Musical Month Week 5: Curtain Call

So we’ve come at last to the final week of my first ever themed month. This has been a fun little experiment, and I’m sure I’ll do more themed months in the future, but for now, I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to going back to a variety of types of content.

And since I’m being so honest, I’ll tell you something else – I had no ideas at all for what I wanted this week’s post to be. I had made my plans for this month banking on the fact that October would have four Sundays. But oops! It has five. So while I had plans for all four of the posts leading up to this one, this last week remained kind of a question mark. Until I thought… duh. I’ve talked up and down all this month about specific musicals and songs from musicals I liked, but I haven’t really talked about what it is about musicals in general that is so appealing.

And I think that really is an important thing to consider when looking at musicals. It’s a unique genre with it’s own unique rules and quirks, and I think it’s definitely worth going into.

So what makes musicals so good? Well… the music, obviously.

I don’t think this is a wild, earth-shattering revelation. It’s the music that sets a musical apart from a stage play. It’s the music that has lent musicals the reputation of being unabashedly unrealistic (How many times have you seen the “why do we burst into song out of nowhere?” joke repeated ad nauseum about them?) And it’s the music that makes musicals appealing, at least for me.

Music is a very powerful tool of storytelling. Believe me, I’m a big fan of the storytelling power of music; see my post all about it. So I think that’s one of the biggest draws of musicals for me. It utilizes the storytelling power of music in a way that is incredibly literal and often really fascinating.

And while, yes, music from musicals can often be really straightforward as to how to tells story through music (usually through people just singing about whatever is happening or about whatever they’re feeling), there’s also a lot of potential to add in a lot of depth and nuance just through how the songs are performed, or written, or composed.

Take for example “Natasha & Bolkonskys” from “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” This song song tells the literal tale of main character Natasha going to meet her fiance’s family for the first time. It’s obvious just from the dialogue that the visit does not go well, but more depth is added to the dynamic between Natasha and her future sister-in-law, Mary, just in the way their notes clash on the “Constrained and strained” lyric. The audience can understand that Mary and Natasha don’t particularly like each other, but through this musical clue, they can also understand why they don’t like each other. They come from fundamentally different places in life, and have clashing perspectives that cannot be reconciled without a change of perspective. Thus, the notes they choose to sing literally clash just as their worldviews do.

But that’s a pretty straightforward use of music to tell the audience key details about the characters. How about something a little more abstract? Consider Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton.” Her big solo number and the introduction to her character is “Satisfied”, where we learn about her short-lived relationship with Alexander Hamilton before she more or less gave him up to her sister. What’s interesting about this song, though, is the fast-paced rapping Angelica does. Rapping in “Hamilton” tends to clue the audience into the character’s revolutionary attitudes, so the fact that Angelica has the rapping ability to rival Alexander’s, it lets the audience in on the fact that she is his intellectual equal. Compare that to her sister’s songs, entirely sung and not rapped, and the fundamental intellectual difference between the two women is clear. (Not insulting Eliza at all, as she’s my favorite character, but she’s definitely less of a revolutionary/intellectual.)

But there are even more interesting ways to tell stories using musical conventions. Consider the reprise. The reprise is a fascinating way to connect plot points throughout the story of the musical. For example, compare “Dead Girl Walking” and its reprise from “Heathers.” The first song is mostly a way of cluing the audience into Veronica’s rapidly decreasing caution when faced with the circumstances of the story. Also, it sets up her relationship with JD. The reprise, on the other hand, is the breakdown of her relationship with JD, and features her taking responsibility for her role in the disasters that have taken place in the story, due in part to that aforementioned recklessness. The fact that one song is a reprise of the other connects the entire arc of Veronica’s character really nicely. (Also, both songs are some of my favorites in the whole musical).

So, all that being said, I think I admire musicals for how how their structure leads to some really unique ways of telling story. Plus, it’s done with lyrics and music, and I love lyrics and music. And storytelling. And incredible performances. And musicals!

Thank you for hanging on with me through this Musical Month. Your regularly scheduled varied-topic shenanigans will resume next Sunday.

 

Advertisements

Musical Month Week 4: A Lovely Tribute

MS FLEMING: “Veronica? Jason Dean told me you just committed suicide!”
VERONICA: “Yeah? Well, he’s wrong about a lot of things.”
MS FLEMING: “Oh… I threw together a lovely tribute, especially on such short notice…”
“Dead Girl Walking (Reprise)”

After writing a post a while ago on how media consistently screws up its depictions of mental illness and suicide, I got to thinking – are there any examples of media that does the depictions right?

And ruminating on it a bit, I came to the conclusion that a great piece of media that does discuss both of these topics in a way that is constructive without glorifying either is the musical “Heathers.” And since it’s musical month, what better time is there to talk about it?

I’ve wanted to talk about this musical for a while. In fact, this post has been sitting in my drafts for months. I initially wanted to discuss JD’s morality as a character, and that’s a still a topic I find fascinating and worthy of discussion, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to continue a discussion on suicide depiction in media, a topic that really deserves further conversation.

Besides being just an overall entertaining and amazing musical, “Heathers” also has a lot to say about mental illness and suicide. Especially how our society as a whole tends to handle both topics, and how it harms the people actually in need. In my opinion, you can easily read the events of the musical as an allegory for our world’s honestly garbage treatment of real people with mental illness and suicidal thoughts… teenagers in particular.

So, let’s meet the main players in the musical, shall we?

Veronica Sawyer, A Teen for All

Let us begin with our humble protagonist, Veronica Sawyer. At the beginning of the musical Veronica is your average everyday high school senior. All she wants is to finish up her final year of high school and jet off to an idealized college life. She doesn’t want to stick out. She just wants to survive until her “freedom” arrives.

She is also most certainly the audience stand-in. Her point of view on events, at least in the beginning, most certainly aligns with how the audience would see them. This is aided not only by her role as a “typical” teen, but also by her personality. She is cynical, smart, and witty, allowing her to have the moral upper-hand on most other characters. So, the audience not only understands her well, but also can take her side morally.

For the rest of this analysis, always consider Veronica the audience stand-in. This is especially important when looking at the other major player in “Heathers”.

Jason Dean, Romantic Rogue

When Veronica first meets JD, it’s incredibly easy to see why she would fall in love with him. He’s dark and mysterious, and seems to represent a part of Veronica that wishes she could dismantle the school system and society that has tortured her for years. He’s a loner with an almost comically tragic past. A mother who died when he was young, an abusive father, and no friends to speak of.

And considering Veronica is the audience stand-in, the musical expects the audience to fall in love with JD as well. Why wouldn’t they, really? He’s a sympathetic character with a dash of mystery and intrigue. So when Veronica makes the decision not only to fall in love with him, but also to quote-unquote “fix him,” the audience is probably right there with her.

However, JD is not what he seems. Well, okay, he is actually what he seems exactly. He’s the romanticized ideal of troubled teen. However, it’s that ideal that is the focus. He’s just an ideal. The ideal that you can take someone with such a sad and troubled past and fix them with love.

