Music Recommendations From A Theatre Novice

-Zenia Zuraiq, I Year B.Sc Physics
Image Source: Google Images

One of the most fascinating ways music is used is through theatre. More specifically, in the art of the Musical. Musical theatre, of course, is a form of theatrical performance that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance and Recently, at the behest of an extremely enthusiastic friend, I watched a few musicals and I’d like to share them with you. However, I have to mention – as a disclaimer of sorts – that I am no theatre expert, and these musicals I mention are already cult favourites, and not discoveries I’ve made. Nonetheless, the musicals mentioned in the list are all very innovative in their own ways and are definitely worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

  1. Hamilton     

Oh, but how can I talk about musicals without speaking of the phenomenon that is Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. A musical that racially re-imagines some of America’s most important historical figures – a musical that’s pro-immigrant and a musical that raps its way through the life of one of America’s least represented founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.
And somehow this bizzare history lesson works, and it works extremely well. As someone who is not a huge fan of political history and remains largely ignorant of America’s history in particular, I have to admit, I resisted listening to this cult explosion for a long time. But when I finally caved in, what I found was an amazingly well told play with characters that refused to be black or white, and a soundtrack that refuses to exit your head.

The rapping and fast pacedness makes the 40+ songs pass by relatively quickly. The novelty of historical characters engaged in rap battles never fails to amuse me. It’s safe to say that I learnt and researched a lot more history than I ever did in all of school, thanks to this one musical.

As it says in the title, this musical is American through and through but somehow, it still blows this Indian teenager away how beautifully diverse our retelling of history has become. Art is about telling us things we already know in ways we wouldn’t have thought of, and Hamilton captures this essence perfectly. Given America’s current political situation, this musical seems to be even more important – a gentle reminder of what being American is all about.

 

  1. Dear Evan Hansen

 

“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?”

Dear Evan Hansen is a musical that tackles some very real problems – suicide, grief, social anxiety and isolation. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this isn’t a fun musical. Heart-warming, adorable and funny, DEH follows Evan Hansen, (played by the extremely talented Ben Platt) socially awkward in none of the cute ways and all of the painful ones. The story has him finding himself entangled and coping with the death of a fellow classmate. DEH deals with the cloud of turmoil that is high school, and about wanting to belong. It’s about how we all make mistakes, especially in the fragile teenage years. But there’s always hope. “You will be found” is the theme of the musical, that nobody should go undiscovered, that nobody is truly alone. It’s a musical about knowing the difference between a person and the idea of a person, and how sometimes, we just don’t know which one we need right now. It’s fun, it’s heart-warming, and it pulls at you in all the right places, as I found myself smiling many times through its course, and tearing up, quite a bit too.

DEH isn’t completely sung-through however, so it’s always better to watch and listen the first time, because although the soundtrack is stellar, some of the plot points aren’t really in the lyrics, and this can be confusing.

 

  1. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

                    

This musical with a very wordy title is based on Tolstoy’s famously wordy classic, War and Peace, following the story of Russian aristocrats. Hamilton may have been innovative with its inclusion of rap into the musical theatre genre, but it has nothing compared to TGC’s beautiful, soaring heights of innovation.
Theatrical in every sense of the word, the musical has been described as an “electropop opera” – a term that makes a lot of sense after one finishes listening to and/or watching the musical. From the very first song, the audience is made aware of the characters and as the musical progresses, we see the complexities of these characters, their multi-facetedness emerging from this one-dimensional introduction. The spotlight is largely on titular Natasha, who is young and engaged to a man away at war. As the musical progresses, we see what happens as she confronts some unwanted attention from another young man. We see how Natasha comes to term with her desires, and how the rest of her world reacts.

In its iterations on and off Broadway, Natasha has been portrayed by various women, including women of different races, which some people have taken to symbolize her relatability to women all over.
Close to the finale, there are even a few lines that seem to have been lifted exactly from the book, making the lyrics all the more poetic.

If you’re anything like me, the musicals in this list will prove extremely worthy companions through all the otherwise boring public transport endeavours you encounter. Well, public transport or not, the musicals are definitely worth checking out, and I do hope you enjoy them!

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