For reasons I will never understand, show tunes and everything musical theatre-related has always popularly been associated with two types of people: nerds, and gays. Or nerdy gays. In fact, the entire concept of the show Glee revolved around this stereotype. But why is musical theatre always for those “weird” kids? Why can’t we all enjoy show tunes?
Many of us listen to music to escape. It’s a way to be transported to a different place without ever actually leaving your bedroom. When things get tough, you can put your headphones on and in that moment, you can forget it all and just get lost in the music. Whether you’re listening to Adele or Green Day or Britney Spears, you can close your eyes and be completely immersed in a different reality.
The beauty of show tunes is that, for the most part, they tell a story. If you’re feeling sad, you can put on your favourite Broadway soundtrack and instantly find yourself in the land of Oz (Wicked), 19th-century France (Les Miserables), or 1960s Baltimore (Hairpsray). If you can’t physically watch a show on stage or if it hasn’t been made into a movie, you can listen to the rich melodies of a single song and still get a sense of the sheer beauty of the show.
Not only can show tunes take you on a trip, but they can also be inspiring. There’s a reason musical theatre fans are so often seen as the rejects or outcasts, because usually, they are. They are the people who feel different, who feel like freaks because they’re not like everybody else. When you’re young, that can be so difficult to cope with. It’s a confusing time in our lives. You don’t realize it then, but being different is amazing. Accepting our differences, being proud of who we are, and breaking free from the forces that hold us back are some really dominant themes in musical theatre, and they have always embraced the outcasts. We have Elphaba, the loveable, misunderstood green witch from Wicked, who dares to break free from the restraints that were placed on her in the power-ballad “Defying Gravity,” or Fantine, the poor woman who does whatever she needs to do to support her daughter, singing the heartbreaking “I Dreamed A Dream” (Les Miserables), or even chubby Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray, who fights for not only the acceptance of our differences, but also for equal rights during an era of segregation, culminating in the finale “You Can’t Stop The Beat.”
And we can’t forget one major factor why we love musical theatre: some songs are just straight up funny! Sure, some songs will inspire and empower you, but some are just meant to make you crack up — and sometimes that’s just what you need. Maybe you’ve had a bad day and you just want to shout “Hasa Diga Eebowai!” from The Book of Mormon (definitely look up what that means). Or maybe you just want to pump yourself up listening to “Omigod You Guys” from Legally Blonde: The Musical. Show tunes are perfect for every occasion. Ask yourself this: When’s the last time you laughed along to a Taylor Swift song?
Thanks to Hamilton, Broadway is finally becoming a little more mainstream. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the prolific mastermind behind the historical musical, has managed to take subject matter that would normally be seen as boring and uneventful (the history of the founding fathers) and set it to a passionate rap soundtrack that has piqued the interest of those with little to no knowledge of Broadway. Even though there have been some huge musicals that have transcended the borders of Broadway before, none seem to have had an impact quite like Hamilton. Wicked, for example, is a cultural phenomenon, and “Defying Gravity” has been an anthem for many, but the soundtrack is hardly of interest to anyone who isn’t obsessed with musical theatre, and the cast certainly never performed at the Grammy Awards. This has opened doors for a whole new generation of musical theatre fans.
Obviously I’ve only given a limited number of examples, but there are so many different kinds of musicals out there with so many different genres of music for you to experience. There are rock shows, like Rock of Ages or Spring Awakening, and rap, like the aforementioned Hamilton, or classical shows like The Phantom Of The Opera. Show tunes and musical soundtracks are just as varied as any other genre of music. Look at what we consider pop music. Adele, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber are all pop stars and yet, completely different artists. Why must show tunes be constrained in such a narrow box? It’s time for Broadway to shine! Open your mind a little, and you may surprise yourself.
…And when you realize how much you adore musical theatre, I will happily accept any Broadway tickets you want to offer me out of gratitude — especially for Hamilton!