Pop culture affects stage performances


Curtain call: Modern musicals have begun to take a new approach on life. Rent is one of the many musicals that explore more serious issues.

Cassie Snyder, Staff Writer

When people think of Broadway musicals, they often think of big productions with light-hearted music and dance numbers that bring smiles and laughs from the audience. But new hit musicals like these are becoming less and less common.
As has happened in the pop and rap music worlds, musicals in the past decade have started to focus on more serious issues, such as mental illness, sexuality, and politics.
While weightier issues were covered in earlier years with shows like Rent and Hair, it is becoming more common for musicals to trade dancing and audience smiles for more emotional scenes and tears.
Many of these recent musicals have won Tony Awards or other awards for writing and presentation.
In 2006, Spring Awakening won the Tony Award for best musical, breaking barriers about teenage sexuality. It was revived on Broadway again in 2016 with its cast members being deaf and performing the songs in sign language.
In 2007, In the Heights won the Tony while discussing racial and financial struggles. Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 along with multiple Tony nominations; the story discusses severe mental illness and the impact it has on family.
In more recent years, Dear Evan Hansen, which won the 2017 Tony Award for best musical, discusses mental illnesses like social anxiety. Fun Home, the 2015 Tony Award winner, heavily focuses on issues of sexuality and their effect on people of different ages.
Not everyone is a huge fan of this shift toward more serious topics.
“For me, musical theater is an escape from the outside world and all the serious things happening. So when I see a musical, I prefer more light-hearted productions with big dance numbers, such as A Chorus Line and Anything Goes,” sophomore Riley Konesky said.
Sophomore Rebecca Murray, however, said she thinks it is good for these serious issues to be portrayed in a creative way that gets the message across.
“Musical theater is in a great time of transition and I believe so are humans, and that is why we relate so well with the deep-hitting issues. It is important to have an outlet for people to relate with,” Murray said.
While musical theater seems to be changing, the purpose stays the same and always will: to make an impact on audiences as they leave the theater, and have audiences feel something, whether it is happiness and laughter, sadness and tears, or the feeling of hope and strength.