Rejecting Musical Theater is Reductive of the Genre


Photo Courtesy of NPR

Musicals like Hamilton have reached a large audience.

“I just don’t like Musical Theater.”

It’s time I talk about my problem with that sentence. And with Tony nominations being released, I feel it is timely to speak on the hate for musical theater. I acknowledge this sentence is often said to me in an attempt to thwart me from playing Hamilton on full blast in the Review office or during a car ride. But even so, as a resident musical theater fan, I must point out the opportunity being missed in refusing to give musical theater music a chance.

To say you don’t like musical theater is to ignore an entire medium with so many subgenres. Musical theater has a true gift in being able to do whatever it wants when creating and producing music. While there are certain common types of musical theater, such as your classical shows like The Phantom of the Opera or The Sound of Music, a plethora of musicals implement all types of music from around the world. For example, The Band’s Visit, which centers around Arabic classical music and traditional Middle Eastern styles, utilizes instruments such as the oud and the darbuka. The sound is completely different from Les Misérables, a pop operetta full of string instruments and woodwinds. The Band’s Visit and Les Mis provide two completely different music
styles that you can enjoy. And much like other genres, there are songs you like from certain artists and shows and songs you don’t particularly like. But you don’t say to someone, “I don’t like rap music,” because you just aren’t a fan of Wiz Khalifa.

It’s also the case that musical theater can change and innovate within its music. Unlike most music that centers on one main singer throughout an album, musical theater showcases individuals and ensembles. Hadestown, for example, utilizes its ensemble as a live machine mimicking sounds from a production line. A Chorus Line is purely composed of ensemble numbers, as each actor generally gets the same stage time and functions as a group in most numbers. Musical theater tells a story through music in a new and exciting way every time. No music is truly ever the same and there is something to love for everyone. I also find it hard for someone to claim that they’ve seen all that musical theater could offer them and still decide not to like it. This is because even I, a musical theater fan of ten years, have yet to listen to every musical. I find myself discovering a new musical every month. And there is a musical for everyone to enjoy at least a little. While I know Hamilton is popular, many others deserve the same chance to shine. Love Percy Jackson? You’re in luck because The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical cast album is on Spotify. Want a more serious mu- sical expanding on important issues and experiences while having a unique sound? Take a chance to listen to Next to Normal or Ragtime. Too slow? Queue up Rent. Do you want to listen to a musical based on funk and hip-hop? “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk fuses the two. Do you hate how people break out into random songs in dance in musicals and find it offputting? Then you should tune into The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals for a laugh.

Even the most obscure situations can be found — for example, Fun Home has a song set in an Oberlin College dorm as the main character comes to terms with her sexuality under Oberlin sheets. Much like movies, anime, and any large form of media, there are so many options to choose from, and to cancel out the entirety of the art is hasty. The list goes on. Every year, musicals are being renewed, reinvented, and created, each with a different and new story to tell. Did you know that Usher appeared in the musical Chicago, starring as celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn? Queen Latifah starred in the movie version of Chicago and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. We seem to forget that many of our favorite celebrities enjoyed theater as performers long before they got recognition. Tupac Shakur was an actor and rapper; Hugh Jackman played the character Wolverine and also played the circus ringleader in The Greatest Showman. I remember how excited I was to see Beyoncé perform in Dreamgirls because it was two of my favorite things appearing together. You’d be surprised how many people enjoy musical theater. Musical theater is open to everyone and not just consumed by that one friend who belts show tunes in your ear. While it’s not played on the radio, and the cast of Hamilton will never perform for Coachella, it still deserves the same respect as the music you listen to.

I think the most important thing to remember is that if you don’t love musicals, I can’t really do anything about it. I acknowledge that people bursting into song and dance at random moments might just be too hard of a pill to swallow. It’s not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it respectfully. Everyone has something they are dying to talk to their friends about or blast in the car while speeding down the highway. And if that subject is the new Tony nominations or the revival of the musical Parade, then that is just as valid. Ultimately, being a musical theater fan is just liking a certain type of music like everyone else. There have been many moments where my friend will gush about the new Tyler, the Creator album or Mac DeMarco’s new album with 199 songs. And I would never make fun of someone who looks so happy while talking about it or listening to it as they walk down the street. Give musical theater a shot. You might be surprised.