8 Things Musical Theater Taught Me

There are hundreds of reasons why we go see musicals; maybe for the music, the costumes, or even the good-looking actors that make us blush in the front row. One reason in this rather long list, however, is the chance to think about and reflect on things through songs, characters and stories. It’s just one of the best feelings to leave the theater with a lesson in mind to remember it by. And in this spirit, here are eight things I’m most happy to say musical theater taught me.

1. Defying Gravity (from Wicked) – Stephen Schwartz

Let’s just get this out in the open: “Defying Gravity” did not teach me how to defy gravity. There’s something about the conversation the two characters have before the song enters its first verse that really got me thinking:

Glinda: You can have all you ever wanted…
Elphaba: But don’t want it—I can’t want it anymore…

This short conversation taught me that circumstances change and that dreams may change alongside them. Sometimes what we want today might not be what we want tomorrow because of unexpected plot twists. The challenge is for us to discover the things that matter most to us—those we absolutely can’t live without—and hang on to them. In Elphaba’s case, that means her dignity as a person and her desire to do good, even if it means losing her chance to be with the Wizard.

Watch this video on YouTube.

2. Breathe (from In the Heights) – Lin-Manuel Miranda

At some point in our lives, we all fail at one thing or another. I mean, we are human after all. But if we can learn something from Nina, it’s that we can’t let ourselves hold onto mistakes we’ve made in the past because they just will just choke us until we gasp for air. Whatever the problem is, the extra pressure we put on ourselves to seem “strong” will just weary us down even more. If she hadn’t said it enough, it’s okay to take a breath.

Watch this video on YouTube.

3. First Date, Last Night (from Dogfight) – Pasek & Paul

Formulating a first impression is like our first line of defense when we encounter something/someone unfamiliar. Admit it: it’s inevitable that we make judgments. What I love about the relationship between Eddie and Rose (which I think is perfectly summed up in this piece) is that they were both outside each other’s comfort zones, yet they took a chance (a second chance in their case) at each other and it worked! We never know what great things await us if we don’t take the leap.

Watch this video on YouTube.

4. Nothing Stops Another Day (from Ghost the Musical) – Stewart, Ballard and Rubin

No rule says we can’t break down. Some (or maybe most) of the time, it’s the only thing that allows us to heal. But that’s just it: we can’t cry every day. We have to realize that life goes on and at some point we need to start moving back on with it.

Watch this video on YouTube.

“Winter can’t hold back the spring, no matter how dark it may seem. Come what may, nothing stops another day.”

5. Santa Fe (from Newsies) – Alan Menken

Jack Kelly reinforced my belief that going after whatever dream we have is a right for each and every person. All we have to do is claim it and figure out the rest from there.

Watch this video on YouTube.

6. I’m Alive (from Next to Normal) – Kitt & Yorkey

It was this song that struck me the most. Depression, grief, frustration, loss, brokenness—these are things that won’t leave simply on their own. We need to set aside time to confront them if we ever want to get ourselves free. Sure, there’s a 99.99% probability that you’ll get scathed and wounded, but it’s better than getting sucked into a black hole every single day.

Watch this video on YouTube.

“If you won’t grieve me then you won’t leave me behind.”

7. Dying Ain’t So Bad (from Bonnie and Clyde) – Frank Wildhorn

In some rare moments, we get really lucky to be able to meet a person that shows us a life we never even knew we’ve always wanted. Bonnie and Clyde were even luckier to have met each other so early in theirs. They saw the other as life itself even to a point that losing one would mean worse than death. Through this I realized that life is a means rather than an end, for us to learn and experience other gifts in world. We don’t live to survive; we live hoping that when it all comes to an end, we can say it was all worth it.

Watch this video on YouTube.

8. No Day But Today (from Rent) – Jonathan Larson

“Forget regret or life is yours to miss.

No other road, no other way. No day but today.”

Love who you love; do what makes you happy. You have one life, so live it.

Theater is life placed on a stage for us to observe and hopefully learn from. It’s a mirror to reflect you and me to make us realize things that may otherwise go unnoticed. It exists to give guidance to how we could/should live the rest of our limited time in this ever-changing world and make sure we give one heck of a performance.

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