Growing up as a child in a very musical and theatrical family, I developed a keen sense of distinguishing high quality shows from mediocre ones, in both visual and acoustic performing arts. Even the most nuanced distasteful details in a show can make me frown, which is why I always found it difficult to like live musicals. Whereas regular plays and musical concerts require a certain subset of performance skills, musicals require the full package: good production, acting, dancing, singing and very often a well-coordinated orchestra. With that said, I am so happy to wholeheartedly admit that I was astonished by Berklee College’s adaptation of Hair, which premiered last week at the Berklee Performance Center.
Some films are met with lukewarm welcomes when they hit the screen, only to go on to serve as snapshots of the eras in which they were made. I’ve always considered Footloose (1984) to be one of these ugly ducklings that are met with initial flurries of derision, yet mellow with time and nostalgia into appreciable works. For it in particular, this transformation has largely been possible because of its uniqueness as a film — not because of the acting or directing, but rather because of the music. The plot tells the tale of a dance-happy teenage boy from Chicago by the name of Ren McCormack, who moves to a small, much less excitable town where dancing and rock and roll have been banned under the orders of local minister Rev. Shaw Moore, who is still traumatized by the long past death of his son and three others in an alcohol and party-related car accident. After some clashes with the town’s rather puritanical adults and falling in love with the preacher’s rebellious daughter, Ren manages to convince the minister to allow for prom to be held, albeit outside of town limits. Cue dancing, and credits roll to music from the 1980s.
What could be more innocent than a musical that takes place in a flower shop? Well, a flesh-eating Venus flytrap, a psychotic dentist, and a name like “Little Shop of Horrors” certainly rules out any hope for a light-hearted show. The musical, based on the film by Roger Corman, follows a florist named Seymour, who tries to revive his flower shop by raising a Venus flytrap that lives off human blood.
The musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s memoir ‘Fun Home’ explores the death of Bechdel’s father and her coming out as lesbian, and how we try to distill truth from painful memories but can’t because we only have the leftovers and the emotions that still pour from them.
A political musical has never been so relevant. If all the dissatisfaction with Congress, the slow-moving turtle of politics, were condensed into a satirical look at the people who made our country, '1776' is that musical.