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Impact of Musicals on Culture

In the fall of 2015, the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical was released. This was the first ever broadway recording to reach the top 100 on the Billboard rap charts. It was a success that was unheard of for any musical.

With this success, musicals have become central figures in our culture. Hamilton has become the catalyst that blew them into the limelight.  They have become entertainment for people of all ages as they have become more accessible with cast recordings becoming available via streaming services and recordings being published.

Then, in 2016, the Hamilton Mixtape brought focus to the problems of modern day America. Starting in December of 2017, Hamildrops, a service that provides new Hamilton content every month, lead to 2018 being dubbed the “Year of Hamilton”   A song narrating Benjamin Franklin’s life, Ben Franklin’s Song, and a music video for “Wrote My Way Out” from the mixtape were some of the popular early releases from the content creators, who include the writer and original star of the Broadway production, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Hamilton’s unprecedented success was partially derived from the fact that Miranda used aspects of popular music in the song compositions. The story is told in the music so that consumers can experience the story without seeing it on stage. This was a new technique, to put the majority of the narrative in songs as opposed to just characters expressing certain emotions to the audience.

It also used rap, a popular genre instead of typical musical theater composition, to make it more accessible to more people, not just fans of Broadway. Just like Shakespeare used the common people’s language to express history on stage, Miranda manages to do the same.Hamilton is not the only musical to grow rapidly. La La Land, an original musical with two leads who were not known for their musical talents, was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, tying the record number.

Musicals have even begun to reach critical acclaim. Oscar-nominated musical, The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Zendaya has gone to awards season with a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes since its December release. So far it has won Best Original Song, “This is Me”, for a motion picture at the Golden Globes as well as the Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures at the Academy Awards.Countless other musicals have grown in popularity such as Dear Evan Hansen, as well as other media being adapted to the stage such as Mean Girls heading to broadway this summer and the off-broadway revival of cult classic film, Heathers.

On stage productions have been translated to the silver screen. Live production of musicals aired on television such as Grease gathered over 12 million viewers in the United States alone.  Hairspray and The Wiz also had a over 10 million viewers when they aired. Movies have also gone from the large screen to the theater, such as Heathers which is a cult classic and Once.

Audience members take the experience and lessons from the show and translate it into their own lives. Musicals have become culturally significant because they talk about subjects not typically covered. Dear Evan Hansen talks about depression, Heathers is a dark reflection of high school, Wicked covers racism through metaphors. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime has a protagonist who is on the autism spectrum. Most recently, Waitress covers abortion, domestic abuse, and marital affairs.

The barrier between music and musicals has been blurred with pop-stars making their way onto Broadway. Popular singer Sara Bareilles wrote the musical Waitress, which is filled with powerful pop ballads, something that had been considered a risk for Broadway until Hamilton paved the way to success. Debuting at 10 on the Billboard U.S. Top 200 during the soundtrack’s week of release and one of the few original musicals in the 2016-2017 season, it made a mark on the Broadway scene and led to a change in the culture surrounding it.

Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie also starred on Broadway in the production of Kinky Boots for the summer 2017 season, bringing in fans of his music to a new genre and type of performance. Other popular musicians have also joined in on musicals, Kesha’s rendition of “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman has over 5 million listens on Spotify.

The story of musicals is not complete without talking about internet culture. Hamilton was praised by media and lead to the rise of musicals on social media. Social media app Tumblr even added a Musical category for its Year In Review to showcase the popularity of the art form. Cult classics like Be More Chill and The Falsettos were on the same list as big name productions like Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera that have been around for decades, but not as accessible until fans demanded recordings of performances.

Riverdale has announced that it will be doing a musical episode airing on April 18 featuring 11 songs, following in the footsteps of other television series like Supernatural, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Flash, as well as many other shows that have had musical episodes.

Musicals have a fundamental place in society where storytelling and music, two of the most expressive artforms connect and allow for a unique way of storytelling that has been praised by critics. Musicals have staked their place in pop culture and guaranteed that they will not being going anywhere anytime soon.

Written by Staff Writer Sara Short


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