Field Trips and Death in Miserable Musicals

Hamilton

In high school I loved art class. The art teachers had created a student club called the Aesthetics Club, which comprised a bunch of students who joined to go on field trips to Broadway Musicals in New York City. We probably did other stuff, too. But let’s face it: Broadway. When you live in a rural Pennsylvania town, the bright lights of Broadway–only two hours away but which still felt like another world–dazzled us with its city flair and magical performances.

During those trips, I saw (among others I can’t remember) Into the Woods, Starlight Express (I know, I know, but Andrew Lloyd Weber! And it was only a few years after Olivia Newton John enjoyed such fame in the unforgettable roller-skating movie Xanadu, so, we watched and enjoyed. I loved it as a high schooler), and we even saw Les Misérables.

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You know how in Les Mis nearly everyone dies and their lives are truly horrible? (Spoiler alert.) Well, I had forgotten most of the details until I recently attended a high school performance of Les Mis with my family.

Les Mis

First of all, it was wonderful! The kids were amazing and I was so proud of them–even though I didn’t really know them–for their willingness to sing those difficult songs and themes. Much to my own children’s dismay, I cried and cried throughout the show (I tried to cry quietly, with minimal sniffling and such so as not embarrass them–I’m not a monster). Why was I crying so much? I think it was due to the memories the musical was stirring up, and remembering seeing the Broadway show previously, in high school and again at The National Theatre in Washington DC in my late twenties. It’s such a powerful musical. Javert. Jean Valjean. Cosette. Marius. I mean, if you aren’t moved, your heart is made of stone. A few characters survive the misery but most die and you’re left with a dreadful sense of injustice, futility, and the sorrow for the terrible conditions in which people lived. At least when you get over it, you appreciate anew the modern world, where you don’t have to kill yourself because your nemesis saves you and now you owe him a debt though you’ve been trying to send him back to jail for most of your adult life.

Adding to my musical-themed current trend, my daughter’s sixth grade chorus just sang a medley of Broadway songs for their spring show. Surprise: I cried some more. Seasons of Love, the song from Rent. I just couldn’t keep it together. I sat in the back and fanned my eyes with the program, trying to blink away the tears. Rent is another show I saw as an adult and found it very moving. Did you know that’s where Idina Menzel (Elsa of Frozen fame) got her start? Maybe you did. Anyway, in Rent, more death. But more importantly, love. Musicals! They put us through the emotional wringer. We thank you.

Rent

As you may know if you have plugged in to my various media outlets, I am a huge fan of Hamilton (yes, of course, I’m mentioning Hamilton; this is a piece about musicals), and in August I will be going to New York with my family to see it on Broadway. I bought the tickets almost a year before the performance, so… anticipation! How to tie in the themes of all these wonderful musicals? Love, persistence, the human condition. They make you think, they make you wonder, sometimes you have to mourn all the death (at least in Starlight Express nobody died), but overall, it’s art that makes you feel all the feels! It was worth going on all the field trips for me, and I hope my kids will go on the field trips when their time comes.

And now, since you’ve stayed and read to the end, my gift to you: Lin-Manuel Miranda and James Corden (plus delightful Audra McDonald, Jessie Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski), sharing and harmonizing in the Late Late Show’s Carpool Karaoke and making musical fans weep all over the world.

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