While I can’t deny that the classic shows don’t carry social messages, I’m personally finding more and more reasons to praise modern shows at the ideals they portray.
I’ve always admired Legally Blonde at telling people – especially women – to go after what you want, be true to yourself and stay passionate, as well as Wicked’s‘ incredible message to not judge a book by its cover.
And while these are things society should understand, replicate and teach, I want to take a minute to recognise what modern shows such as Fun Home, Dear Evan Hansen and Kinky Boots are promoting in changing times. While I haven’t seen any of these shows and only really know the music from Dear Evan Hansen, I think I know enough about them to realise that musical theatre is changing as society is; replicating and reflecting society’s views.
Dear Evan Hansen follows the story of a teenage boy – Evan Hansen who struggles with social situations and anxiety. As well as this, the show opens with news of another teenage boy having taken his own life, with the rest of the plot following how Evan gets wrapped up in the situation. Mental health is an issue of growing importance, but always in need of more recognition. Additionally, a general stigma surrounds mental health as a taboo topic, especially for boys and men, with boys often being told to ‘be like a man’ and ‘suck it up’ and ‘boys don’t cry’. This show demonstrates the very true, real and prominence of mental health in everyday life and how serious it can be. Having issues like this reflected in our media is important for everyone to learn that such things can and should be talked about, and teaches next generations how okay it is to not be okay. As someone who struggles with depression I find the song “You Will Be Found” as one of the most comforting songs I have ever heard.
I know less about Fun Home and Kinky Boots than I do of Dear Evan Hansen but from what I do know, I know they promote values that I admire and think should be more prominent in our media.
For a start, Kinky Boots promotes being who you want to be, doing what you want with your own life, no matter what others think. One of the leads, Lola is played by a black man, dressed as woman in thigh-high red heeled boots. Much like mental health, I have personally found that the topic of drag queens to be one of taboo, hushed up and often causing drag queens to hide this part of themselves from the rest of the world. Kinky Boots, however, promotes being who you want to be and engaging in whatever makes you YOU and I think that’s such an important social lesson to learn.
Finally, Fun Home (while now closed on Broadway) tells the story of a girl learning about her own sexuality and her father’s suicide. Narrated from her older self, Alison recalls her life in three stages: her 10-year-old self struggling with her sexuality, her college stage where she gets into her first relationship with another girl, and her adult self reflecting on her life. Similar to Kinky Boots, this is as much as I know about the show, having only heard the soundtrack once or twice and never being lucky enough to see it on stage. However, issues of LGBTQ are so important to be reflected in society in changing times, where only recently have some countries allowed gay and lesbian couples to get married. In my experience of the media as well, I have found that gay men generally have a larger amount of representation than lesbian women. I could be wrong here and am not implying that this is 100% the case, but this is what I personally have noticed. As with Kinky Boots and Dear Evan Hansen, it is so important to portray how these once-taboo topics are actually not taboo at all and are instead a part of human life.
Because theatre is a medium enjoyed by everyone of all ages and generations, I think having such modern social issues replicated in theatre is amazing to be able to teach younger generations at an early age that these aspects of the self are okay. It also teaches that there are people out there just like you; whether you be struggling with mental health, enjoy dressing up in drag or consider yourself or homosexual, such varied representation in theatre says that you are not alone.
Bravo to the theatre industry creating such modern shows reflecting our changing society!