It’s Time to Stop “Show-Shaming”

I consider myself to be a burgeoning musical theatre expert- I mean come on, I’m spending two years of my life getting a masters degree in it. I will be honest with you all: I finally sat down and listened to the full recording of Bridges of Madison County the other day, and (whispers) I didn’t really like it. In case you want to call me out, I can fully articulate what songs I wasn’t really moved by, moments I thought didn’t work, and admit that my impression might have been different if I had seen it in person. It simply isn’t my favorite Jason Robert Brown score. What that does NOT mean is that I hate all of Jason Robert Brown’s works, that I am illiterate when it comes to musical theatre, or that I wouldn’t know “good musical theatre” if it hit me over the head. These are all remarks I’ve heard thrown between musical theatre lovers when heatedly discussing opinions about composers’ shows and trends in the industry. I hate to say this about our big, fat, gypsy community: we are show-shamers.

What is “show-shaming”? This is shaming a person based on their opinions and tastes in musicals, and it is completely unacceptable. We have all heard a 14-year-old kid’s response to “What’s your favorite musical?” be an excited “Rent!” or “Wicked!” and rolled our eyes at their “uneducated” or “juvenile” taste. So what if someone likes Wicked? It is a great show written by a prolific composer! Look here to read a breakdown of motifs used in Wicked. So what if it isn’t as meaty or dramatic as Assassins or Next to Normal? What if it isn’t as classic as South Pacific? That doesn’t make their answer wrong or uneducated- it is their taste in musicals at the moment. I like Wicked, Legally Blonde, and Bye Bye Birdie as some of my all-time favorite musicals. I also like Nine, Sunday in the Park with George, and The Last Five Years.

I believe that intelligent musical theatre lovers will find their tastes expand to include a myriad of “types” of musicals – small, intimate shows, large scale blockbusters, movies turned musicals, edgy new works, classic musicals, etc. Think of it like food (my favorite kind of analogy). I can’t eat a hearty pot roast every day of my life; I need to balance it out with fresh veggies, some comforting breakfast foods, and even a little ice cream sometimes. I can’t listen to a hearty, emotionally charged, intellectually stimulating show like Floyd Collins every single day; I need to break it up with some fun, easy listening like Matilda or something comfort-inducing like My Fair Lady!

Taste is not an indicator of intelligence – taste is taste. You know what you like and what you don’t like and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t let others bully you into liking a musical just because it is important, inspiring or intelligent. These are all good reasons to check out a musical; if you experience it fully and make an informed decision about WHY you don’t like it, then don’t feel bad about your opinion. On the flip side, we shouldn’t show-shame other people. We can offer our opinion, suggest our favorite musicals for others to try, but we cannot embarrass our fellow “family” members for the musicals they connect with. For example, my sister claims not to like Sondheim even though she understands his amazing contributions to musical theatre. While inside I clutch my pearls and gasp, on the outside I will encourage her to keep trying his music the older she gets and try to identify what exactly turns her off.

For a generation and a community that prides itself on being “non-judgmental,” we have to practice what we preach. Let’s work on not belittling others based on their tastes and stand up for our fellow musical theatre nerds when we watch them become victims of show-shaming. Many people in the wine community have been reminding me “Good wine is the wine that you like” – let’s try to apply that to musical theatre. Good musical theatre pieces are the ones that impress, inspire and increase your love for theatre. So let loose, unabashedly dance around to “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover” from Annie and don’t you be ashamed!

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