A Tribute to Dear Old Shiz: Why University Performances Matter

It is common knowledge that musical theater is, at least these days, a more specialized topic than one that falls easily into pop culture. I mean, you don’t really go around town and expect to meet people who’ve heard of the latest production of Into the Woods (the one without Anna Kendrick) much like you can ask about Katy Perry’s new single or which team came out victorious in the latest basketball season. Let’s face it, musical theater has long since left the mainstream radar whether we like it or not. We are part of a growing minority and must therefore do what we can to help keep the industry running, which is why it is incredibly important for us to honor people and/or shows that’ve done so much to continuously spread the word about the form to a vast audience, much like Idina Menzel, Glee, and many others.

But what I’ve recently observed to be an excellent platform in spreading our love for musical theater goes far beyond the lights of prestigious stages but rather in smaller, more intimate spaces close to the hearts of many—school. I witnessed it firsthand a few weeks ago when I came to a musical showcase at one of the few music conservatories here in the Philippines. A group of young college students, more or less my age, came together for a class to produce a two-hour program filled with MT classics such as ‘On My Own’ (Les Miserables), ‘For Good’ (Wicked), and ‘Corner of the Sky’ (Pippin) among others, as well as newer pieces such as ‘Breathe’ (In the Heights) and ‘Run Away With Me’ (The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown), for an audience filled with fellow music students, parents, friends, and children.

I found the show rather entertaining on different levels as it showcased a balance between modern musical theater standards and the pieces that are less well known. But that entertainment goes beyond just things like “good choreography,” “colorful costumes,” and the rest of the usual list. What I found to be very entertaining was to witness the passion that these fellow youth have expressed throughout the performance. It was inspiring to be able to see them perform with that much love and fervor for what they do. And it was because of this that this production, albeit small-scale, helped them create a larger impact.

Aside from watching what happened onstage, I happened to sit beside a little girl whose reactions were as entertaining as the show itself. I watched her eyes get bigger every time she heard a note or two way beyond what she thought was possible, I watched how she struggled to save the batteries of her camera to be able to immortalize what she was experiencing in that moment, and I watched her wipe small tears of joy from her eyes as the artists took their final bows. It was one of the most amazing experiences to be able to see how much theater can affect people—to see how much it can trigger emotions that might’ve changed the rest of a person’s life.

It was then that I realized that theater can be celebrated even in the smallest, most intimate places we can think of; it doesn’t matter how big of a star we are or how famous we can be. All that matters is that at the end of every performance, we touch people and inspire them to come back and listen one more time. University performances like the one I saw are a great opportunity for musical theatre to reach new audiences. I admire the students who continuously work to better themselves to give such beautiful performances; I give credit to the mentors and teachers who serve as guides and inspiration to keep these students going; and finally, I give tribute to dear old Shiz, without which such a field would be left considerably weakened.

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