Nothing divides people the way musical theatre does. Those of us who eat, sleep, and breathe musical theatre are in a constant struggle against people who are tired of hearing, “Been a Long Day” whenever they go to the break room. They’re the Jets, we’re the Sharks.
Maybe the person who scoffs at your rendition of “One Day More” is the local Shakespeare nut who doesn’t consider musical theatre to be “real” theatre.
Maybe it’s your neighbor who doesn’t believe people actually break into song in real life.
Maybe it’s your mom who’s sick of being addressed as, “Mama who bore me.”
Whoever this person is, you don’t have to take their anti-musical rants lying down. Do the right thing. Do what any well-respecting, tax-paying, ticket-buying American citizen would do.
Trick them into enjoying the best of the Great White Way.
Step One. Play them Broadway-inspired pop songs.
Chances are your antagonist already likes some Broadway-inspired hits. Put MIKA and Ariana Grande’s “Popular Song” on their iPhone or play Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl” when they’re in earshot. Then casually mention the song’s Broadway roots. They may scoff at you, but they’ll already subconsciously begin realizing they’ve liked musicals all along.
Step Two. Remind them of their childhood.
Children love musicals. Whether your adversary grew up watching Disney classics or The Sound of Music, there’s at least one musical from their youth they still harbor a secret fondness for. All you need to do to tap into this nostalgia is remind them that they wanted to be Troy Bolton when they were little or that they still have all the words to “Easy Street” memorized. Like step one, this is another way of getting your foe to acknowledge that they’ve enjoyed musicals before, making them more susceptible to the idea of enjoying musicals again.
Step Three. Watch a movie musical with them.
Movie musicals are a good bridge into the world of live theatre. They allow new musical lovers to enjoy musicals without having to commit to a night at the theatre. They already know how to enjoy movies, so watching a movie musical requires less of a culture-shock then going to the theatre does. Whatever movie musical you decide to introduce them to, make it fun. The purpose of this step is to show them how enjoyable musicals have the potential to be, and to hook them on the excitement of people singing and dancing together. They’ll leave with the idea that musicals are fun and entertaining—and that seeing one live might not be so bad after all.
Step Four. Take them to a musical they have an ulterior motive for seeing.
Big, flashy musicals are best for this. Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera have permeated popular culture, making people want to see them just as much for the show as for the ability to say they’ve seen them. Les Misérables attracts a large crowd of people who think watching it makes them cultured. Tons of people go see Mamma Mia! or Jersey Boys not because they love musical theatre, but because they love the music they’re based on. Any of these reasons have the potential to get your musical-hating friend into the theatre with you.
Step Five. Take them to a musical they don’t have an ulterior motive for seeing.
Now that they realize how entertaining musical theatre can be, take them to your local theatre’s production of Pippin. And to see If/Then when the tour stops near you. And to Sweeney Todd at the nearby college. The important thing is to show them how excited you are about musical theatre and how beautiful it can be. This step will probably take the longest. Persevere.
As Jason Robert Brown said, “The hardest thing in the world is convincing other people to love the same thing you do. But the fact that it is hard does not diminish your love--it must not. You go on loving that thing because, even if it’s naive, even if it’s foolish, even if it’s wrong, you believe in the very marrow or your bones that you will be able to convince them, eventually, some time. That certainty, that passion is too valuable to surrender in the face of resistance. You may not have convinced them yet; you will.” So continue taking your friend to the theatre and showing them how excited musicals make you. Eventually, they’ll get it. The whole process might even make the two of you better friends. After all, nothing brings people together the way musical theatre does.
Photo: Joan Marcus