Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Part 3

Allowing the High School Cliché to Flourish

Poodle Skirt

How often have you seen musicals, or the idea of musical theater being portrayed in a high school setting?

Let’s see… there’s High School Musical, Glee, the two musicals that are named after hair products, Fame, can you think of any more?

This would be okay if we weren’t already steeped with the romanticisation of high school from the time we were little kids. I don’t know why that’s been happening because high school never necessarily seemed like an adventurous time. During this time, the grand bulk of our waking life consisted of trying to keep up with school work, didn’t it? I never really liked this trope from the time I was a little kid passively watching the Olsen twins because my sister and friends liked them (I enjoyed them for a little while, but that enjoyment faded quickly).

Whenever I’ve witnessed this trope, something often felt empty about it, but I was never exactly sure what it was. Maybe it’s because the ages of these characters, and the setting makes for simple stories—the writers must think that simple young minds, plus a simple setting, equals a simple solution to a problem.  Did the writers trust children and teens to negotiate between right and wrong in a heartfelt way so that they could gain real respect from themselves and others, and real character?  I’m not going to assume that they didn’t.  However, often the issues presented in these stories seem to be too extreme or shallow to be dealt with in the simple, non-philosophical ways that they are handled. While some people are scared of philosophy in a story, I’m scared of the lack of it as characters move through life faster than their maturity has taken them so far.  I can’t make sense of this no matter how I look at it.

Let’s get back on track. If the musicals (and television show) listed above were made without being musicals (meaning that the only time characters were singing was when they were performing), what would they be like? Glee would probably look like the typical high school sitcom for older teens, High School Musical would probably look like one of Disney’s live action television shows about dating, and Maybe Hair Spray would be okay, but Grease and Fame would seem a little tired. Is that just me? Why stick to this trope if it’s just a simple platform to paste music onto?

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about some musicals that I believe have good stories.  It will be the very last post in this series.

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