Written by Jennifer Ashley Tepper
I can’t stop thinking about how Broadway musicals are making a difference this week. Every night at Kinky Boots, drag queens and the queer community are being celebrated and raised up. I watched every other line of Fiddler on the Roof make the audience gasp yesterday, as Jews were persecuted and a history of violence against minorities was explored. Hamilton is teaching so many about endless aspects of government, America, war, elections, and beyond. In School of Rock, children of every race, shape, and identity are encouraged to find what makes them special and use that to band together and achieve something as a group. Women say no to domestic abuse at Waitress and yes to putting their own choices first, building their lives the way they want even if they don’t look like what others expect. Falsettos tells the story of the AIDS crisis, what it meant and means to be gay in America, how the personal and political collide, and how actual families are affected when “something bad is happening”. In Transit and Dear Evan Hansen are starting previews in the midst of all this, In Transit with its message of inclusivity and harmony, Dear Evan Hansen telling everyone “you are not alone”. I could even cry thinking about how Something Rotten! is making people laugh this week. People who need it.
People who think musicals are fluffy or “just for fun”: have you paid attention to the legitimately subversive content so many shows have about immigrants, equality, acceptance, and many other things? It’s amazing. And Broadway is obviously only the tip of the iceberg. Fun Home is touring America, showing audiences in different states how they can relate to the journey of a lesbian cartoonist growing up in a funeral home. I watched Jonathan Larson scream out at us tonight off-Broadway in tick tick BOOM about why we follow leaders who never lead and why it takes catastrophe to start a revolution. There are musicals reaching people in colleges and classrooms, touring houses and cafeterias, regional theaters and living rooms.
Alex Dinelaris, who wrote On Your Feet, shared yesterday that the following lines he wrote are always met with heartfelt applause by audience members of all colors and shapes. But that last night, “the audience gave small pieces of their heart in their applause”, as he was sitting next to his daughter and in front of 12 decorated police officers. Him sharing this gave me hope. “EMILIO: When I first got to Miami there was a sign in front of the apartment building next to ours. It said, “No Pets. No Cubans.” Change my name? It’s not my name to change. It’s my father’s name. It was my grandfather’s name. My grandfather, who we left behind in Cuba to come here and build a new life. Now, for 15 years I’ve worked my ass off and paid my taxes. So, I’m not sure where you think I live… but this is my home. And you should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not… this is what an American looks like.”