The ghost light — an electric lamp left on onstage in a theater — is more than a safety precaution. Theater lore has it that every theater has its own ghost, and it’s been tradition to leave this light on so that they can perform. It’s also long considered as one of theater’s greatest metaphors: that in this art form, there is light and it will never go out.
These days, we know theater’s many forms. The musical, a favorite form of many, makes for a great, and affecting, time at the theater with its ability to tell a story through words, dance, and music. And there are all kinds of stories, too: a governess who sings of music on the mountaintops, a group of struggling New York artists during the HIV/ AIDS crisis, a young immigrant determined to get his shot, and well, cats.
In this time of pandemic, we have turned to the arts. Our days indoors are spent consuming it: music, books, movies and TV shows. How about adding musical theater to the mix?
For those new to this, welcome. We hope you fall in love with musicals, and that we’ll catch you in a theater soon. And to those who have long found comfort in this industry, the show isn’t ending just yet — this is just an intermission.
The Last Five Years
If you’re more of the Netflix’s Marriage Story kind, you just found its musical theater equivalent. The Last Five Years chronicles the failed relationship of Jamie and Cathy, an up-and-coming writer and a struggling actress respectively, in opposite timelines: Jamie’s starts chronologically (right after meeting Cathy for the first time), Cathy’s is in reverse (right after ending her marriage with Jamie). Heartbreaking and soaring in equal measure, there’s a gorgeous movie version of this show, starring Anna Kendrick.
Hamilton: An American Musical
If theater’s cool now, we can all pin it to this little show. The brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is the prime example of revolutionary theater: a hip-hop, contemporary retelling of real-life Alexander Hamilton, an orphan immigrant who becomes one of America’s Founding Fathers.
It’s universally-acclaimed and loved (Filipino fans even made #Ham4Halalan trend, where they used Hamilton lyrics to air their sentiments about the 2016 general elections) and makes a strong case for representation, with people of color at the forefront. A story of determination and revolution — it couldn’t be more apt for the times.
Blondes have more fun, and it’s absolutely the best way to describe this show: honest-to-goodness fun. In Legally Blonde, we find heartbroken sorority girl Elle Woods making her way to the last place everyone thought she would be – law school, Harvard Law School to be exact, to win back her ex-boyfriend.
Whether you’re a fan of the film or otherwise, the musical clearly lays out this story of defying expectations to seriously earworm-material hits. If you’re looking for a break, this is for you. Pink fit is optional.
I will simply not let you go on with life knowing Seasons of Love without knowing the musical it’s from. Rent is about a group of struggling young artists in Lower Manhattan as they try to create a life and keep together afloat as the HIV/AIDS crisis looms.
It was one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, and has a film adaptation, a filmed version of the last Broadway performance, and a live television event, with an updated storyline, starring Jordan Fisher, Vanessa Hudgens, and Valentina. The show’s longevity isn’t surprising at all: its depiction of loving, losing, and choosing life with the family we choose transcends time.
If you’ve heard of the Bechdel test, then you’ve heard Alison Bechdel. Based on her 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home is Alison’s story as lesbian cartoonist and how she grew up in a small Pennsylvanian town with her family, led by her closeted gay father. With the main character appearing as her young and younger self, she tries to commemorate her father who ended his life. Its earnest lyrics and varied music styles hit with all the notes of vulnerability and tenderness of this coming-out, coming-of-age musical.
The idea behind Avenue Q is Sesame Street meets South Park, so if you’re the parody/ border offensive kind of comedy guy, this is it. Avenue Q follows the format of children’s educational TV shows (they also have puppets!), now with young adults (said puppets) and their real-life problems in mind: racism, homosexuality, porn, the works.
But beneath its quirky premise and funny, upbeat songs, it’s surprisingly touching and poignant. This show beat Wicked in the Tony Awards (Broadway’s top award) for Best Musical in 2004, so that’s some serious street cred.
Small town waitress Jenna Hunterson finds herself stuck in a loveless and abusive marriage, but finds solace in what she creates and serves: pies. And as it turns out, these pies are her ticket out.
This is singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles’ first Broadway outing and it’s a triumph – this musical adaptation of its 2007 film source is as sweet as they come. With a toe-tapping pop score and the heart-wrenching She Used To Be Mine, this is best enjoyed with, what else, a pie. But really, the show goes great with everything.
In The Heights
In The Heights takes us three days into the lives of those who call Washington Heights, a Dominican-American neighborhood in New York City, home. A show about a tight-knit community, this musical sincerely shows off the heart on its sleeves, with each hip-hop influenced track bursting with so much energy, gratitude, and raucous joy — the kind of joy you only feel when you’re home. This is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (yes, of Hamilton fame) first Broadway show.
Dear Evan Hansen
There are non-ironic – sometimes secret – fans of La La Land and The Greatest Showman. If you are one of us/ those, this is another Pasek & Paul offering. Dealing with social anxiety, teenager Evan Hansen is constantly looking for a connection. He then finds himself in the middle of a tragedy, and in the spotlight — far from the sidelines he’s used to.
While how the story plays out is another issue altogether, the music ably communicates what we’ve always wanted since our teenage years: to be let in, to know and feel that we’re not alone.