So, at first, when JD begins taking Veronica along with him on his mission to fight against “society,” the audience roots for the both of them. And even when that fight claims its first victim, Heather Chandler, there still isn’t much moral ambiguity. After all, Heather is the “mythic bitch” of Westerberg High, someone known for her cruelty to others.

And how do they cover up their first victim in their quest to dismantle the “man?” Why, a forged suicide note, of course.

“Me Inside of Me”

PRINCIPAL: “Heather Chandler’s not your everyday suicide!”
COACH: “We should cancel classes.”
PRINCIPAL: “No way, Coach. I send the kids home before lunch, and the switch board will light up like a Christmas tree.”
MS FLEMING: “Our children are dying! I suggest we get everyone in the cafeteria and just talk and feel together… I’m telling you, we all misjudged Heather Chandler. This is the most beautiful suicide note I’ve ever read.”
“Me Inside of Me”

The suicide note Veronica forges for Heather’s death reeks of martyrdom and meaning. The letter becomes the focus of Ms. Fleming’s attempts to convince her students to reveal their feelings and discuss them. What happens instead, though, is that the entire student body comes to the conclusion that Heather was secretly a tragic figure, who died so others could be happier. And Ms. Fleming, for all her outward desire to help her students, seems more focused on the attention she is getting for spreading Heather’s “message.”

In the meantime, keep in mind that Heather’s death was not at all a suicide. She was murdered in cold blood by JD and Veronica, who go on to commit two more murders under the guise of suicide, this time football stars Kurt and Ram. Kurt and Ram’s supposed suicides lead to a revelation of the suppressed homoerotic desires of their fathers once Veronica forges their suicide note saying that they “died because [they] had to hide [their] gay forbidden love from a misapproving world.”

Once more, the suicides of teenagers is used to derive meaning for those left alive. Kurt and Ram’s deaths are seen as symbolic of the need for acceptance of LGBT identities, and leads two men to stop denying their feelings for one another. Like with Heather Chandler, Kurt and Ram’s deaths aren’t seen as the tragedy they are, but is rather shown as a positive decision they made that improved the lives of others around them.

And again I must stress – these deaths aren’t actually suicides. They’re murders. But in the frenzy of celebrating the “positive effects” of these suicides, everyone ignores the actual problem lurking beneath.

“The Tiniest Lifeboat”

As all this fake suicide goes on, two actual suicide attempts are more or less glossed over by the Westerberg community as a whole.

The first, Heather McNamara’s in “Lifeboat” and “Shine a Light (Reprise)”, is brought on by the bullying of Heather Duke, who calls her “pathetic” and tells her to “kill herself”. How much help is given to Heather McNamara by the supposedly mental health-conscious community as a whole? None. Nada.

(It’s also symbolic that the scene where Heather Duke tells Heather McNamara to kill herself is a reprise of the earlier song where Ms. Fleming urges the children to share their deepest fears in an attempt to prevent future suicides. Clearly, her efforts are not at all working.)

The second is Martha’s, the constantly-bullied former best friend of Veronica. After crooning out her sadness over the loss of her childhood innocence in “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” she leaps from the Old Mill Bridge holding a suicide note.

Neither Martha nor Heather McNamara succeed in their attempts to kill themselves, and I think this is an incredibly important fact to understanding what “Heathers” has to say about suicide.

Think about it. Thus far, the only two actual suicidal teens fail in killing themselves. Meanwhile, three teens who supposedly succeeded in killing themselves were not actually suicidal. But because they were the ones who actually died, society as a whole pays attention to them and them alone, while people like Heather McNamara and Martha slip between the cracks. Unless you’ve already succeeded in killing yourself, the world of “Heathers” doesn’t care about your mental health.

And Now Back to Our Protagonists

Remember back when I told you to remember that Veronica stands in for the audience? Keeping this in mind, let’s examine her role in the events of “Heathers”.

Veronica, while not being the one to orchestrate the murders, is very complicit in all of them. She is the one who forges both suicide notes, and she keeps what she knows of Heather, Kurt, and Ram’s deaths a secret from the powers that be.

And JD, on the other hand, sweet, troubled JD, is the one to mastermind it all. The musical purposefully writes him to be likeable in the beginning of the musical, so even as he murders people in cold blood, the audience goes along with it. He’s sweet! He just has a troubled past! He loves Veronica! It’s all okay. And Veronica, our audience stand-in, loves him too.

But keep in mind, remembering that she’s the audience stand-in, this implicates the audience as just as complicit in these deaths as Veronica is. They trust JD too, at first, and they give a silent cheer when he slays the “mythic bitch”. Perhaps they’re impressed by his and Veronica’s cleverness when they fake the suicide notes. And maybe they chuckle a little bit at the humorous nature of Kurt and Ram’s deaths. Either way, the full weight of what has happened never really sets in.

Like the rest of the community of “Heathers,” the audience is lead to focus more on these fake suicides than the actual mental health of the still-living teenagers in the musical. Martha and Heather McNamara’s suicide attempts, though heart-wrenching and accompanied by beautiful musical numbers, are mere blips on the overall plotline. And Veronica herself is not around to witness either. It’s only at Veronica’s lowest point in “Yo Girl” that she learns of Martha’s suicide attempt, and it’s only during the last song that she makes peace with Martha once more.

So what does this have to say about the nature of suicide and mental health in society? Well, it’s the sad truth that society as a whole doesn’t really pay attention to the still-living teenagers struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. For those who have already committed suicide, it’s easy for society and media at large to grieve and make something meaningful of it, but “Heathers” points out that very little is done to prevent those still living from meeting the same fate.

In an exaggerated microcosm of our world, the adults of Westerberg High are tricked by two teenagers into romanticizing the murders of three teenagers while ultimately ignoring the actual suicide attempts of two still-living teenagers.

So what does this say about our world and the people in it? What does “Heathers” say about mental health and suicide? Well, it stresses prevention. It points out that we live in a world where it’s far easier to provide commentary after-the-fact. It shows how easy it is to ignore the still-living mentally-ill people at risk for suicide in favor of trying to draw some selfish meaning from the deaths of those who are already gone.

It’s also a kickass musical with a great plot and musical score. Social consciousness and overall quality… what else could you ask for?

Musical Month Week 3: CHRISTIIIINEEE

Back when I wrote the first post for Musical Month, I had a deep inner crisis over which song deserved the number three spot for “Be More Chill.” Though I knew “Do You Wanna Ride” deserved the spot just as a song I enjoy listening to, I also desperately wanted to talk about “I Love Play Rehearsal,” a short, sweet little song that does an absolutely fantastic job of characterizing Christine. In the end, it came down to the fact that I felt like I had a lot more to say about “I Love Play Rehearsal” than “Do You Wanna Ride,” so it merited its own post. This post, actually!

