Broadway Musicals: They’re Not Just For Gays Anymore

A few notes regarding this post’s title:

  • I use the term ‘Broadway musicals’ to refer to the genre and not just to the shows that are currently in production along Broadway, in New York. Most currently-famous musicals started off-Broadway, and there are also a lot of other convergence points for this type of art that are similar to New York’s Broadway, like London’s West End. 
  • I do not use the phrase ‘not just for gays anymore’ in a negative manner. This is actually a phrase made famous by Neil Patrick Harris in the opening number of the 2011 Tony Awards. You can watch a video of the performance here.

Theater has always been considered a gay thing. And here, I use gay in its negative connotation, though I do not agree. Today, however, people in the business will be more than happy to tell you that the theater really is gay, evidence of which is this song from Mel Brooks’ The Producers, entitled Keep It Gay. 

Two things: (a) there is nothing wrong with something being gay, and (b) theater would really be rather boring if it wasn’t as gay as it is. Imagine Phantom of the Opera with less pomp, or Avenue Q without Nicky and Rod. Now wouldn’t that be a travesty?

I don’t really want to get into the whole ‘theater is gay’ thing on my own, so here’s Neil Patrick Harris. He’s much better at all this than I will ever be. Side note: I absolutely love this guy. He is legen–wait for it–dary!

Theater being considered a gay thing isn’t actually the whole point of this post. The point that I’m trying to make is that theater, much like most other forms of literature and art, can be a veritable gold mine of life lessons. Theater, like books and movies and television shows, is designed to capture life (or, at the very least, some incarnation of it) and showcase it in a way that can be considered entertaining and appropriate in length.

I have to admit though, I’m not much of a theater buff. There are plays that bore the crap out of me. I much prefer Broadway musicals over plays where actors do nothing but talk, but that is not to say that I do not appreciate the talent and hard work that go into such productions. In light of this though, I’m not gonna talk much about plays in general. I’m gonna focus on the thing that I do know something about–musicals.

Mind you, I don’t know a whole lot, but I’ve watched several musicals in my time. In fact, I even have this special group of friends who I call up whenever a good show rolls into town. I know for a fact that everybody loves a good show, and I believe that everyone will love the whole musical genre if they just give it a chance. If  you’re a movie buff and you loved releases like the High School Musical trilogy, or if you’ve seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blogthen you have an idea of just how fun musicals can be.

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, musicals can be a great source of life lessons once you think about it. I was able to get my hands on a copy of a performance of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall a few days ago and as I was watching it, something hit me. This wasn’t just about some weird guy in a mask, singing from behind mirrors–it was actually a metaphor for acceptance. I think everyone’s gone through an experience where they’d met someone they like, and then they’d invested a lot of time and effort into making that someone like them back, only to be thwarted by some other person who just swoops in and steals them away. At least, that was what I got from the show.

With that in mind, I went over all of the other shows I’ve watched in the past, and thought about what lessons I could glean from them.

RENT

Yes, I know, that poster’s from the movie, but I couldn’t find a decent poster from the Broadway production. Anyway, going back to the point. I first watched Rent when I was in high school. My friends and I had a lot of free time and had nothing better to do, so my then best friend rummaged through his DVD collection and found a copy of Rent: The Movie. It wasn’t as powerful as the live performance, but when I first watched it, I was totally blown away. At its very core, Rent is a story about friendship and the hardships of life. What I loved about it though is the way that it tackled some of the toughest and most-controversial issues of modern society–drugs, homosexuality, same-sex relationships, exotic jobs, and AIDS. All that while managing to deliver some of the most powerful and catchy songs ever.

AVENUE Q

Avenue Q is a story that revolved around a guy who just got out of college and still has no idea what he wants to do in life. Also, monsters. I was actually introduced to this musical through its soundtrack. A friend of mine in college gave me a copy of the musical’s OST. I listened to the songs and got hooked by how witty and entertaining the whole thing was. How can you go wrong with songs like The Internet is for Porn and Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist? Finally, I got to watch the show itself during my last year in college when a production company hosted it here in Manila, which meant that it had an even more powerful effect on me because I was graduating and was about to experience the “real world”, just as the main character did. This show is basically Sesame Street for grownups. It even had its own version of Bert and Ernie, but this time, one of them was clearly gay. Side note: I believe, with all my heart, that Bert and Ernie are gay–I even believed it even when I was a kid. Avenue Q tackled issues like how hard it is to find your purpose in life, or the feeling of not knowing what to do after getting out of college, love, sex, and being happy for now.

SPRING AWAKENING

I haven’t been able to watch this live, but I was able to watch a recording of a live performance. Two things: (a) awesome plot and (b) awesome songs. The story is basically about kids in school, in a repressive and backward society, told through a very rock ‘n roll-ish soundtrack. It details how the characters struggled with parental and administrative authority, while dealing with their own issues–sexual urges, homosexuality, diversity, peer pressure, suicidal thoughts, and, basically, the bitch of living. Also, my awesome World Literature professor made us perform songs from this in class. That trimester was alternately awesome and horrifying.

Okay, this post is getting pretty long, but you get the idea. There are a whole lot of other shows that I’ve watched and gotten indirect advice from–Legally Blonde The Musical, Shrek The Musical, Grease, Rock of Ages, Next to Normal, The Producers, Mamma Mia, etc. And what I think is the glue that holds all these shows together–or, at the very least, the common denominator between all these shows–is the silent plea for tolerance.

You see, theater is where most people who have been shunned by society end up. That’s not a derogatory assumption–it’s more or less the truth. For decades it’s been considered the dumping ground of those who have been thought too odd to fit in anywhere else. That’s changing, I think, for the better. Still, this may be the reason why most shows manage to fit a theme of tolerance into their plots–whether its characters with HIV trying to fit in with the “normal crowd”, or furry monsters starting a school for little monsters because “normal people” keep bullying them to the point that they end up needing therapy and investing in porn.

Basically, for me, it all comes down to one thing: musicals are just like life, only more fun.

Also, people who star in it are usually seriously good-looking.

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