaps not as predictable, but the idea behind it remains the same, and that seems to be “we are going to tell you a story, and it might not end happily, but we will make sure you’re still okay when you leave the theater.”

Also, I think the fact that musicals, while taking themselves super duper freaking seriously, never take themselves that seriously at all, grants us the ability to cope. Even when musical theatre is dealing with bipolar disorder in Next To Normal, and suicide in Dear Evan Hansen and Fun Home, and drug-addiction and AIDS and death in Rent*, they will let us laugh at least once. And if we cry, they will definitely not judge us. And so, instinctively, we know that we can trust them.

Yes, I am totally referring to musical theatre as a them.

When The Normal Heart was performed in New York City, one critic commented “the sirens that you hear onstage are the sirens that you hear when you walk outside of the theater.”

Theatre can take something current and urgent and spin it into a story that we as a society can all understand in one way or another.

And that’s why I am a theatre geek.

Also, Carol Channing’s glasses.

I hope you can think about how you can tell your stories, whether it be through writing or singing or talking or some other medium, because everyone has a story to tell, and it’s really important that we tell them. And I also think it’s really important to remember that if someone can’t tell their own story, you can totes tell it. ‘Cause you know. Stealing ideas and all.

Thank you for reading!

Love,

Lil

xoxo

 

*Thanks, Jonathan Larson


4 thoughts on “Telling Our Stories: When Musical Theatre Isn’t So Glittery

  1. Les Mis did make me look at musicals fresh and made me examine musicals almost as if I had never seen a musical before. It was comedies and happy musicals and dance and spectacle that did bring me to my love for musicals in the first place. But Les Mis made me realize something that NOT all musicals were what I once believed. Some musicals are tragic and it did help cope with that fact by previously knowing that sad is a musical emotion.

    Discovering that Les MIs is tragic, I did not how to respond-it was something I realized after the first death so I was so in shock and kind of confused, so I did not know if I liked it or not, but it was a second chance that made me see more. Because of Les MIs, I realized that heartbreak is a musical emotion. Through the impact of Les MIs, it made it easier to pick on up serious and darkness and negative emotions of other musicals.

    Then I also love Rent, an very mature and adult musical with those themes of HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, but I love it for its message.

    It is still rooted in me that most musicals are happy and comical, which really comes from the ones I grew up with and the happy musicals of the more recent years and those do have their seriousness, their darkness, and their sadness and heartbreak at times. If it wasn’t for the comic and happy musicals, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with musicals in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! I love the more comedic musicals too, but you’re so right, the darker and more serious musicals really can help you cope with different emotions. I really like the way you put that, I hadn’t thought about that aspect of it!
      ~Lil🎭

      Like

      1. My first show I ever saw on Broadway was Wicked and I was 12 and at the time I see it as a musical comedy and still do because I approach it from the same age. If it wasn’t for that show, I wouldn’t have begun to understand the more emotional side: that was just the beginning.

        Then Les Mis comes: it was like “are you sure you know the full potential of musical emotions?” Turns out there is so much more than I thought and I cannot believe I was 100% to heartbreak: but good thing I already knew about sad. Les Mis and Wicked are my top two favorite musicals.

        Liked by 1 person

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