One Thousand Words on Big, Happy Musicals!

The only regional theater in the area is located just down the hill from where I live. Thanks to the venue’s proximity to my home and a special ticket price they offer to people who live in the town, I’ve purchased a season pass for the last two years.

All of the productions are employ professional actors and are extremely high quality, but being located in a small community and the need to make money limits the company’s choice of shows. They’ve learned that in order to survive they can’t offer anything too challenging and at least once a year, usually around Christmas, they produce a big, happy musical featuring local children.

It’s a smart move and they often have to extend their run of the musical because of the demand for tickets.

Many of my friends and neighbors also hold season tickets to this theater company and, because I work in the arts, the topic of the shows comes up often in casual conversation.

Through these conversations, I’ve realized that I do not share the opinion of most theater-goers in my community and my views are not always appreciated.

For instance, I don’t really like big, happy musicals. I prefer dark shows. A recent conversation I had on the topic went something like this:

Other Person: “Are you going to see Annie?”
Me: “Yes, but I’m not really looking forward to it.”
Other Person: “Why not?”
Me: “I just tend to prefer darker musicals.”
Other Person: “So you don’t like Annie?”
Me: “It’s fine and I’m sure it will be a good production. It’s just not my cup of tea.”
Other Person: “Did you see Wizard of Oz last year?”
Me: “Yes.”
Other Person: “Did you like that one?”
Me: “It was well done, but I just prefer other types of shows.”
Other Person: “What’s a musical you do like?”
Me: “Oh you know, shows like Assassins and Spring Awakening.”
Other Person: “I’ve never heard of those shows.”
Me: “Ok, what’s your favorite musical?”
Other Person: “Oklahoma.”
Me: “Good bye.”

(I didn’t actually end the conversation that abruptly, but I really do hate Oklahoma. The only thing good about the show is that it taught me to spell the state, but I have to sing to do it.)

So in order to set the record straight: I do not enjoy musicals that include rainbows, orphans, dogs, tomorrows, tap dancing, guys, dolls or exclamation points.

These are some shows I do like:

. The first time I saw Rent, I was enthralled. I had been listening to the soundtrack, but nothing prepared me for the emotion or rock concert feel of the show. I think I was most excited to finally see a musical that was about my generation. And even though now it’s probably considered a “period piece” at the time it was topical and current.

I’ve seen the show live several times and I even dragged my mother about one hundred miles to see the movie they made of the last Broadway performance. It was filmed with a handheld camera and by the end I was nauseous and my mother was practically comatose with motion sickness. Ah, happy memories.

Rent will always remain towards the top of the list of my favorite shows.

Spring Awakening. I saw this show twice, a year apart, because once was not enough. One of the most intriguing things about this show is that the dialogue is taken the German play from the 1890’s on which it is based, but the songs are in modern vernacular. It’s dark, dealing with teen pregnancy, suicide and child abuse, among other things, and extremely powerful.

The second time I saw it, I got a front row ticket. By the curtain call, I was just sobbing. I felt like an idiot, applauding and crying, but if any of the actors noticed I hope they were flattered and not disgusted by the old lady (they’re all very young) making a fool of herself.

Assassins. I would probably list this is my favorite musical of all time. And it’s Stephen Sondheim so I should get some points for that!

I fell in love with the music for Assassins before I ever saw the show. This was long after its original off-Broadway run, and regional theaters weren’t producing it very often. Then one summer I saw that one of the theater companies in the Berkshires was doing the show. I had to go!

So one weekend afternoon, we drove down. The show was great. But unfortunately the audience was filled with senior citizens on some sort of bus trip. They didn’t appreciate the show as much as I did, and I ended up giving the performers a one person standing ovation. Like the Spring Awakening cast, I hope they appreciated it and didn’t think I was crazy.

Then, low and behold, Assassins came to Broadway and stared some of my favorite actors including Denis O’Hare, Michael Cerveris, Becky Ann Baker and Neil Patrick Harris. Other than the last one, those names don’t mean much to most people, but they do to theater geeks like me.

At the end of the show, I sat in my seat and said, “I want to see it again. Right now.” That’s the only show I’ve ever felt that way about. (I think I’ve said this before, in my post written during the Tony Awards, but that just proves how much I love Assassins.)

So, there are three of my favorite musicals. Not a rainbow in the bunch.

I don’t ask that everyone embrace the dark musical like I do. I know a lot of people prefer shows where no one dies. But I’d be happy if people respected my tastes and stopped acting like I’m a serial killer when I say that I don’t like orphans in my musicals unless they’re shot in a revolution like Gavroche in Les Miserables or end up in a straitjacket like Sweeney Todd’s Tobias.


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