That Moment of Truth

People sometimes tell me they don't like serious musicals, that musicals are "supposed to be" happy and light. That always baffles me. Sure, that was true in the 1910s and 20s, but that was a long time ago -- like a century ago!

If you think about it, almost all the shows that people consider the great classics have very dark strains in them. Sure, there are exceptions, like Hello, Dolly!, but not as many as you'd think...

Show Boat, which most people think of as incredibly old-fashioned (though it was genuinely cutting edge when it first opened) is about interracial marriage (when it was still illegal), domestic abuse, gambling addiction, a deadbeat dad who abandons his wife and child... Sounds like one of today's rock musicals, doesn't it...?

But wait, there's more...!

Carousel is about an abusive man who accidentally gets a girl pregnant then gets himself killed in a failed robbery attempt. Oklahoma! isn't quite that dark, but a major plot point is Jud's attempted rape of Laurie and his attempted murder of Curly. South Pacific is about war and racism. The Sound of Music is about escaping the Nazis. West Side Story is about gang violence and it leaves three dead bodies on stage. Cabaret is about the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. Man of La Mancha is set in a dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition. The Music Man is about a con man who tries to swindle a town full of good people out of their money, using their children as pawns. Even the seemingly old-fashioned My Fair Lady is about an incredibly misogynistic man emotionally abusing a young woman.

I assume you get my point...

The idea that musicals are -- or even used to be -- silly, frothy, escapist nonsense is not supported by reality. Yes, there have always been silly musicals, but there have also always been silly novels, movies, and plays, and that doesn't make novels, movies, and plays silly art forms.

So yes, bare is a serious musical. It's certainly got its share of laughs (not least among them, a giant penis pinata), but the underlying story is very serious, with very high stakes. And that's not an anomaly; musicals have always taken on serious subjects.

Musicals reflect the world around them -- sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and quite often funny on the surface but serious underneath. By definition, the stories that make the best musicals are very emotional, because music conveys emotion better than spoken words can and so musicals tell emotional stories better. Sometimes the emotions involved are only romantic ones, but quite often the emotions are far more complicated and darker than just First Love. And the proof of that is the list of shows that people consider the great classics.

And further proof is the small number of new musicals that really are entirely lightweight. Sure, there are some (Sister Act, The Addams Family, etc.), but most new musicals today are both funny and very serious (Next to Normal, Jersey Boys, The Scottsboro Boys, etc.) because that's what life is.

Don't tell me people go to the theatre (or movies) for "escape." That's just not true. People go to connect, to make sense of the craziness of living life. They may not be conscious that's why they're there, but it is. As humans, we make art and tell stories because that's how we learn about ourselves and each other, and that's how we preserve the lessons we learn about being human. Actor Ben Kingsley has said about actors, "The tribe has elected you to tell its story. You are the shaman/healer, that's what the storyteller is, and I think it's important for actors to appreciate that. Too often actors think it's all about them, when in reality it's all about the audience being able to recognize themselves in you."

The emotions and problems presented in bare are as intensely human as anything you'll see. These are very real characters with very real emotions. Even before all the pieces of our production come together, we can see the profound truth being told in this show, and we can't wait to share it. Acting guru Stella Adler once said, "Unless you give the audience something that makes them bigger – better – do not act."

We agree with the fictional artistic director on the wonderful TV show Slings and Arrows: "The theatre is an empty box and it is our job to fill it with fury and ecstasy and revolution." Not comfort and mindless silliness.

bare is gonna knock your socks off.

Long Live the Musical!