Yes, Christine is probably the best character in “Be More Chill” (besides Michael). For a character who doesn’t actually have that heavy a role in the actual plot, she remains a character motivation for Jeremy, and an important one at that.

Wait, the female love interest who does nothing but be the character motivation for the leading guy? Hasn’t that been done over and over and over and over (and over and over) again? Isn’t it playing along with that idea that women are merely actors in a story dominated by men?

Oh yes, that’s very true. But allow me to make a case for Christine. While I don’t know if I can say that she’s the perfect example of a woman with agency in a musical (as I said, she doesn’t do a whole lot), I do think she gets excellent characterization. It would be easy for “Be More Chill” to sideline her as the adorable, quirky love interest she is – always just a bit out of Jeremy’s reach, but still lovely and perfect – but instead she’s made out to be a person with feelings, and it’s not until Jeremy realizes that that he “gets the girl.”

I also have to commend “Be More Chill” because Christine appears in maybe, like, three songs? And she still manages to be a really interesting, complex character. So let’s talk about her solo number, “I Love Play Rehearsal,” and what it implies about her character.

{CHRISTINE}
I love play rehearsal
Because it’s the best!
Because it is fun.
I love play rehearsal
And I get depressed as soon as it’s done.

So, what is there to say about this song except… it’s adorable? Well, a lot (obviously, as I’m writing a whole post about it), but it is also incredibly adorable.

But besides establishing the adorable tone, this verse sets up a motif we’ll be following throughout this song. Escapism! Christine uses play rehearsal as an escape from the rest of her life, explaining why she gets “depressed” as soon as it’s over.

It’s also worth noting the tone she sings these lines with – namely, the difference in enthusiasm between the second and third lines. “Because it’s the best!” is cheered, while “Because it is fun,” is toned down purposefully, as if Christine is trying to remind herself to remain calm. Considering she is saying all of this to Jeremy, a guy she has never talked to before, the audience can assume she doesn’t wish to come off too enthusiastic to a guy she’s just met – she’s self-conscious about her enthusiasm.

But not depressed as in like kill yourself depressed
No, I’m not into self-harm
Dude, I swear, here check my arm!

In another telling verse, Christine makes it a very specific point to tell Jeremy that she is not depressed, or suicidal. It’s such a quick and desperate point that I would be surprised if it wasn’t meant to imply the opposite.

This brings me to another important point about Christine in “Be More Chill.” As I mentioned above, she doesn’t play that huge of a role in this musical. Honestly, this makes sense to me, since the story we’re presented is Jeremy’s, and one of Jeremy’s biggest character flaws is the fact he doesn’t seem to care all that much about the problems of other people.

This is directly stated in his treatment of Michael and Brooke, but I think it applies to Christine too. The implication that she might be depressed or suicidal here is basically skipped over by the musical, and I think that’s on purpose. Jeremy doesn’t care about Christine in any way other than as an object of his affection, a prize once he finally becomes “cool.” So, we only get implications of Christine’s problems, because Jeremy doesn’t notice and doesn’t care, and so neither does this story.

See, I just use the word to emphasize a point,
Show the passion I have got
I am passionate a lot.

Christine’s passion is another important part of her character we’re given in this song. Christine is actually one of the only characters to have a defined “passion” in the musical, except maybe Michael with his love of retro products and video games. I think that sets her apart as slightly more mature than the rest of her classmates, assured enough in herself that she knows exactly what she loves to do.

The other characters spend most of their time concerned with the drama of their high school life, while Christine seems to flit above it all. She’s not pegged as one of the “popular crowd,” but she also gets attention from Jake, who is one of that crowd. I find that interesting when compared to Jeremy, who is absolutely obsessed with his status in high school, but loves the girl who seems pretty disconnected from it all.

I have mad, gigantic feelings,
Red and frantic feelings,
About most everything
Like gun control, like spring,
Like if I’m living up to all I’m meant to be.
I also have a touch of ADD.

Where was I?
Oh, right!

I love the juxtaposition of the two things she names as passions of hers. Gun control and spring… doesn’t that just say so much about her? Passion for the political and the downright fluffy. Precious.

But anyway, we get a little more implication of depth and conflict in Christine’s life in these lines. She wonders if she’s “living up to all [she’s] meant to be.” From this line, we can assume she’s probably a very self-determined person, with an image of who she needs to become one day.

I love play rehearsal,
Cause’ you are equipped with direction and text,
Life is easy in rehearsal,
You follow a script so you know what comes next.

These lines also reveal an interesting motivation for Christine. Her love of how the script provides direction for life speaks to a discomfort with the unpredictability and difficulty of real life. This matches up pretty well with Jeremy’s motivations, actually. Like Christine alludes, he also seeks an easy answer to life’s problems.

That’s a pretty easy way for Jeremy and Christine to connect right here, but as I’ve mentioned a few times at this point, Jeremy is currently too wrapped up in his own problems to notice Christine’s. He’s not even able to recognize his own problems in hers! That will change as the plot of the musical progresses but… yeah.

Anywho the point that I’m getting to is sometimes life can’t
Work out in the way
It works out in the play
Like the only time I get to be the center of attention,
Is when I’m Juliet or Blanche DuBois
And can I mention?

That was really one of my best roles,
Did you see that?

These lines continue with the idea that Christine longs for an easy solutions for life’s problems, but then implies that Christine also longs to be “the center of attention.” I already briefly talked about how Christine doesn’t seem to factor into her school’s popularity hierarchy, but it’s interesting that despite this, she still longs for attention.

Also, I can’t help but look into the two roles she namedrops. Juliet is something that comes up again later in the musical, so I can discount it as a story beat, but Blanche DuBois is especially notable, especially since she calls it “one of her best roles.”

Blanche DuBois is a formerly wealthy southern belle who comes to live with her sister and her sister’s husband in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Without spoiling the plot of that excellent play, Blanche is an incredibly complex character who ends up slipping into a state of insanity. It’s a really intense role for a high schooler to play, and I can’t help but think that it not only speaks to Christine’s talent as an actress, but also perhaps her connection to the character?

I think later parts of the musical confirm that Christine deals with mental health problems of her own, so I think that she connects so deeply with a role like that.

And no matter how hard I try,
It’s impossible to narrow down the many reasons why-y-y,
I love play rehearsal.
I happiness cry whenever it starts!
It’s just so universal
Getting to try playing so many parts.
Most humans do one thing for all of their lives,
The thought of that gives me hives!
I’ve got so many interests I wanna pursue,

And another interesting point about Christine! I really love the concept of loving acting as a way to escape from yourself. I’m not an actress, but I am the daughter of two actors and the granddaughter of an actress, so I’m acquainted with their mentality well enough, I’d think. I also think writing has a similar appeal. I love sitting down and writing about other people and worlds for a while. It’s a wonderful form of escapism.

