There’s something about the world of a musical that always makes things better. From the second that the house lights dim, you can — if you’re lucky — be swept away into a completely different world.
Theatre is magic, and I love experiencing it from both the stage and the house. I know that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I do wish people would give it a shot.
One of the most common complaints that I hear is that It’s so unrealistic, that people just randomly start singing and dancing out of nowhere. But one of the first things that I learned in my first musical theatre class is that it’s not out of nowhere. There’s a mantra: “When your character feels too much for words to be enough, they sing; when they feel too much for song to be enough, they dance.”
As someone who keeps their feelings relatively bound up (until I start ranting on the internet, but nevermind that), there’s something freeing about giving in to the full depth of emotion: to immerse yourself in a world of people who openly express what’s on their heart: whether it’s pure joy, pain, or anything else on the multi-axial emotional spectrum.
There is so much feeling tied into musicals. And, in feeling, there’s freedom.
Here’re some of the songs I turn to when I’m feeling blue.
“Light” from “Next to Normal”
Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey
And you find some way to survive
And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all
To be happy you’re alive
(I had to pick a clip starring the recently-departed Marin Mazzie, one of my favorite voices to grace Broadway.)
Next to Normal was the musical that really brought me into the theatre world. For the first time, I was exposed to an art form that, while it wasn’t necessarily representative if my mental illness, it painted a picture of somebody else’s demons, so cruel and beautifully and perfectly. I could see myself in all of the main characters, as someone suffering from mental illness, and someone living with suffering with mental illness, as someone growing up with mental illness.
It was important to have that, yes. But it was also one of the only hopeful mental illness stories that I was exposed to. Not a saccharine, happy ending with a cure, but hope.
Next to Normal also taught me the joy of being a part of the theatre community — including a long-lived saltiness about your favorites not doing well on Tony night.
I know, I know. It’s been ten years, but still. Next to Normal deserved Best Musical along with that Pulitzer.
“As We Stumble Along” from “The Drowsy Chaperone”
Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert, and Greg Morrison
Then we stumble away
Through dawn’s blinding sun beams
Barely knowing right from right
Nor left from wrong
But as long as we can hear
That little bluebird
There’ll be a song
As we stumble along
The Drowsy Chaperone, for the uninitiated, is a musical within a musical, where a man, sitting alone at home, puts on a record of his favorite musical and it comes to life around him. Punctuated with his narration, this pastiche of an old-timey musical is made rip-roaring funny.
And this humor has some teeth to it!
But all of that aside, this song still manages to inspire and rekindle me when I’m in my doldrums. (And the reprise of this song, which comes at the very end of the show, will always make me tear up. The man in the chair — as the narrator is called — starts singing the song to himself to cheer him up, and the characters come to life around him.)
“Me and the Sky” from “Come From Away”
Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Suddenly I’ve got an all female crew
The news talked, it made headlines across the world
Suddenly it stopped,
No one saying “You can’t” or “You won’t”
Or “You know you’re not anything ’cause you’re a girl”
I know that this song is definitely targeted as being an empowerment song for ladies, but the gender binary is shit and I love this song. It gets me going when I’m down, and you can’t ask for more than that.
It’s the kind of song where you want to shout and sing along, even if it’s weird for you to.
What makes this song even more amazing is that it’s pretty much the biography of Capt. Beverley Bass, a trailblazing pilot who was among those grounded in Newfoundland after the 9/11 attacks.
“Alabanza” from “In the Heights”
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes
Alabanza means to raise this
Thing to God’s face
And to sing, quite literally: “Praise to this.”
Before there was Hamilton, there was In the Heights — which will also be coming to a movie theatre near you, soon.
This song is absolutely heartbreaking within the context of the show, but when you get to the latter half, and you just fall into listening to the round, to the harmonies that, while they break your heart, lift your wings.
Some sadness isn’t too bad, as long as it gives you wings.
“The Journey” from “Unbound”
Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk
One choice, one chance, one road we take
the journey’s never the aim.
All the same, we change, we grow, we barely know
who we’ll become.
If you’ve spent any amount of time around me at all, you know how much I love Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. If not, I think this photo says it all.
This song is from one of their musicals still in development, called Unbound. I think we’ve only ever heard a couple songs from it, though I am definitely excited to see and hear more once they bring it completely to life.
Until then, however, I am perfectly content to sink into this lovely song. This is applicable for so many walks, and an important reminder that I, impatient artist that I am, don’t like having to remember.
But I do need to remember. And it keeps me going when everything I do feels like a failure, and it would be so much easier for me to just give up on everything and settle down into a Netflix and Twitter and chill lifestyle.
Something, perhaps, will come of all of this grief and struggle. Even if it does seem my time is running out.