The Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Broadway Musicals
Here’s a little fluff and humor piece for my readers -
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about why I love Broadway musicals so much. What is it about this art form that has addicted me since my 7th grade music teacher introduced us to Rodgers and Hammerstein and showed us the film of South Pacific. There must be a reason why so many of us gravitate to musicals, and yet the art form eludes so many others. What do we get from the experience and what makes us go back, again and again? This week's Top Ten list an examination of what compels us.
Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Broadway Musicals:
1. We Cannot Afford Therapy
In a world where there is so much wrong and things don't go our way, the Broadway showtune offers escape, satisfaction, an emotional outlet, and a way to feel our way through our problems. For a quick infusion of joy, put on some Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. For a deeper, more cleansing experience, try Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, or William Finn. There is no better way to work through your problems that blasting some Les Miserables or Rent. Looking for the ingredients of hope? Rodgers and Hammerstein are your guys. Need to exercise some confidence? Stand on your nearest balcony, fire escape, or deck and belt "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" doing your best Patti Lupone. There is something for every complicated emotion, trial and tribulation you are experiencing. A showtune is cheaper than a shrink.
2. We Like Our Obsessions Manageable and Containable
The world of musical theatre is small enough that we can manage our obsession with the art form. Unlike more widely popular music genres, musical theatre is just big enough to have a wide-range of styles without being overwhelmingly diverse. We enjoy the interconnectedness that its history and its players have, but can also navigate that spider web without too much confusion. Since musical theatre productions and scores aren’t being churned out like pop and country albums, we have time to spend with each new piece and to explore it thoroughly; savor its wonders and dissect its atrocities. We can store it all in a neat, organized, mental box.
3. We Love to Champion the Underdog
Musicals are one of the great underdogs of the performing arts world and we love to take bets on the long shot. While the average American chortles and guffaws at the idea of singing emotions out load, we celebrate that possibility. It is why we are so ecstatic when a long-gestating musical project finally reaches Broadway and becomes a hit. It is also why we affectionately find reasons to love the flops, the underdogs of the underdog set. How excited are we when we meet someone else who argues on behalf of Prettybelle, The Baker’s Wife, or Nick & Nora?
4. We Love Pretty Chorus Boys
In the old days, producers filled their musicals with sexy showgirls, showing off their long legs and other “attributes” as a ploy to create ticket sales. This was the old days when Broadway musical audiences were made up predominantly of straight men buying the tickets and bringing their wives to a night on the town. We refer to this time as “The Dark Ages.” In a new world, where gay men and their female friends lead the box office stampede, it’s nice to know we might get a little eye candy to get us through a show if the music, lyrics, directing, choreography, and performing aren’t up to par. I mean, the recent revival of PIPPIN is fantastic, but the fact that the cast of men was nearly nude or wearing very tight clothes for most of the show….well… I think we all agree they spread more than just a little sunshine.
5. We Like a Song We Can Belt
There is nothing…and I mean NOTHING like a song that you can sing along with at a full belt, no matter how bad a singer you are. Broadway songs are mostly built for this kind of thing. It all began with Ethel Merman, balls afire, sending that big sound (sans microphone) over an entire orchestra of musicians. We all want to be Merman. We want to be heard. How many of you have belted “Defying Gravity” and were so caught up in the belting that you were pretty sure you would fly at the end of the song? Deny it if you like, but your rubber ducky audience and shampoo bottle microphone tell us otherwise!
6. We Do Not Care for Reality
At its very premise, musical theatre defies all reality and we love that. It attempts to imitate life (as theatre tends to do) and then, suddenly, a character bursts out in song. This personal disembowelment of emotion and the over sharing of inner monologues is the world we wish we lived in. Secretly, we all cling to the hope that we will someday be able to break into song at the grocery store, a parent-teacher conference, or during a colonoscopy. From such inner place we find our voice and that has NOTHING to do with reality.
7. We Enjoy Being Part of Something Elitist
Let’s face it: Broadway is not affordable for the masses. Attending a Broadway show is worth every penny if it’s good, but expensive no matter what the quality. Those of us in the theatre cognoscenti know how to get discount tickets, or we know someone who knows someone who can swing us some comps. It’s our own little private club that gives us an air of social superiority. It doesn’t matter though; we’d save up our pennies to get there. We’d forgo food, dating, a nicer apartment just to make sure that we are a part of this special club.
8. Divas Divine
Nowhere in the entertainment industry have we had such an interesting array of tangible divas as we have and continue to experience than on the musical theatre stage. Past and present, over-the-top ladies of distinction: Marilyn Miller, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Gwen Verdon, Elaine Stritch, Chita Rivera, Julie Andrews, Patti Lupone, Barbara Cook, Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury, Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, and Donna Murphy bring big personalities to the legacy of the American musical. The higher their eccentricity quotient, the more we rally around their antics and/or talents. The fact that you can see them live (well, the divas who are still alive, anyway) and stalk them (a.k.a as “get their autograph”) after the show, well that is just the cherry on the sundae of the theatergoing experience.
9. Matinee Days
For those of us with a limited travel budget and an inability to be satisfied by just one Broadway musical in a day trip, the matinee days are perfect for musical theatre binging. My ideal weekend is to come to NYC early on a Friday, see a show that night, see two on Saturday, and one on Sunday before returning home for The Walking Dead at 9 PM. We live in a society where moderation is frowned upon and not particularly our forte. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing and the matinee days feed right into this concept. Now…If you see Mamma Mia four performances in a row, then there is really no helping you anyway, but a nice mix of The Last Ship, On the Town, Pippin and If/Then sounds like particularly tasty binging to me.
10. We Believe in Magic
Musical Theatre is simply amazing. It is the impossible unfolding before your eyes. A Broadway show has defied the odds to be where it is. Something this rare and special should be celebrated: like a unicorn, the Loch Ness Monster, or an accurate Fox News telecast. So many people, so many ideas, so much money, so much hope all colliding in the same room, propelled by the energy of a live audience. There is nothing…NOTHING else like it. The Broadway Musical is its own church of sorts, where the congregation comes together to worship creativity, self-expression, and collaboration. And on the seventh day (equity day off), they all rested.