Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Part 1

Excessive Tragedy

Comedy and Tragedy

Back in high school, my musical theater friends and I have practiced medleys and songs from many different musicals, including plenty that I have never heard about before aside from brief tellings of them by our choir director. I remember she was hesitant about telling us about some of the dark themes such as the one for Miss Saigon—it was about poverty and prostitution, but she loved the song “Sun and Moon”—this is, in fact, a beautifully written song, but I know that I could never watch this musical. It seems to be all about hopelessness, and looking for dignity in a world and era that didn’t believe that dignity existed. Sometimes darkness is needed to empathise with the audience, but too much of it can make it hard to find the way towards the light, or it can keep the personality of the main characters from being known. So besides the fact that it was a romantic song, and at the time I was stuck in a stage of finding anything romance-related mushy for maturity reasons, the story behind this song made it hard for me to connect to it. Yes, I’m saying this, and I recently enjoyed reading the story 1984 which is also brutally dark. Please forgive my cognitive dissonance.

All in all, this issue begs a question at the back of my mind: Is it okay to deal with exceptionally serious issues in plays with singing? If it is okay, should a way towards goodness and dignity be provided through the cause-and-effect process of a story? Maybe. Maybe Miss Saigon does exercise this process, but I might never know because I learned about that one theme, so I never gave it a chance. Maybe it has so many more themes than the one I know about. Come to think of it, the reason I enjoyed the book 1984 was because Winston was fighting to keep his feet on the ground by using this exact same, objective process of cause and effect that we see in stories, and all around us. But on the other hand, I do NOT want to see a 1984 musical… or would I?… Nah! Most likely not. However, there is also ‘Les Misérables’. This is a dark musical, but I think that it has managed to reach the light sometimes.

Tomorrows post will be about Excessive Comedy.

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

ancient antique architecture art
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When I was younger, I was part of the musical theater community in high school. A number of the students including my sister cliqued into it, while the rest of us loved music, singing, and dancing, but never regarded the act of performing as something that defined our personalities and interests. Don’t get me wrong–everyone there was an individual, but there was a definite split between those of us who can love any musical as long as the music was good (aka the Glee fans), and those of us who couldn’t share the same interests even if we tried to. Even so, it was a very nice group of people.

I will try to explain the reasons why I feel the way I do about musicals. It might have something to do with excessive levels of comedy and tragedy being amplified by specific styles of music. Maybe music can tell us how to feel about a story rather than let the story flow into the emotions itself before the music locks us into it. It’s possible that when the story isn’t regarded as important, music can be used as a crutch to try to hold up an unchallenging story. I have no idea how often music is being used like this, but I believe that I have seen this happen. I will also discuss how good music can be used to allow clichés to flourish. In this case, I’m going to talk about the high school trope—my personal pet peeve.

I’m going to discuss this subject through a series of posts.  In the next four blog posts starting tomorrow, I’m probably going to say things that you don’t agree with. I’m going to state my own opinions that might change in the future; however, through these posts, I want to encourage you to never let a weak story pass you by just because the music that went with it was good. A good story can help us to learn how to socialize in an honest, and forgiving way that helps us to know the truth, and keeps us from being stuck with our pride, shame, or our own opinions. Let’s not lose our capacity to move beyond ourselves—we are strong enough to handle tales that go against the grain of our limited perspectives, and that show us something we have never seen before. We have to be because this kind of strength shapes our own intentions towards others, and helps us to form relationships in true humility. In a world that seems to be in the process of swapping humility for pride and shame, moving beyond ourselves has become deeply crucial now.

The first subject that I’m going to be discussing is excessive tragedy.  It will be up on this blog tomorrow.