Musical theatre workshops and productions

Blog 27 – Dark musicals


Prejudice and Revenge – What are these doing in musicals?

Beautiful costumes, exciting sets, huge orchestra, a happy ending: that’s what most of us expect when we think of musicals. SINGIN IN THE RAIN was a musical I remember from my childhood.  But sometimes musicals can be quite serious, almost operatic.  LES MISERABLES, for example.  But what is most fascinating to me is how both genres can be vehicles to explore important issues.

PARADE is a dark musical that explores the challenging theme of prejudice.  The owner of a pencil factory in the south is Jewish, one of the only Jews around.  When a child is found dead, the community is all too quick to accuse him of the murder.  The music is dark and deep.  The songs describe a place of deep pride and deeper intolerance.  On the other hand, HAIRSPRAY also looks at prejudice.  It’s 1962 in Baltimore.  Black kids are not allowed on the Corny Collins show.  There are no integrated pools, and white and black youngsters do not dance together.  Of course, HAIRSPRAY makes us laugh from the first few beats of the music, yet it has a dark theme.  Both shows, one a comedy and one more serious, have prejudice as their main theme.

Revenge is the main theme in SWEENEY TODD.  Sweeney comes back to London to avenge the death of his wife and to find his daughter.  He is willing to kill….anyone and everyone…who gets in his way.  The music is loud and daunting. There are no beautiful costumes here, and very few laughs.  Strangely enough, LION KING is also about revenge. It’s fun through and through, of course.  Incredible costumes and amazing sets. But the story is about the jealousy of Scar and the ultimate death of Mufasa.  Both shows address revenge.

Why does this work.  Maybe LION KING offers an answer.  In the end we are reminded of the “Circle of Life”.  Good and bad, light and dark, comedy and tragedy.  The circle faces everything —  brings us together.

In case you have not heard it yet, here’s the cast of LION KING doing an “ad hoc” version of “Circle of Life”.

Larry Little



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