But anyway, Christine reveals she has a lot of interests beyond acting, but acting gives her access to all of them. It’s a rather fascinating approach to interests. It implies that Christine would be doing so much more if she had the time, but uses acting as a way to efficiently explore all her many interests. It sheds more light on her insecurities regarding whether or not she’s living up to all she’s “meant to be.”

And why am I telling this to you?
Guess there’s a part of me that wants to.

These two lines get reprised in “A Guy that I’d Kinda Be Into.” I mention this because I think they take on a different meaning if you consider the context the reprise adds. At this point, the audience is meant to think this means Christine might be harboring secret romantic feelings for Jeremy. However, “A Guy that I’d Kinda Be Into” reveals that these lines show more platonic feelings for Jeremy. She trusts him without knowing why, a fact that isn’t enough for selfish Jeremy at first, but eventually becomes a basis for their relationship.

Back to play rehearsal,
My brain is like ‘bzz’
My heart is like ‘wow!’
‘Cause we’re here at play rehearsal,
And it’s starting,
We’re starting,
It’s starting,
Soon.
Oo

Not much more to say, just more cute lines.

Overall, “I Love Play Rehearsal” is a really fascinating introductory song for Christine’s character. It explores her love of theater as an escape and as a way to explore many of her passions. It touches on her inner worries and motivations. And it also, in a low key way, points out Jeremy’s character flaws and the way they align with hers, setting up their relationship throughout the musical.

While I don’t think Christine is a perfect example of female representation in a musical, what strengths in her character exist are unique and worth celebrating.

Musical Month Week 2: Pierre & Natasha

I want to start this post with a slight disclaimer. I think a lot of parts of this analysis are a bit self-indulgent on my part. I think in many cases analysis of things we love can often fall to self-indulgence due to the fact that the things we love very often connect to ourselves in a personal way. I don’t think it’s unusual or detrimental to an analysis to feel a personal connection, but I also think it can make it difficult to see opposing sides of an analysis.

So, wordy apologies aside, I want to talk about Natasha and Pierre. I want to talk about them both individually but I mostly want to talk about their relationship. This analysis will mostly focus on four songs – “No One Else,” “Dust and Ashes,” “Pierre,” and finally, and most importantly “Pierre & Natasha.” So, let’s break this down.

Part 1: Natasha

At the beginning of the musical, Natasha is defined by her youth. It’s the first thing the audience learns of her – she is young, she is in love. In “No One Else,” this idea is expanded upon even further. In a sweeping ballad, Natasha declares her love for her absent fiance.

While the audience could definitely take note of her passion, they might also take notice of her innocence. Consider her repetition of “I love you,” as if in childish glee over the new adult emotion she feels. Or when she expresses her want to “put her arms ’round her knees,” “squeezing as tight as possible,” and “flying away”. Or, maybe most notably, her naive wish that Andrey will suddenly appear, “sitting in the drawing room” and she’s only missing him because she “forgot” he was there.

Ultimately, while the audience might be charmed by Natasha’s love for Andrey, it’s hard to ignore the fact that she loves him without a hint of realism. In a way, that’s admirable, but as the musical progresses, it becomes obvious that it’s detrimental.

As Natasha is caught up with Anatole, it’s clear that her passion for Andrey was fueled more by childlike glee than actual adult emotion. Throughout the musical, she continues to make uninformed decisions, getting involved with a dishonest man, nearly eloping, and then almost killing herself. While Natasha’s idealism in “No One Else” is beautiful and touching, it is also ultimately hollow.

One could blame Natasha for rushing into things, but in a way the blame could also be put on the world she lives in. She is young, after all. Her marriage to Andrey was not her own decision, and although she was willing to convince herself that she loved him, swept up in the idealism of being a wife, it was ultimately grounded in very few of her own decisions. Similarly, Andrey’s disappearance to fight in a war is out of Natasha’s hands. So is her whirlwind romance with Anatole, who repeatedly is the one to make the plans, up to where he almost whisks her away on a troika. She is repeatedly a victim of her society and those around her, using her for their own ends.

So, by the time of “Pierre & Natasha,” Natasha has had her innocence and naivete beaten out of her. While she certainly deserves some of the blame, it is obvious that the mistakes of others have been pinned to her, bringing great shame to her name.

Part 2: Pierre

Unlike most of his fellow characters, Pierre is not explained with a short little word and phrase. Instead, Pierre gets an entire song, aptly named “Pierre,” to explain his mentality at the beginning of the musical.

Essentially, Pierre is a man unsatisfied with his current life. He feels as though he has declined in his age. He constantly compares himself to Andrey, feeling as though Andrey’s choice to go to war makes him a better man. In comparison, Pierre views his life as too quiet, too sedentary. The rest of the cast appears to see him as a sad, yet generally good-hearted old man. (Interestingly, Pierre doesn’t really seem that much older than the rest of the cast, at least not physically. Regardless, he gets referred to as the old man a lot.)

However, we also are introduced to Pierre’s romantic life, or the lack thereof. While he is married, his wife, Helene, clearly doesn’t love him. The two of them argue, and refer to each other only as “wife” and “husband.” In addition, Helene’s romances with many other men (and probably also women, let’s be honest) is pretty much common knowledge to the rest of the cast. Pierre only briefly touches on this situation in “Pierre,” when he remarks that “the women they all pity me / because I’m married / but not in love / frozen at the center.”

It’s not until Pierre almost dies in a duel with Dolokhov that we get to hear his true feelings on romance. In “Dust and Ashes,” Pierre comes to the conclusion that the only reason he feels compelled to stay alive is that he still hasn’t fallen in love. He hypothesizes that only through love (romantic love, mind you) can one find divinity.

Pierre, Natasha, and Marriage

So it’s easy to draw comparisons between Natasha and Pierre. Both seem to put a lot of stock into romantic love. For both, it’s their downfall, the main source of their pain and dissatisfaction with their life. But I want to take a look at what part of romance has caused them such grief, because I don’t think you can argue that it’s simply romance as a whole. No, it’s marriage.

Think about it. Pierre is stuck in a loveless marriage, and it’s that marriage that is preventing him from being able to find love, and by extension, divinity. Natasha, on the other hand, is controlled by her impending marriage to Andrey. When she’s finally convinced to act on her “own terms” without worrying about that marriage, she’s caught up with Anatole and ruins her life by trying to elope with him. It’s not love or romance, it’s marriage specifically that is causing both characters such trauma.

In addition, I’d be willing to make this analysis even more specific. It may not just be marriage that is causing both characters problems, it may be the idea that marriage and romance are the same thing. Natasha’s seemingly endless passion for Andrey is actually not at all lasting, and goes away as soon as Anatole becomes a more present option for marriage. And then it’s her haste to marry Anatole that ruins her life. In both cases, her longing to marry both of these men is mistaken as romantic feeling.

On the other hand, we don’t really know why Pierre married Helene. Though, once again, their marriage by no means equals romance.

So, with that in mind, I want to look at “Pierre & Natasha,” the last song I’ll be analyzing. In this song, after Andrey has firmly rejected Natasha, Pierre tries to comfort her. However, the conversation that takes place starts to say a lot more about their relationship with one another.

