I Look Around For (Musicals): Finding Musical Theater Everywhere You Go

My reaction to American Repertory Theater’s recent announcement of its upcoming season was pretty much in line with my reactions to similar announcements from any number of other laudable regional theater companies: I immediately texted some friends to begin planning a series of theater-fueled excursions to Boston, wherein we would catch the world premiere of Waitress and, even more exciting, mountings of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 and Ghost Quartet. I’ve never even been much of a traveler, but if anything can get me on board the nearest plane, train, or automobile, it’s musical theater. Over the past few months alone, I’ve looked into airfare to Seattle to catch Jasper in Deadland at the 5thAvenue Theater, made a number of (sadly, unsuccessful) attempts at getting myself to Millburn, NJ to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame and have already begun structuring my summer plans around a visit to Washington D.C. for Arena Stage’s Dear Evan Hansen. If it’s not already clear: where musical theater goes, I (try to) follow.

Unfortunately, neither my schedule nor my budget is particularly accommodating of my fantasies of a cross-country musical theater extravaganza; in fact, it’s often difficult to find the time and/or money for even the relatively short train trip into New York City. And so I’ve been forced to get creative in my efforts to satisfy my MT cravings—and even that has its challenges. As a champion of contemporary musical theater, I’m not exactly itching for yet another production of Oklahoma! or Grease. I want something fresh, something exciting, something (as this site’s very title suggests) new.

And guess what? As I strived to prevent my life from becoming musical-less, something kind of awesome happened: I opened my eyes a bit wider, and realized that musical theater is everywhere—if you look hard enough. If it’s some new songs I’m craving, all I need to do is check out a cast recording I’ve yet to hear or, better yet, do a quick search on YouTube where there are, quite literally, thousands of videos from today’s most exciting up-and-coming composers. This may not be the same as being in that audience for every 54 Below show, but it’s pretty darn amazing that I have such access to this music, regardless of my location.

And for those times when a recording isn’t enough—those times that I’m simply dying to be in a darkened auditorium—I’ve found that there are opportunities for that, too. It might require a bit more scouting, of course, but don’t let that discourage you. In my final semester of college, for example, there were no fewer than three student-written musicals that received fully- or semi-staged productions, proving my classmates to be an impossibly innovative, tireless, and artistic group. It was amazing to see these works play out in front of me, as they were a reminder that the world of musical theater—a world that can, at times, feel so small, so esoteric—is, in reality, incredibly vast, and it will only continue to grow, develop, and thrive as we continue to create.

So if you’re stuck living far away from New York or Boston or Seattle or D.C. or any place where it feels like the “cool stuff” is happening, just remember: musical theater is everywhere. Looking for your daily fix of belting? Check out any number of the YouTube videos from the likes of Ryan Scott Oliver or Kerrigan-Lowdermilk or Pasek & Paul. Craving that excitement of being in an audience? Go see a show at a local high school, college, or community theater, and promise yourself you’ll find three things about it to love. Longing to feel like you’re a part of it all? Create something new. Even if you don’t think it’ll be any good, even if you’re not yet ready to share it with anyone, just create; I promise that it will keep you occupied until you’re able to experience musical theater in the way that you’ve always dreamed of—and maybe, just maybe, it will open the door on some new dreams, too.

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