The nature of theatre is somewhat tricky. On one hand, theatre is ephemeral; it happens at a specific time in a specific place to a specific set of people who happen to be gathered there. This is why Lorca, when asked if he would publish his plays, asked, “Why?” To him, and to many, theatre is not simply a text to be done over and over again; but that, of course, is the other hand. The works of Shakespeare, of Molière, of Sophocles continue to be produced at prodigious rates. The general public tends to favor works they know or that have a known name attached to them. Which brings me to the purpose of this writing: Musical Theatre.
has, perhaps, always existed. The works of the Ancient Greeks and
others had choruses or some other definite music component.
Shakespeare used song in a number of his plays, mostly his comedies.
In the early 1800s, no less a composer than Mendelssohn was
responsible for an enduring scoring of Shakespeare's A Midummer
Night's Dream, from which we
received our now-traditional wedding recessional. But the musical
format we've come to know and love is uniquely American,
twentieth-century in origin,
having melded from a variety of forms into the two-act triple-threat
spectacle in existence today.
a fair number of shows are performed once and fade away. But I would
argue that, moreso than so-called “straight” theatre, pieces in
the musical theatre repertoire are repeated over and over again, to
the delight of audiences all over.
a trained actor and theatre practitioner, I hold the ideal of Lorca's
theatre close to my heart. Theatre is a moment, an experience; and,
once over, that experience can't be bought back. The play changes the
participants (actors and spectators both), and they move on from that
moment to the next having been changed and never needing to go back
except in their memory of it.
a trained musician and theatre producer, however, I see the benefit
of replaying the hits, so to speak. The opera and oratorio world
(another type of enduring music theatre) has been doing this for
centuries, since at least 1650. How many more Carmens
can our planet sustain? Infinite! Likewise with Gyspys,
with Cabarets, and
with (for better or for worse) Catses.
we all do, according to Whitman, I contain multitudes.
two sensibilities do not have to be so much at odds with each other.
What makes the different Gypsys
and Cabarets and
Catses stand out is
their interpretation and reinterpretation. How might
Opera (a great example of a
piece that so delicately stradles the line between musical and
straight theatre, though
perhaps not Brecht's intent)
affect an audience today? Where are the resonances now as opposed to
fifty, sixty, seventy
ago? The Lysistrata of
ancient times can still say something to the modern audience and will
do so, if allowed,
for centuries to come. Directors such as Grotowski and van Hove have
proved that repetition is not above the serious artist. Theatre
directors and producers
simply have to be bold enough to see it through their
more current lens and
not through the lens of the past.
Nothing has meaning without
of that said, we may be at a crisis point if more new work of
quality isn't inducted into
the culture. Too much nostalgia fills the market and we become
denziens of the past instead of the present and future. We are like
Rose or Sally in some way or
another, but they are not us.
We need stories for our
time to share with each other—and generations to come. That is why
it's important to support the artists of our time in equal measure
if not moreso than, those of the past. The theatre must be constantly
am encouraged by the work of such artists as Lin-Manuel Miranda who
seem to have a grasp on the Zeitgeist
and can deliver quality content of depth and maturity. I hope that
we, as a society, can find such artists and support them thoroughly
enough to keep our culture alive, thriving well into the future.