First of all, I want to point out that in War and Peace, Natasha and Pierre were good friends when they were younger. This song draws attention to that friendship early on, when Natasha refers to him as “Peter Kirilovich,” and he corrects her, wanting her to call him “Pierre.” Not only does this show he feels comfortable enough with her to be on a first-name basis, but “Kirilovich” was his former last name, before his now-deceased father allowed him to take on the name “Bezhukov.” It shows that she knew him during a time before now, when they were both young and idealistic. It’s a sign of familiarity and friendship.

Another point to draw attention to is Pierre’s question to Natasha about Anatole, and her response:

[PIERRE]
But I should like to know one thing
Did you love—
Did you love that bad man?

[NATASHA]
Don’t call him bad
But I don’t know, I don’t know at all

Natasha doesn’t know now whether she ever loved Anatole, and I think this goes to show my point earlier about her confusing marriage and romance. Now that Anatole is firmly not a candidate for marriage, Natasha isn’t sure whether or not she ever truly loved him, or was more excited for the possibility of their wedding.

After this exchange, Natasha breaks down into tears, and Pierre, at this sight, also begins to cry. Despite the fact that Pierre tries to “despise her” for what she’s done, he cannot help but feel for her on a personal level. Again, the audience is shown the connection the two of them share on an emotional level.

He promises her that they do not need to speak of the situation with Andrey again, and says “But one thing I beg of you, consider me your friend / And if you ever need help, or simply to open your heart to someone / Not now, but when your mind is clear / Think of me.” Repeatedly it’s the friendship and close emotional connection Natasha and Pierre share that is brought up. Neither expressly declares a grand, sweeping passion for one another, but it’s made abundantly clear that they care deeply for one another. Even after Natasha tries to say she doesn’t deserve his care after the things she has done, the music cuts out and Pierre delivers the one spoken line in the entire musical:

[PIERRE]
If I were not myself
But the brightest, handsomest
Best man on earth
And if I were free—
I would get down on my knees this minute
And ask you for your hand
And for your love

And yes, you read that right, Pierre heavily implies that he wishes to marry Natasha. Remember how I said that marriage and romance in this play are intertwined in the minds of the characters? It’s this line that confirms what the audience may have been suspecting this whole time – Pierre loves Natasha romantically.

But here’s the thing. Pierre can’t marry Natasha. He’s a married man, she’s disgraced and shamed, “unmarriable.”

Still, this doesn’t seem to sadden either Natasha or Pierre. In fact, it leads Natasha to “weep tears of gratitude / tears of joy / tears of thanks” and to leave the room “smiling.” Pierre too weeps some “tears of joy” of his own, and leaves the room to deliver the final, hopeful number of the musical.

So what does this all mean for their relationship? Well, I don’t think it’s an accident that the couple that cannot even consider marriage is the one that seems the most happy with the idea of their love for one another. Plus, it’s the couple whose platonic love for one another that gets their happily ever after, in a sense.

Pierre’s declaration of love for Natasha is a microcosm of what makes their relationship work. Unlike the rest of the musical, sung grandly with beautiful language, he states his love for her frankly with no music in the background. It’s not grand, but it’s earnest and well-thought-out.

And so what do we take away from Pierre and Natasha’s relationship? The kind of romance that lasts and brings happiness can only exist on a foundation of friendship and shared emotional connection. It has very little to do with passion or grand gestures or traditional marriages.

We don’t get to see what comes of Pierre and Natasha, but I think the audience nonetheless leaves the theater (or the YouTube playlist) satisfied, knowing that the too have found a real love. Platonic, romantic, lasting, and happy.

Musical Month Week 1: Picking Favorites

For no real reason other than I thought it would be fun, I’ve decided that October will be Musical Month! All month, I’ll be writing posts about musicals. For the first week, I thought we’d take more general look at musicals and songs from musicals I love.

I would call myself a casual musical fan. I’m generally last to the party when it comes to appreciating them. But for those select few I really love, I’ll listen to them over and over again and excitedly sing them with friends.

To be frank, my first plan for this post was going to be a sweeping Top 30 of all songs in musicals but… after trying my hardest to compile a list of all my favorites, it became clear to me that it was a near impossibility. I think songs from musicals are even harder to rank than regular songs, because in a lot of cases I judge them differently from song to song. They often depend heavily on context of the the story, and staging, and the way I connect to the characters singing that song… it’s just hard to put everything on a level playing field. So, instead, here’s my three favorite songs from a few of my favorite musicals. I hope this provides a suitable alternative and a good opening to the month.

(As a note: I will most likely not be talking about specific plot details in my reviews. However, be warned that the songs could contain spoilers for the musical as a whole. In addition, for some of the songs, it’s kind of impossible not to spoil things a little in the review. I’ll try my best, but be warned.)

Be More Chill

“Be More Chill” is still more or less an underappreciated fave. It first appeared on my radar because it often gets compared to the monumentally popular (and honestly a little overrated) “Dear Evan Hansen.” To be quite frank, “Be More Chill” is like “Evan Hansen” in the same way apples are similar to oranges. Both musicals about high school, both fruits. But otherwise, completely unlike one another.

If I were going to compare this musical to any other musical, I’d compare it to “Heathers.” They both take a dark, funny look at high school drama. Both create intrigue by introducing fantastical elements to the generally overplayed setting. Both feature a dissatisfied protagonist who gets taken advantage of by a malevolent but seemingly helpful force. Also, both are excellent musicals.

If you love “Heathers,” or just think you’d enjoy a unique twist on the usual high school coming-of-age, try this one out.

(Shout-out to my boyfriend Kirby, who finally convinced me to listen to this musical. I’m gonna see if I can convince him to come out of his cocoon and help me write a post for this month focusing on it. Stay tuned!)

3. Do You Wanna Ride?

I had a hell of a time figuring out which song would take the number three spot. Finally, though, I had to look deep within myself and determine which song it was that could so easily implant itself into my head on a near daily basis. And wow, this song is ever catchy.

I love how straight it’s played. There’s no doubt that the subject matter in it is goofy but the sensual performance of Lauren Marcus and Katlyn Carlson creates the kind of beautiful dissonance that really sells its humor. Plus… those vocals are gorgeous! I’ve never heard the word “Pinkberry” sung in such a pure, pleasant way.

This song is short, but it really leaves an impression.

2. The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)

Big ensemble numbers can be pretty hit-or-miss for me. I feel like a lot of times they can just sort of exist as a means to move the plot forward. In that way, they can sometimes sacrifice quality for story. That’s not always a bad thing, but it does make for some forgettable songs.

