In Defence of Musicals
We, the cynical, Twitter beef-adoring, socially-aware generation, have something very important in common: We love a good musical.
And I do mean “love.” The game-changing Hamilton—a Broadway phenomenon about Alexander Hamilton (ahem, the father of the U.S. of A.) that’s grossed $43 million so far—is heading to Chicago, Hollywood, and the set of Law and Order: SVU, while NBC’s The Wiz Live garnered 15K tweets about Ne-Yo’s dab alone. While this Wednesday’s premiere of Hairspray Live has also been met with serious hype, Fox’s delivery of Grease Live, Tyler Perry’s The Passion and The Rocky Horror Picture Show remake are all indicative of our penchant for musicals.
Which makes sense because musicals are cool. (Yeah, I said it.) Musicals, with their emotional free-for-alls, earnest facial expressions, and songs that would be uncalled for and startling if delivered in real life, are the antidote to our increasingly jaded and upsetting real lives. They’re a reprieve from the news and trolls that fill our days, and they’re a safe space to channel and absorb any and all feelings without judgement or dissent. Truly: I went to Kinky Boots and spent the duration of the play in awe of performers who can do what I 100% can’t—and when I wasn’t doing that, I was fighting back tears, because there’s something to be said for a person singing about major life developments just a few precious feet in front of you.
And on a normal day, I hate emotions. I hate feelings, I hate crying, and I won’t do it in front of anyone unless they’re strangers in the same movie theatre I’m hiding my face in. I like my guard up and I like it cemented in place, and yet while watching Shanice Williams sing “Home” in The Wiz Live last December, I cried along with my Twitter feed. And for a brief, glimmering moment in life, Twitter was reserved only for our own sincerities and appreciation for this incredible musical phenomenon. (Unlike any other cultural event, where even the most perfect Golden Globes speech is met with a gif of Leonardo DiCaprio sobbing.)
That’s because musicals give us permission to be people. As kids, musicals were par for the course, but the older we got, the more our awareness of our own emotions and vulnerabilities became a source of embarrassment. Which meant Mary Poppins singing about a homeless lady feeding pigeons or Elton John waxing poetic about two lions falling in love became less and less appealing. After all, to be a grown up means turning down your emotions (a bit), and the combination of sincerity and music and “feel these feelings through song” don’t allow for that. So musicals became an event instead of the norm as we replaced our childhood go-tos with literally everything else.
But it’s hard to be strong all the time. And as our generation became the one that was consuming and creating, it made sense to see Les Miserables committed to the big screen, or a take on a politician’s life represented outside the traditional biopic spectrum. Musicals offer a two-ish-hour window of emotional freedom, and when they’re a cultural event, we can experience those emotions together, and cry easier, knowing everybody’s doing it too. (But also alone, and in front of their televisions.) For a short while, we can leave our cynicism and hipness and need to be “cool” at the door, making musicals one of the coolest possible things, since we’re the closest to our authentic, emotional selves as we’ll ever be.
Does this mean I’m going to see every musical and watch, transfixed, as though emoting is something I enjoy and care to do regularly? Absolutely not: I have never cried during Grease (nor will I ever) and attending musicals IRL is super pricey (especially since my friend and I recently tried to see The Phantom of the Opera, and ended up misreading our tickets and missing the show altogether). But I will enjoy the moments we’re all consuming and basking in the same form of musical earnesty, knowing that if we try and be super-cool, our side-eye will be welcomed only with eye rolls from people who are confident enough to check out of their regularly scheduled cynicism and enjoy a bunch of artists using song and dance to express the feelings most of us repress.