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The Power of Musical Theatre

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The Power of Musical Theatre

By: Emily A. Wingfield

Musical theatre, a form of theatrical performance in which singing, dancing, and acting each play and integral role in the piece. The story and emotional aspects of the show are presented through carefully composed musical pieces, cleverly written dialogue and wonderfully choreographed dance numbers. Musical theatre has been around since ancient times however it was during the 20th century when some of the most iconic musicals emerged. Musical theatre has the power to convey important messages and teach lessons to those watching the performance.

There have been many musical theatre shows in the past that have revolutionized musical theatre and impacted society through the complex story lines that bring up important issues within society. A perfect example of a musical that addressed a certain issue is Rent. Rent is a rock musical written by Jonathan Larson that made its debut on Broadway in 1996. Rent features a group of mostly minority characters such as: a Jewish man, a Latina stripper, a bisexual woman, a lesbian woman of color, a gender nonconforming person of color, and a gay man of color. Many of the characters in Rent were HIV-positive. The musical tells the story of a group of young, impoverished artists living in the East Village of New York. Rent successfully shows how stories with minority characters can be impactful and successful. In addition, viewers who identify with any of the characters are able to see themselves represented in a positive light; something that is not very common, but extremely important. Overall, Rent is a raw and honest portrayal of a New York artist’s struggle for survival, giving viewers a new and accurate perspective on the reality of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the overall struggles of love and life.

Another musical which addressed an extremely important issue that sadly still plagues society today is Hairspray. Premiering on Broadway in 2002, Hairspray is a social commentary on the injustices of parts of American society in the 1960s. The musical takes place in Baltimore, Maryland and portrays the issues of racial segregation as well as the issue of body shaming. Hairspray tells the story of an overweight teenager, Tracy Turnblad, and her dream to dance on the local TV show The Corny Collins Show. When Tracy successfully manages to earn a place on the show, she meets a colorful array of characters such as Amber Von Tussle, who could be seen as the stereotypical “popular girl” who shames Tracy for her body type and is very uncomfortable with Tracy’s idea to integrate the show. Hairspray addresses the issue of racial segregation through Tracy’s attempts to integrate The Corny Collins Show, which she is successful in doing. Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton, has a relationship with a young black boy, Seaweed J. Stubbs. This presents the issue of interracial couples during that time period. Through high level acting, beautifully composed songs and carefully choreographed dance numbers, Hairspray was able to address important issues that plagued America during the time period.

Another musical which presented an important issue is the musical, Next to Normal. Next to Normal is a rock musical written by Brian Yorkey with music by Tom Kitt. The story revolves around a mother living with bipolar disorder and the effects that her illness and her attempts to treat it have on her family. The musical also addresses the issues such as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse and the ethics of modern psychiatry. Next to Normal and its commentary on mental health is extremely important and successfully brings up the issues of living with mental health issues. In today’s society, mental health is not seen as important as it needs to be - it is a real and present issue that many people deal with each day of their lives. As a person who struggles with a mental health issue, Next to Normal was a tremendously impactful musical as it was relatable and helped to discuss the issue of mental health. This is an issue that I, along with anyone struggling with mental health problems, try extremely hard to cultivate discussion on. Overall, Next to Normal is a great example of a musical theatre piece that was able to present an important problem.

Finally, one of the most revolutionary musical theatre pieces to date is the musical Hamilton, written and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. Hamilton revolutionized

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