And then there are those beautiful ensemble numbers that stick with you forever. This one does that and more. I’m not always a big fan of the “darn millennials and their ding dang social media” idea, but I feel like this song doesn’t fall as easily into that trap. It’s certainly critical of the quickly-spreading and salacious nature of social media in teenage lives, but it doesn’t do that by being preachy. Instead, it presents the scene as it is and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

It’s funny, dark, fast-paced, and a little overwhelming. The instrumentals and the vocals are top notch and only serve to heighten the emotions and ideas being presented. It’s a beautifully-written song, and serves as a great microcosm of the strengths of the musical as a whole.

1. Michael in the Bathroom

To no one’s surprise, everyone’s favorite song from this musical is also my favorite. George Salazar, man. George freaking Salazar. His voice is just beautiful. It’s perfect for Michael – very “nerdy” – but it’s also emotional, and dynamic, and just… ugh.

This was the first song I heard from this musical, and it really piqued my interest. It’s just so cleverly written. It’s so relatable (anyone who has even a shred of social anxiety would definitely agree.) It’s so darkly funny. (Are you picking up a pattern in the songs from this musical?) It characterizes Michael so perfectly. A character who has mostly played second fiddle to Jeremy and is then discarded gets his shining moment and it’s unforgettable.

If you listen to no other song from this musical, listen to this one. There’s just so many moments you can’t possibly miss… the builds, the “Knock-knock” part, Michael breaking off mid-sentence in a sob, the sarcastic finality of the last lines… it’s all so good. I have a hard time describing it because it’s really something you have to listen to. Listen to it. You’ll agree, I promise.

(By the way, if you’re interested in admiring George Salazar’s incredible vocal talents and his range of emotion check out this video. Just ignore the horrible lady cackling throughout the entire performance.)

Heathers

Ah, Heathers.  A movie I haven’t seen, a musical I adore. For those familiar with the cult-classic movie, I’m sure you already know what this musical is about, but for those who don’t, it involves high school drama and MURDER MOST FOUL. It’s a dark, funny, emotional journey filled with deep, complicated characters. It’s also absolutely ridiculous at times.

It’s not a musical I would recommend to everyone, but if you can enjoy the sort of jokes that make you feel bad for laughing, you’ll find a musical chock-full of showstopping numbers you’ll never forget. I had a rough time sorting through a million favorites on this soundtrack.

I plan on writing a post later this month about some of the fascinating themes contained in this musical, but it’s a dense beast with a lot of fascinating places for analysis. For that reason, I think it might be my favorite musical of all. Maybe. Don’t quote me on that.

3. Lifeboat

While giving a villain a backstory isn’t exactly groundbreaking, I have to hand it it “Lifeboat” for being so unapologetic about it. Okay, sure, Heather McNamara is not exactly the biggest villain of this musical, but she is complicit in a lot of awful things. Yet, this song is slow and beautiful. It explains her motivations so well without really explaining it all. It’s an extended metaphor that explains so much about McNamara both explicitly and implicitly (I mean, it speaks volumes of her fear of being honest about her situation that she never outright states what is going on, using the lifeboat metaphor instead.)

Similar to “Michael in the Bathroom,” “Lifeboat” is poignant for how relatable it can be for someone with deep, terrifying anxieties. However, I think the thing that makes it stick out the most in my mind is how dynamic it is – leaping from quiet piano ballad to loud, turbulent wailing. It’s moving and incredible, and provides a fascinating view on one of this musical’s fascinating characters.

2. Meant to Be Yours

Speaking of fascinating characters… oh JD. I have a lot to say about JD, but that’ll be for a later week. The true antagonist of “Heathers,” JD is one of those characters you either hate to love or love to hate. Either way, he’s a fascinatingly complex character, and “Meant to Be Yours” is his breakdown, his villain song, his master plan. It’s frenetic and surprisingly happy-sounding, even as he speaks about blowing up his school and murdering hundreds.

I love the vocal performance of this song. There’s so many points where the vocals say so much more than the lyrics do, and I think that’s one of the best parts of this song. Certain lyrics are screamed, certain lyrics are crooned, and it all goes together to paint a startling, complex image of a deeply troubled individual.

And even if others might disagree… I love how explicitly this song states how unhealthy his relationship with Veronica is. I very much appreciate when a piece of media is self aware about the harmfulness of the tropes it follows. No one with an ounce of critical thinking could listen to this song and truly believe they’re a happy couple.

(Well, except for those YouTube commenters but… YouTube commenters are barely human anyway.)

1. Dead Girl Walking

It’s songs like these that make me wish I was a better singer. I’d belt this song all day if I could. It’s intense and unforgettable. And yeah, it’s about terrible decisions, but it’s the most beautiful, powerful song about terrible decisions ever.

I count it as a major accomplishment for this song that I can love it so much even though it’s entirely about sex. Even as it is about sex, and does contain some rather lewd jokes (not the worst in this musical, though), it also has a lot to say about Veronica’s character. We know her to be smart and savvy, but it’s fascinating to see how easily she’s fooled into maybe the worst decision of her life just due to the normal pressures of high school.

The insights into how she views JD as beautiful on the inside is interesting in hindsight considering the content of the rest of the musical. Is she wrong? Or did JD never get a chance to be better? Who knows, but the audience gets to ruminate on it. I think “Heathers” is notable for how frank and honest it can be about some very heavy subjects historically mishandled by media, and this part of the song is just a microcosm of this fact.

And, okay, it’s fun. It’s a fun, catchy song, and it’s so well performed, and everyone should listen to it! Well… everyone within reason.

Hamilton

What is there to say about “Hamilton” that hasn’t already been said thousands of times? It’s just so good. It’s one of those rare media phenomenons that deserves every inch of praise it receives. It’s a monument of fantastic writing and storytelling. I already wrote a whole post about this musical when I went to see it in Chicago, and while I can say it doesn’t define my daily life as much as it used to back then, I still look back on this musical as the behemoth of my junior year in high school it was. I remember whole bus rides to and from marching band competitions belting the songs with my best friend. I remember sitting around a bonfire in my backyard assigning different roles to friends so we could perform the songs right then and there (we all had the lyrics memorized, anyway).

I’m sure just about everyone who will listen to “Hamilton” has, but if for some reason you haven’t, do. It’s going to go down as a classic in history, for one, but also it’s just amazing. I would pay a lot to go back and listen to this musical again for the first time. You’ll learn things, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you might even feel a little patriotic. I know, crazy, right?

3. Non-Stop

This was another difficult third song to assign, but I think I cheated a little with this choice. “Non-Stop” kind of combines all the best elements of all the songs in the first act into a fast-paced act one finale. So in picking this song I kind of picked them all.

Remember what I said earlier about ensemble numbers? This is another good one. It’s vast and grand, and ends the first act on such a high note. There are so many great moments: Hamilton’s “I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!”, Burr and Hamilton’s conversation, Hamilton being a butt in court, George Washington, basically everything Eliza and Angelica do in this song, the ending part where everyone is singing and you want to sing along but you can’t pick which part to sing along with… wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, right. “Non-Stop.” Er… well… let’s talk about that ending, though. The chaos, and the twisting of “I am not throwing away my shot” to become a forboding omen hanging over Hamilton’s head. It’s masterful and sets the stage so well for the tragedy of act two. Just amazing.

