July 4, 2015

Popularizing the Musical Theatre "Genre"

A few days ago, I pulled into the parking lot of my local Target with my car windows rolled down and the stereo blasting the Side Show cast recording. As I pulled into a parking space, I noticed there was a 20-something year old girl standing on the sidewalk watching my car. I was applying some lip gloss in my rearview mirror when I realized that the girl was giving me a very strange look, half smirking/half laughing. I suddenly became aware that my stereo was still playing Side Show and of how odd the lyrics must sound to someone who is unfamiliar with show-tunes and musical theatre. “Scientists tell me that Siamese twins come from the same life germ and that their complete separation was retarded in some way. Perhaps while pregnant, their mother witnessed dogs stuck together, copulating…” I suppose people don’t expect to hear that when they go to Target. 

However, show-tunes encompass a broad range of musical genres: country, pop, hip-hop, rap, alternative, and classical, just to list a few examples. Perhaps the salient difference between show tunes and mainstream popular music is the capacity for story-telling. Nothing can tell a good story like a show tune. For example, “Come Look at the Freaks” introduces the story of the sideshow, but when taken out of context, the dialogue sounds odd (and may elicit strange looks from unintended listeners). Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the majority of Americans are accustomed to this method of story-telling. 

So when I acknowledged the strange look from the Target girl, I was initially a bit self-conscious for about… 2 seconds (because of the lyrics) and then I felt… amused and proud… and then a bit sad. Allow me to explain. My Target experience brought me back to a time in my life when I was shy about my love for musical theatre. When I was 13, I was introduced to Grease and promptly fell in love with the Broadway “genre” and have never turned back. (Yes, Grease is not the most profound or life-altering musical, but it compel me to explore other cast recordings and live theatrical productions during my adolescence.) Since the moment I discovered musical theatre at 13 years old, I have not listened to the radio on a regular basis. 

In college, I felt disconnected from my peers and even my closest friends at times because I was unfamiliar with their musical preferences. After all, music is one way that human beings bond with one another. I loathed clubs, bars, dances, and parties because I would sit back and watch my friends dance enthusiastically to music that, in all honestly, bored me to tears. I think that my unique musical preferences made me more introverted as a young adult as I spent more and more of my free time alone listening to Broadway music or listening to show tunes in my dorm room with headphones on because I didn’t want to “subject” my roommates to what I considered to be “unpopular” music. Oddly, I became apologetic for my taste in music. 

My initial self-conscious reaction to the Target girl triggered some of these memories, but fortunately, I’m no longer embarrassed or apologetic for my taste in music. I think my love for Broadway is an awesome thing and I only wish more people had the opportunity to love it as much as myself, but sadly, many young people are never exposed to theatre for educational, financial, or geographical reasons. Music programs are being cut out of school systems every day and I will be forever grateful that my educational experience was rich in music education that fostered creativity, self-expression, an appreciation and love for music, as well as the ability to cope with life challenges. Other young people face financial barriers because- let’s face it- live theatre tends to be expensive. A movie at the theatre costs $10, but live theatre can cost anywhere from $15-$30 for community productions up to $150+ for professional productions on Broadway. Most young people cannot afford that. Actually, let me rephrase that. Most people in general cannot afford that. Geography may present the most challenging barrier- many young people do not live in an area of the country where musical theatre is readily available. All of these factors discourage widespread acceptance of the musical theatre genre into mainstream pop culture. I wish we lived in a society where I could drive into a suburban Target parking lot playing Sideshow on my stereo with my car windows down, and someone walking by would recognize the music. But…. that won’t be happening any time soon. 

My wishes for the future of Broadway music:

*that local radio stations would play show tunes regularly AND/OR that a local radio station would be devoted solely to Broadway music. 

*that Broadway music and musical theatre would be included as part of the core requirements in all levels of education (elementary, junior high, and high schools). Specifically, MODERN MUSICAL THEATRE should be emphasized in an effort to discourage the stereotype that musical theatre is limited to My Fair Lady, The King and I, and Fiddler on the Roof (but not to exclude old musicals either). 

*that Broadway music would be played at high school proms, middle school dances, and other school events in addition to popular music. 

“Wouldn’t it be loverly?” 

1 comment:

  1. I feel weirder listening to regular music at top volume than I do show tunes...to me, it is odd for me to listen to what is considered "normal" music and I feel people will look at me strangely for stepping out of my norm! I guess I really don't care what others thing of my musical preferences haha
    But I do agree, musical theatre should be taught at all levels, and taught about all shows. Musicals didnt stop when Rodgers and Hammerstein died!! People should be more accepting of musical theatre, and should be more familiar with it, as it has been around forever and isn't going away. Its time we start changing people's misconceptions. I agree with the cost being high...this is why they should film each show live, and release it either in movies or on DVD. Get it out there to people who may not afford to go live!