Musicals Thread (History)

Welcome! The purpose of this thread is to talk about all things related to the wonderful world of musical theatre. Each week I will post a thread with a topic/question for everyone to respond to. This is also a great place to mention any new musicals you’ve discovered and/or general recommendations for other musical fans. Heard/seen any good shows lately? Have any theatre news to share? Tell us about it!

Today’s topic is all about history. Knowing our history can stop us from making the same mistakes over and over again, and yet telling a story based on history isn’t always easy. Personally, I usually can’t stand movies that are inspired by history, but it’s not because I don’t like history. I just think Hollywood isn’t good at telling these stories. But that’s just my (probably wildly unpopular) opinion. On the other hand, I think musicals are great at this because they are really good at tapping into the emotion and humanity of these stories. Until the success of Hamilton I had a really hard time convincing any of my friends that musicals could tell history, and I think that’s partly because people may have a perception of musicals as being silly and not serious. But long before Hamilton musicals were telling compelling and interesting stories about the past. So, my question for you this week: Do you like musicals based on history? If so, what is your favorite historical musical?

While I do love Hamilton my favorite historical musical is probably still Ragtime. When I worked on this musical in high school I became pretty obsessed with it, and I’ve never stopped loving it. Based on the book by E.L. Doctorow, this musical will take you back to the turn of the 20th century when everything was totally great (if you were a white man). The show is filled with real people like Harry Houdini mixed in with fictional characters like Coalhouse Walker Jr. and characters simply named Mother and Father. You will laugh, you will be entertained, but mostly (if you’re me) you will cry. It’s great fun every now and then (there’s a song about baseball!) but of course things take a dark turn rather quickly as people’s lives start to fall apart. Despite all of that, you’ll actually be left with a feeling of hope if you make it to the end. There are some pretty incredible personal journeys in this show, and even though not every story has a “happy ending” there is an overarching message that we have the ability to build a better future. If you’re unfamiliar with this show, I’m highlighting two songs that embody that spirit. I hope you’ll enjoy them!

Here Coalhouse Walker Jr. is speaking to some young men who are fighting alongside him for justice and equality. It’s a powerful moment that expresses how the events of the show have changed this character:

This is one of the best songs ever. The scene is simple, Mother reflects on how much she has grown over the course of the show as she resolves to change her life:

I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying!

*clears throat* So, anyway…what do you all think about history-inspired musicals?