The London Stage
While in London, I have had the opportunity to deepen my appreciation of musical theatre. Although I have loved musicals since I played Prince Harry in my high school’s production of Once Upon a Mattress (a musical comedy based on the fairytale, The Princess and the Pea), my repertoire has always been rather limited. Thankfully, London changed that. In the West End, I had the pleasure of seeing Mamma Mia, Wicked, Les Misérables, and the plays My Night with Reg and The 39 Steps. Of those, Les Mis was by far my favorite. The dramatic and complex story of redemption and the struggle between authority and compassion is told in way that leaves a lasting impression. Away from the West End, but just as entertaining, I saw UCL’s production of Spring Awakening, a concert version of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at the Royal Festival Hall of the Southbank Centre, and Peddling at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. I must confess…although I truly enjoyed How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, I honestly only went to see it because the male lead was played by my hopefully future husband, Jonathan Groff haha!!!
I have come to realize that what draws me to the theatre is the emotion it induces. I’m nearly addicted to the passionate feelings that a good musical or play evokes. Whether it’s the excitement and joy of Elphaba’s first visit to the Emerald City in Wicked or the pride and anticipation that builds as the cast of the Les Mis sings “One Day More,” live theatre allows a patron to feel something that cannot be communicated on screen or paper. Personally, I find music quite powerful in the feelings it evokes. It’s nearly impossible for me to listen to a song and not experience a change in my emotions, whether negative or positive. Musicals take the functional properties of spoken language and combine it with the romantic qualities of music to communicate a message, which is more evocative than a written or spoken message. As the live music combines with the linguistic and physical expressions of the characters moving across the stage, the musical’s message penetrates the audience.
Because of that special ability to invoke emotion, the theatre can convey a message that may otherwise go unheard. While some shows like Mamma Mia seem to be written more purely for entertainment, other shows in London have been written with a clear a message for the audience. For instance, Peddling is a play about a homeless young man who works a thankless and low paying job selling household items door to door. The play passionately conveys a message about the homeless young adults on London’s streets today. My Night with Reg tells the story of three good friends who lost a mutual friend to the AIDS virus. The play first opened in 1994 in London after the 1980’s AIDS crisis. The play helped, and still helps, the general public understand what it’s like to be gay and affected by AIDS during a time when homosexuality was much less mainstream. It puts relatable and personal characters in front of a straight audience who might have previously viewed the AIDs crisis as a distance and compartmentalized issue.
Many musicals follow a similar form to convey a message. A play or musical introduces a character to the audience who is likeable and relatable. When the audience is comfortable with a character, the play places the character in some unthinkable situation, such Moritz Stiefel’s suicide or Wendla Bergmann’s abortion in Spring Awakening. The hope is that the audience will leave with a better and more compassionate understanding of these unthinkable and tragic situations that have so often ostracized people.
Whether the musical is written to convey a message or purely for entertainment, I cannot resist the opportunity to be whisked away into a new and unknown world by a fascinating blend of music, dance, and plot!