Every now and then a musical comes along that I can’t get out of my system. I play the cast recording on repeat, I watch interviews with the creative team on YouTube, I read blog posts about the production, I follow the cast on social media, and generally broaden the musical theatre knowledge that has come to form “Musical geek out with Anna”; the moments in my friend’s and choir members’ lives when, whether they like it or not, I bombard them with trivia about a certain show.
Last week I saw Mean Girls on Broadway and it would seem this is the latest show to work its way into my system. Like others before it, it will work its way out in time, but it’s got me thinking about what all the musicals that stick with me have in common.
It’s not that they’re the “best musical ever written”, whatever that means. Art is, and will always be, subjective and no one person’s opinion is ever more than just that; an opinion.
It’s more that these musicals are somehow empowering. If I think of the shows that have stuck with me of late - Dear Evan Hansen, Heathers and Waitress all come to mind - I have left the theatre on each occasion feeling moved not by a perfect dance combination, clever internal rhyme, or sublime orchestration, but by a story that has commented on our human and social condition, and that offers a message of self-worth that has motivated me.
None of these musicals show the image of a ‘perfect’ person. Perfect does not exist, we are all flawed. But growing up with a media saturated in selling perfection, particularly through the lens of the male gaze, and countless stories on stage, film and TV perpetuating this myth, it’s a joy to see characters, and particularly female characters, oozing with honest imperfections.
Their characters aren’t prophets sent to us in musical form. They’re reflections of the people we meet every single day, and of ourselves. The characters we encounter through the art we consume shouldn’t be unattainable. We should see ourselves in them and, if the art is doing its job right, motivate a bit of positive change in our soul.
And we’re beginning to see that change, not just in musical theatre, but more generally in the culture we consume. The moral to the story is no longer, “Get the guy and be happy!”, or “Wear this, weigh this and win!”, it’s love yourself and be a good person, it’s celebrating you for you.
“I’d Rather Be Me” is the standout song from Mean Girls that does just that. This could just as easily be released by Katy Perry or Pink and become an anthem for our times. Literally raising a finger to the idea that we should follow the fold, the song should be blasted out to everyone from birth, reminding us that we own ourselves, we should not apologise for being us, and that we are enough.
“I don’t need their good opinions, I have plenty of opinions
Everybody has opinions, but it doesn’t make them true.
What’s true is being me, and I’d rather be me
I’d rather be me than be with you”
And so I return to my desk and listen to these shows that inspire me to write, dream and to be a better person, geeking out on trivia to share with whoever will listen, and reassured that once again, musicals can make a difference.
Over and (geek) out.