I’m aware that I’m a pain when it comes to musical theatre. I like what I like, and though I respect differences of opinions, it’s unlikely that mine will change. Typically, I like dark shows that leave me thinking and having more than just the songs stay with me. I tend to not like shows that are big and showy simply for the sake of being big and showy.
And then sometimes I run into a show that reason says I shouldn’t like, but I can’t stop thinking about.
Last June I saw Catch Me If You Can for the first time. And I loved it! It was big and bright and colourful and showy, and the total opposite of the type of show I typically enjoy. But it made me happy and I ultimately saw it four times before it closed in September (Catch Me If You Can).
Okay, so maybe it was a fluke. Catch Me was the first show I’d seen on Broadway since college, and the first I’d seen anywhere that wasn’t simply because of a particular actor, in far longer than that. It was the rebirth of my love of theatre, so I figured I had just latched onto it for that reason. And then it happened again.
In December, a friend talked me into going to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. For those of you who don’t know, it’s essentially a show about drag queens. Everything is big and sparkly and showy and glittery and pink. I’m not a glittery sort of person, and I detest pink. And yet I found myself falling completely in love with everything about the musical. So in love that I ended up going back two weeks later to see it again with another friend.
I’m utterly baffled as to why, though. Why do I, who has such strong opinions about musical theatre, feel such an attachement to a show that I really shouldn’t even like? I briefly thought that my tastes had radically changed over the years. But since I saw Next to Normal, Follies, and Miss Saigon over the summer, and all three of those fit my preferences to various degrees, my taste couldn’t have changed that much. So I’m back to the question I seem to run into a lot in these posts: Why?
I’ve been involved in theatre for almost 15 years, and I’ve worked on and seen more shows than I can possibly remember. But the ones that stay with me have always been the darker ones. I remember seeing Ragtime for the first time, and knowing that it was a show that was going to change my life. I’m sure I saw shows that didn’t resonate with me, but I don’t even remember what they were now.
One of the most important aspects of a show are the characters. If I don’t feel something about them, I’m very unlikely to like the show. Feel =/= like, by the way. I’m quite happy to hate a character, as long as my reaction isn’t “I don’t care.” In Catch Me If You Can, the main character, Frank Abagnale, Jr, was supposed to be likeable, but the “bad guy.” And the antagonist, Carl Hanratty, the “good guy,” was rather unlikeable. It seems a little backwards. But I ended up adoring both the characters, mostly because their interactions worked so perfectly. In Priscilla, the three main characters are simultaneously annoying and lovable. But again, it’s their interactions that made me care.
Okay, so that explains it at least a little. I have to care about the characters, I have to like the way they interact with each other. “But, GeekGirl,” you say, “that describes a lot of shows.” Yes, I know, which is why the question continues.
Another factor is when I first saw each show. Catch Me, as I said above, was the first show I saw after a long break from theatre. I can accept that I got attached to it for that reason, and that truly is enough reason for me. When I saw Priscilla, I was having a terrible month, and mentally and emotionally, I guess I was ready for something happy. I just happened to go to the right show.
Alright, second bit of explanation accomplished. Characters, situation. That’s still not really enough logic to explain why I suddenly find myself liking these two shows in particular.
Possible reason three, music that stays with me. Lots of musicals have songs that I randomly find myself singing in my every day life. But most don’t have the ability to consistently make me smile, even when I’m convinced that nothing will ever make me smile again. I sit in the car and wait for Goodbye (Catch Me) to be over before turning off the cd player, even if it means wasting gas. When MacArthur Park (Priscilla) comes on, I turn up the volume without realising I’m doing it. I sing along with… well, pretty much the entire show. And when I’ve had a bad day, I know they’re there to make everything seem that much brighter. They are songs that make me want to share them with other people, so that it’s more than just me who finds happiness in them.
You know what? I like that reason. It emphasises the difference between shows that I enjoy and shows that I love. But there still has to be something more.
And that brings me to the last bit of explanation; something I didn’t even realise until just now. I want to know what happens to the characters after the show ends. This may sound similar to my first reason, but to me it’s also very different. In most “happy ending” musicals, everything works out the way it’s supposed to, the princess marries the prince, the bad guy gets in trouble, and everyone sings. And because everything slots into place, you never have to wonder what happens after the curtain comes down. In Catch Me, the audience is told that Frank Abagnale, Jr ends up working with the FBI, but how exactly does it happen? Going from being a conman to a lawman can’t be easy. In Priscilla, the show ends at a beginning, a time when everything is possible. And though we see the start of relationships in both shows, we don’t get to see how they progress and develop. And I want to know more.
When I started writing this, I honestly had no idea what reasoning I would come up with. But as I’ve been thinking, I’ve actually come up with a few explanations that make sense. None of them really work individually, and it still doesn’t really explain why it was these two shows specifically that broke my musical theatre pattern. But I definitely had some epiphanies about shows that I might otherwise have written off as too big, too showy… too glittery. And even though I may not have answered the question of why these shows, I found the answers to questions I didn’t know to ask. So I’ll call this ramble a success.
Until next time.