2. Burn

I was going back and forth over whether I wanted to pick “Helpless” or this one for the second spot. Eliza is unabashedly my favorite character in this musical, so there was no way I was leaving out one of her two solos. But it eventually came down to emotional impact and just why I love Eliza so much that finally helped me make the decision.

I read a post on tumblr recently that discussed how “Hamilton” is the story of narrative control. It is a constant battle for who gets to tell the story. However, it’s Eliza who seems the most content to stay out of the battle. She purposefully makes herself a part of her husband’s narrative, content to stay in the background and do her best to help out.

And yet, it is in this song that Eliza first decides to take control of her role in the narrative, by forcefully cutting herself out of it, and taking with it many of the positive information about her husband. She exercises her power in the only way she feels she can. It’s powerful and beautiful and it’s a great precursor to the ending, where it’s revealed that it was through Eliza’s efforts that Hamilton’s name is ultimately kept alive. She’s a fantastic historical figure and an incredible character in this musical.

But as for the song itself… what can I say? Phillipa Soo is a goddess, and her vocals are perfect. The song is sweeping and tragic and beautiful and also kind of badass. A masterful work.

1. Satisfied

“Satisfied” has always been one of my favorites – from the beautiful piano in the background, to Angelica’s clever, rapid-fire lines, to the really fascinating motif of “rewinding” time and regretting your actions, it’s clearly a strong point of the musical. But that was all it was for me, “one” of many favorites.

And then I saw this song live.

It’s hard to describe to you in words what it was that made the difference from listening to this song over and over and seeing it live so huge for me. I have some suspicions, mostly involving what was happening in my life at the time I saw it, but regardless of what it was, it moved me to tears. The staging was just so beautiful, and the music and the vocals of the actress playing Angelica struck me to my core. I had definitely expected to cry at the performance, but I hadn’t expected to cry so early on.

Either way, it will always be a high point of the musical for me, perhaps my favorite part. The emotions of regret and nostalgia evoked by this song are just so gut-wrenching, and every part of the song comes together to make you feel every twinge of pain Angelica feels.

I don’t know if listening to the soundtrack will ever be able to match the experience of seeing it live at that very moment in my life, but I’ll never forget it. It’s the reason this song is my favorite in this musical, and most likely will be for the rest of time.

Legally Blonde

I think of all the musicals represented on this post, “Legally Blonde” is probably the most… light-hearted. It’s sort of a guilty pleasure of a musical, but I can’t help but love it. It’s certainly goofy, but it has a lot of heart and surely appeals to my “rah rah feminism” core.

It’s a classic, really! How can I argue with a classic? It’s a musical with music that never fails to make me happy. I have a hard time really saying much more about it. It’s a very simple joy of a story. For that reason, my reviews of these songs will most likely be a little shorter than the rest. There’s just not much to parse here besides pure enjoyment and amusement.

3. There! Right There! (Gay or European)

I feel like even if you aren’t familiar with “Legally Blonde,” there’s a good chance you’re familiar with this song. I’d call it infamous. It’s certainly erm… heavy handed with its portrayal of a gay man, but I still can’t help but enjoy the overwrought drama of it all. I want to acknowledge that this song is not exactly the best example of respectful LGBT representation but… okay, it’s funny. It’s funny and I enjoy it. I’m so sorry. So very, very sorry.

2. Whipped Into Shape

I’m not a big fan of diet and exercise video culture, but come on. This song is just so catchy. The lyrics are catchy and clever, and I find the way they connect her exercise routine to her possible guilt in the murder of her husband is hilarious. Plus, for those who have actually watched this musical, the way the actors perform the action of getting “paused” by Professor Callahan is so well done. Speaking of – I absolutely adore Professor Callahan’s interjections. The contrast between his parts and Brooke’s create a kind of dissonance that makes this potentially one-off number an absolute star on this soundtrack.

1. Legally Blonde (Reprise)

My choice for the top spot is almost entirely based on the fact that Vivian is maybe one of my favorite characters in this entire musical. Her beginning part in this song makes me so happy. Women supporting other women… dumping their awful frat boyfriends and becoming successful lawyers… what’s not to love? Also, basically everyone who deserves it gets their fun happy endings. (Paulette and Kyle!!!!) This is a triumphant song that gets everyone in the audience happy and bopping along. It’s just so good. Listen to it and try to keep a smile off your face. I dare you.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

The most recent favorite on this list, “Great Comet” is most certainly a musical unlike any other. It barely rhymes, and it shares more similarities with an opera than with a musical. And yet there’s something so irresistibly charming about it. Perhaps it’s that the characters are all so very alive and complicated, or that the music so often defies regular rules in order to make a thematic point. No matter what it is, it’s an experience unlike any other.

I’m forever sad there’s a very slim chance I’ll ever see this musical live, because it involves its audience more than any musical I’ve ever heard of. Actors dance around the audience, offer them food and drink, and dance with them. Honestly, that’s a microcosm of one of the biggest strengths of this musical. Despite its dense source material (War and Peace, anyone?) it’s inviting and never too pretentious. In fact, it’s much the opposite. It states what is going on in the characters’ heads outright with great simplicity.

And it’s that grand simplicity that endears this musical to me, I think. If you do anything else, take a few hours out of your life and listen to this journey.

3. Prologue

Remember what I said about this musical going out of its way to be inviting? “Prologue” is the song that makes that abundantly obvious from the get-go. It’s essentially a cheat sheet for the characters and the story in song form, presented outright to the audience as a tool for remembering everyone, as well as their relationship to each other. It accomplishes the monumental task of introducing everyone to the audience through repitition – think “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s very effective.

Plus, it breaks the fourth wall and pokes fun at itself. The musical is fully aware that its very premise makes it sound too complex and pretentious for an audience to enjoy, but this song welcomes everyone into its story, and sets the stage for what the musical will be. Friendly and inviting and relatable and unabashedly human.

Considering how very “utility” this song is, it’s honestly a crime how good this song is. It has no business being as catchy or as delightful it is! I’ve listened to this song so many times, sung it out loud in the car with friends so many times… and it’s just a list of names! In song form! What the heck?!

2. No One Else

I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve listened to this song. There’s just something about it that compels me to hit the repeat button over and over and over again. And that’s especially surprising considering it took me quite a few listens just to have this song click for me. But once it did… oh man.

I guess it helps that I adore Natasha’s character, and I think this song really highlights a lot of the fascinating things about her. Her childish naivete, her idealism, her wide-eyed wonder at the world… all is present in this sweet, crooning melody. The song takes on an even more fascinating meaning once you’ve gotten to the end of this musical, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

The lyrics are intimate and honestly adorable. I love seeing Natasha’s lovestruck view of her fiance. Plus, that ending… perhaps one of the most brilliant endings of any song. Such a unique gut-punch. Ah. So good.

