10 Life Lessons I Learned from Musicals
For not being a real actress or singer (I just annoy people by singing the songs in my head and re-creating dramatic scenes from Star Wars), I have an oddly extensive knowledge of musical theater. No, this is not a pissing contest, I know you also love Cats. I simply have the added bonus of having a mother who is a singer and who teaches musicals.
(LOOK MOM I’M ON THE INTERNET!)
Whenever this knowledge of mine comes up with any normal person (see: a person whose only exposure to musicals is through Hollywood) they usually say something to the effect of musicals being corny, and I’m like yeah, Pitch Perfect 2 wasn’t for everyone, and then we move on.
Recently, however, I remembered that there’s a whole army of people like me out there, people like you, people who have grown up watching musicals and wished they could be a ginger orphan with a fro, or a weirdly anthropomorphic cat in a lycra suit, or a displaced Puerto Rican in the 50s. Harnessing my god-like power to reach out to you people (i.e. the internet), here are some life lessons that you can learn from musicals and their songs:
Disclaimer: I really, really like Sondheim. Deal with it.
Also, many of these songs are sad as hell. Because, kids, no one learns anything while being happy.
Also also, I realize that the film versions follow several incredible Broadway productions, which I tip my hat to, curtsy, AND bow; they’re the reason why these musicals was made into movies in the first place.
1) Into The Woods – No One is Alone
I re-watched this with my mother recently and I actually was kind of almost in tears by the end of this (like a goddamned adult). In true Sondheim fashion, he managed to write a song that is supposed to be for kids but that adults like me (because, as I said, I am a goddamned adult) are still captivated by. This reminded me that, well, no one is alone. But really, when you feel sad and like you can’t really turn to anyone without annoying them, you can listen to this song to remind yourself that it’s not true. Granted, this song never specifies who it is that you can actually turn to, but surely it is someone. You could always try your luck on Chat Roulette.
2) The Last Five Years – Still Hurting
This is possibly one of the most depressing songs on the list, and if you’re feeling like a good ole cry in the shower while belting out a sad song in a shower cap with duckies on it. This basically captures the gut wrenching sadness that you have to deal with when the person you love has moved on and is apparently happy. While you’re still a slobbering, hollow, mess of a person who goes clubbing clothed in pajama pants, a hoodie, and a layer of your own snot and tears.
3) Avenue Q – Schadenfreude
Ok, so Avenue Q is a musical which is supposed to be a children’s musical but for us wayfaring, failing, morally decayed adults. Because of this, it is basically nothing but life lessons. However, when I went to see it I was but a teenager and I retained basically nothing. Luckily, I do actually remember one song. We go from acknowledging your own misery while the person who you still love is happy (you should be happy for them but you’re just in excruciating pain) to just acknowledging that it feels damn good when other people suffer instead of you. Introducing the word schadenfreude, the German word for “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.” Yet another foreign word we should include in the English language – until then, you can just use another terrifying sounding German word to describe how you feel when someone falls over and you can’t hold in that bubbling snicker that makes you look like an evil bastard but that everyone around you is repressing, too.
4) A Chorus Line – Montage Part 2: Nothing
A change from songs ranging from all the feels, to a song describing when you feel nothing. More than that, a song teaching you that it’s OK to have someone tell you that you won’t ever be able to achieve anything in that one thing you love, and that you’re just overall sucky. I mean, it’s not OK, but when that person dies, it’s alright to not feel a thing. The lesson here blurs a bit from an inspirational song for young discouraged actors, to a song validating complete lack of empathy; both equally important.
5) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Not While I’m Around
This song actually holds quite a bit of sentimental value for me. Beyond that, however, it’s a really sweet platonic love song. Platonic love songs are quite rare to come by, I feel, since most people seem to take platonic love for granted. In this case, you can enjoy one which taken out of context talks about the need you feel to protect someone you love who needs it. In context, it’s about a young ragamuffin on the brink of insanity trying to warn his adopted love-crazed ward that the man she’s banging is a murderous cannibal. Even if he sometimes is Johnny Depp.
6) West Side Story – Gee Officer Krupke
No huge life-changing lessons there BUT I did see this musical when I was but a wee child and I of course wanted to know why the line “Krup you” (at the end) was so funny. Therefore, this song is basically the precursor to all of my subsequent “fucks” uttered, and of course all the “fucks” I never gave. Forgive the super politically incorrect imitating of the mentally disabled – it was a different time, I guess.
7) Hair – Sodomy
Speaking of words children shouldn’t learn too early, let’s talk about Sodomy. As a child, I was obsessed with Hair. So obsessed that I even started dressing like a hippie (and let’s say the tendency hasn’t stopped since). For some reason, I got really hooked on this song, so much so that I learned every word. This was probably largely a concern and a subject of much laughter for my parents, and nothing more, until I offered to sing it at a recital. Then, I had to have a sit down moment with my parents to talk about the birds and the bees and the arguably deviant S&M, fellatio, sodomy, cunnilingus acts the two engage in. This is a really short one but it’s a good ‘un.
8) Les Mis – I dreamed a dream
I feel like I had to have a Les Mis song in here or I would be banished from the internet and hunted down and killed by my fellow musical nerds (I don’t wanna die, not high kicked to death by a chorus line of singing assailants, at least). ANYWHO, if you take any lesson from this it’s that life as a prostitute super duper sucks – anything else in the lyrics is too depressing and has to do with life trampling n your dreams and therefore not being worth living. Also, my mom being a singer and a voice coach specializing in musicals, I was let in on how damn difficult it is to sing the line “As they turn your dreams to shame.” Apparently, in an audition, this moment can make or break you – if you hit it, you too could sob your way through a major Hollywood production of a musical.
9) The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – The I Love You Song
Yet another depressing tune about love. This time, it’s about a little kid who’s mom ran off to India and left her and her angry-ass dad alone. It begins with the little girl having to spell the word “Chimerical” for a spelling bee (which is also a great word), which is defined as “unreal, magical, visionary, wildly fanciful, highly unrealistic ” and going into a fantasy about her parents loving her (PSYCH – they don’t). This primarily taught me that my own parents were super cool for not abandoning me mentally and emotionally – that’s already a lot.
Please excuse the terrible quality of the video – see below for the better audio no video version.
10) Rent – La vie Boheme
OK, so I have a confession to make. After my pre-teenage years, I kind of stopped listening to Rent. However, from this song I learned that I wanted to be bohemian, all through this extravagant self promotion of broke-ass musicians living as waiters and baristas and what have you, written by broke-ass-musicians living as waiters and baristas and what have you. Then, I also learned that everybody and their mom also wanted to be bohemian, but few people actually follow through with it enough to be broke all the time, like us. Congratulations, us!