You’re probably thinking, another one of those artists with another one of those blogs, eh? Well, yes, but hopefully you’ll find this one to be a little different. I like to look at the arts, particularly musical theater, through a lens of not only of the quality of the experience, but how certain shows might be influencing trends in artistic styles, and more significantly (to me, anyway), cultural mindsets.
I’ve always found musicals to be very affecting. I mean, they’ve got music AND drama, plus everything is just *bigger* than it is in straight theater (and life, for that matter). So sometimes after this big, fat experience of watching a musical, I just like to take a step back and say, “What’s happening here in my heart and mind?” and “How might this be affecting the culture at large?” That might sound a little extra deep, but feel free to have a read and see if it piques your interest.
And if you feel so moved, share a comment, tell a friend, sing a song, do a dance - however your heart leads you to respond.
For whatever reason - maybe social rejection, maybe because I lived only forty minutes from Broadway, maybe because I liked to show off at the piano - I developed an affinity for musical theater pretty early on in life. So much so, that musicals helped shape the way I looked at the world.
When I was a child I channeled my longings (whatever longings an eight-year-old from Long Island might have) into the song "Maybe" from Annie.
When I was twelve, I pondered over where Grisabella went at the end of Cats. (What's the heavy-side layer? Is she in Heaven?)
When I was fifteen I'd saved up my babysitting money to buy the full score of West Side Story, and I would often play through the balcony scene with a singer friend of mine, and think that if I ever fell in love, it should feel the way that music made me feel.
I was deeply edified to find that Stephen Sondheim understood the pain and complexity of Dot’s unrequited love when she sang “We Do Not Belong Together” in the musical Sunday in the Park with George.
Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals made a strong case to me that true love was possible and that good might actually win out over evil.
The list goes on.
At the time (a few years - ahem - ok, decades ago), musical theater was pretty much a niche hobby. Not many high school students knew all the words to every song on Barbra Streisand's Broadway album (the five of us in my school who did now all work in the industry).
Today however, for better or worse, musical theater has become a much more prevalent mainstream form of entertainment. A typical youth today probably knows all of the words to at least "Let it Go", in addition to a gaggle of other Disney songs. Disney itself used to be associated principally with animation films, but now is a mega-producer of Broadway musicals and tours, and holds the corner market on musicals licensed to schools and children's theater groups.
The musical Wicked captured the hearts of tween and teenage girls across the nation, and musical theater stars like Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith have become household names.
The recent historical hit Hamilton has already had such a high level of influence, it is credited as being the reason Alexander Hamilton's mug remains on the $10 bill.
Furthermore, TV shows such as Glee and televised live action musicals have brought the sensation of the Broadway musical into the living rooms of Americans. The movie musical has made a box office-breaking comeback with hits such as La La Land and High School Musical. Probably as a result of all of this mainstream exposure, now when I work on a show with students in high school or younger, they usually know all of the songs in the show in advance, they know at least a little bit about audition prep, and many have already taken voice lessons to learn how to belt.
A lot has changed since I was in high school.
But while the popularity of musicals has greatly increased, the question I'm always asking is: Has the quality advanced as well?
What do we even expect of musicals anymore and should we expect any more or any less?
Should they just be a passing form of entertainment, or should they change our lives somehow?
I believe the arts, when at their best, should be accomplishing some purpose in the hearts of the audience or spectators.
Musical theater as a genre has so much potential, I want to look at it with eyes that ask, "What's the best it can be?" And to approach that question I'm always asking another one, "What kind of effect is this musical really having on me and/or society as a whole, and is that influence one I want to help perpetuate, or not so much?" And sometimes I might just talk about what I like or dislike about a show, and the stylistic elements, because that of course affects the overall experience of the show. It also informs what kind of audience it’s trying to reach, and if it’s moving the genre forward or imitating a formerly popular style (through the use of pastiche).
I'm interested in creating a dialogue not just about what Broadway is right now, but what it could be.
When the greatest creative capital in the world is coupled with great resources in "the greatest city in the world" (to quote an historic musical), the effect should be at least a little life-altering, in my humble opinion.
Our imaginations should be blown, our hearts should be satisfied, and our spirits lifted.
If this isn't happening just yet, I want to help create an atmosphere in which it will start happening. I’m hoping this dialogue is a step.
So, I’ve recently ascended into the world of Soundcloud to post my recorded content to give people a chance to see what I do as a composer. Feel free to check it out and give me notes!
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