1. Pierre & Natasha

If “No One Else” punches you in the gut, “Pierre & Natasha” grabs your heart, rips it out, stomps on it a few times, and shoves it back into your chest. This is the song that had me in literal tears the first time I listened to it. (Of course, this was in public, sitting on the floor in Woodburn Hall… yeah.)

It’s a very subtle song. The instrumentals are just a few piano notes repeated. And honestly, that’s all this song needs. The focus is absolutely on the lyrics, the heartbreaking conversation between Pierre and Natasha. And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the only spoken lines in the entire show. These lines are particularly brilliant for how earnest and honest they sound once the melody has been stripped out of them. Ugh, just brilliant.

I have a lot more to say about what I feel this song means for both Pierre and Natasha’s characters, but I’ll save that for a post later this month, I think. But Tl;dr… I think there’s a lot more to this song than just romance. But hey, we’ll get to it.

Next to Normal

On the subject of being moved to tears by a musical… here’s “Next to Normal”! This musical is a brilliant study of a family affected by mental illness. To say much else about the plot would take away some of its impact. The characters are incredibly real, so flawed and beautiful and deeply fascinating.

I’ve always admired how grounded this musical is. It wants to depict its characters as realistically as possibly, both the good and the bad. And though that truth is ultimately pretty sad, it also doesn’t revel in its tragedy too much. Ultimately, it’s actually a hopeful musical.

I feel like a lot of musicals try to make themselves into one or the other – unabashedly positive or unbelievably tragic. “Next to Normal” toes the line between, choosing instead to be honest always. And that’s really the tear-jerking part. It’s too real, man. Too real.

3. Superboy and Invisible Girl

Probably my favorite character in the entire musical is Natalie, the daughter. It’s pretty obvious why – I mean, age-wise, that is. She’s a really well-written teenage girl in a genre of music that doesn’t always lend itself to well-written teenage girls. I feel like this song is a fantastic representation of her depth and how much the musical values that depth.

Unfortunately, a lot of the great things about this song are tied into the biggest spoiler in the entire musical, so I won’t go too into detail about the meaningful lyrics and interesting motifs present in the song. However, I can talk about how it sets up more of the conflict between Natalie and her mother, which I think is one of the most intriguing parts of the entire musical.

This was also the very first song from this musical I ever heard! It was enough to intrigue me into investigating the rest of the musical further, so that of course earns it brownie points.

2. Who’s Crazy / My Psychopharmacologist and I

Although, in my praise of Natalie, I forgot how great Dan is as well… and Diana, of course, the powerhouse and center of conflict in this musical… ahhh!

This song represents one of the biggest strengths of this musical, representing deep, complicated conflicts between characters musically, often through competing and combining musical motifs. In this song, we see the conflict between Diana and Dan. I love how well it demonstrates Diana’s relative disregard for her husband’s emotions through her focus on her medication as Dan stresses about her.

And that brings me to a second point. This musical is never fully clear on who the audience should root for among the cast. Diana goes through so much with her mental illness, and feels Dan doesn’t understand her, and yet Dan is doing his very best to provide for her while also not feeling any support from her anymore. There are arguments for both sides, and both sides are represented equally.

1. Hey #3 (Perfect for You Reprise)

Oh wait! Is Henry my favorite character? Oh no, Henry might be my favorite character… Okay, every character is my favorite character. But Henry. I love Henry. Henry is kind of the outsider of the cast, the only one not a member of the family. His relationship with Natalie is another really excellent and complicated part of the story. His somewhat awkward conversations with Natalie progress steadily throughout the musical until he becomes one of her most important supportive figures, and it’s a joy to see.

This song is the culmination of this musical, where we get to see some hope for Natalie in the future. While her parents are resigned to their unhappy relationship, this song makes it clear that Natalie doesn’t have to consign herself to her parents’ fate. It’s beautiful how this song emphasizes Henry’s support of her no matter what as a true indicator of how much they care for each other.

Plus, the music is simple and pretty, tying this subplot together in a beautiful little bow. A beautiful bow that makes me cry like a child.

Waitress

I talked about how wonderful Sara Bareilles is in my Women in Music post, so when I heard that she wrote a musical based on a lightly successful romantic comedy movie of the same name, I was all in. And “Waitress” feels like the musical version of Sara Bareilles’ whole career. It’s simple and romantic and sweet and ultimately positive. It makes me want to jump up and dance (and also eat pie).

Despite the cherry tone, “Waitress” has a cast of really interesting and flawed characters. It plays with the idea that happiness doesn’t only come from the most perfect situations. It instead preaches happiness through finding happiness in the life you’re given. It’s a lovely message for a lovely musical.

3. Opening Up

And nothing sells this tone immediately like the opening song. You get your introduction of most of the major characters, as well as the idea that everyone in the musical is unhappy with their lot in life but willing to work to better themselves. That’s admirable, and it’s also expertly depicted in this cheery opening number.

I love how every character gets their own little line or two that hints at their character conflicts. Jenna and Becky implies that they’re willing to do what she must to derive pleasure from her “small town” life, Dawn remarks on her comfort with sameness, suggesting she’ll have to learn to be brave… plus, pie! Gotta love that pie motif.

It’s a sweet, upbeat song that works so well to introduce this sweet, upbeat musical.

2. She Used to Be Mine

And now we take a hard left into the tearjerker of the musical. The show-stopper. The one everyone remembers. And honestly, it’s pretty easy to tell what makes this song the bombshell it is. Jessie Mueller’s original version is so subtle at points, but then grows to a powerful crescendo, but every version of the song has its own emotional value.

The idea of looking at oneself in the third person is an idea that really appeals to me. After all that’s happened to her, Jenna steps out of her own person and laments the parts of her life and personality she has lost. It’s such a beautiful concept, and it’s performed so well and so emotionally that even if you’re not liable to cry over songs, you’ll still probably get close.

And like, just watch the performance from the Tonys. Watch how vulnerably Jessie Mueller performs it. It’s just, ugh. It’s so good.

1. When He Sees Me

And now, for the song that makes me really cry. Embarrassingly enough. Or not? I can’t actually figure out if how hard I relate to this song is something to be ashamed of or not. Either way, Dawn’s conflict over making herself vulnerable without knowing all the facts is so relatable.

And I mean, this song is adorable. Kimiko Glen’s little southern twang tied with her sometimes ridiculous worries over her blind date plus the romantic backing instrumentals of the song ties together in the most adorable package. Plus, her friends’ mostly futile attempts to talk her off the ledge is hilarious.

Again, I have to point to the performance of this song. Dawn dances with random patrons of the diner, swooning and swaying to her own vulnerabilities… ahh it’s so sweet. It makes me sob like a baby, really. Ugh.

And that’s where we end it for now! I was planning on writing a lot more on a few other songs from musicals I didn’t get a chance to talk about… but this post is already a monster so I’m not gonna continue. But never fret! More musical coverage is coming this month! Stay tuned!