A Showtunes Education
You walk into a glowing room. There’s an ambience of calm and good vibes coming at you from all angles. You take a seat at a table swaddled in velvet and reach out your hand. The lover of your dreams reaches back out to you, and as you look deeply into your partner’s eyes, they utter the words, “You know, I really loathe musicals.” For most of us, this would be a great time to reflect on our choices, and to quote the great Schwartz, “think about (our) life, Pippin.” But, before we slam down a 20 and run sprinting from the table, is there a way to fix this nightmare of a problem?
I unfortunately have experienced this line of blasphemy. I never made the mad dash for the door, but definitely had a moment or two of woe when I find out that partners or friends are just not into showtunes. Not that one must have all of their likes and dislikes align with mine to be the Leander to my Hero (hello, Guettel), but it is hard to have a passion that I spent several grand in tuition on be swept under the rug. What I’ve found logical thus far is to ask more questions. To dig deeper into what causes said feelings. “What do you typically picture when you hear the word ‘musical?'” might be my first query.
Typically, the response is some idea of a fluffy score made out of pink cotton candy and a threadbare plot. Not that those musicals don’t have their merit or place, but this is typically the time to mention musicals gained some beefy plots thanks to Oklahoma. Spectacle, sparkle, and pretty faces is not always the name of the game. There are great pieces out there that speak of dark times, of challenging eras, of empires burning to flames. Talk about how Tonya Pinkins slamming that iron down in her heart rips you open every time you hear the name Caroline (or Change). Make them aware that like most modern media, musicals come in all spectrums of emotions. Sweeney Todd broke ground for this very reason. Not only was it gruesome and messy, but it was funny in a way that people being turned into pies could hardly dream to be (soylent green owes Sondheim a check).
There is something for everyone out there. It just takes a bit of digging to find the perfect introduction. That is when genre comes into play. Think of it like those categories on Netflix. Is your friend looking for a romantic comedy? I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change should get the ball rolling. Is this friend looking for female empowerment? Give them the gift of Dessa Rose. Do they have a Mel Brooks sensibility? Then you are three steps ahead and don’t really need my help.
If this person has never really been a talker, or just isn’t into heavy hearted discussions, drastic measures might need to be taken. This calls for a mixtape. Whenever you and this friend are hanging out and music just happens to be playing, drop a little gem or two in the mix. But don’t start with the classics. I find that some Spring Awakening fits nicely into an early aughts rock band mix. If those gems somehow don’t get your friend on his toes and worshipping a book and lyrics combo, you are in more trouble than I thought. Might I suggest a jukebox musical? Jukebox musicals have gotten our people (the Broadway industry) through some trying financial times, and in the case of a trying friend, should get us to a happy medium of melismas and passion. Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, American Idiot – these are shows that not only gave a punch to Broadway, but introduced a new fan base to what Broadway can offer.
If this friend still won’t take the A train to belting and ballads, it might just be time to reconsider the fight. These stories hold weight for us, rightly so, but as Lucy says in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, “some philosophies aren’t for all people.” Call your friend out on his partisanship, but don’t beat yourself up or take it too seriously if you just can’t get him to see eye to eye. There will always be a new friend nearby who is just as ready to be taken for a ride by the next musical. But maybe, just maybe, a crash course on the world of musicals can open up that non-fan friend to some enlightenment. Just don’t be too upset if things don’t come up roses. That friend is still a friend…just not the one you should stage door with.