Much discussion on Day 1 on the challenges with the term “musical” which I feel has become quite toxic. It’s all too often seen as a frivolous overtly commercial theatre form which is all about “feelgood” and jazz hands.
Yet, let’s look at some famous musicals and their subject matter. West Side Story (gang violence and inter-racial romance), Showboat (African-American slavery), Les Miserables (the French Revolution), Sweeney Todd (a serial killer). And that’s before we get to Rent (the AIDS crisis), Next To Normal (mental illness) and London Road (the Suffolk strangler). Even Lloyd-Webber and Rice took in the Holy Bible and Argentinian politics (Evita).
Listen to the work of Marley, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman, Kendrick Lamarr, Kanye, Lauryn Hill, Neil Young, Johnny Cash. Is there any story you can’t tell in a song?
Bruce Springsteen’s No Surrender maintains “we learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned at school”.
It was definitely true in my case. At school there was cursory non-analytical coverage of history from a very “British Empire” perspective. It was from the songs of punk rock groups like The Clash that I leaned about South American freedom fighters (Washington Bullets), where the line between “freedom fighter” and “terrorist” might be crossed (Tommy Gun), about the real costs of war (The Call Up) etc.
A song is a beautiful thing. It hangs in the air, it floats and it stings, it can be as “lightweight” or as “meaningful” as you want in that moment. Songs tell stories.
Daniel York Loh, book writer/lyricist (music by Craig Adams), Sinking Water, a musical examination of events around the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockle pickers tragedy.