The Parrot

The Student News Site of Audubon High School

The Parrot

The Parrot

Impact of Musical Theater

“I was always amazed by the dedication of the students involved in musical theater. From the cast to the crew to the pit, like athletes, they train all year, but their season is one or two weekends at best. For those one or two weekends, they achieve greatness.” -Shannon McCauley, former president of the Archbishop Ryan Parents’ Theater Association

Once upon a time, in an America long ago, the art of dance got together with the poetry of music and went to the theater to get to know each other a little better. Their affair of creativity and common interests led to a union that has withstood the test of time. The fusion of music and dance spawned the magnificent love child called musical theater. This magical family tree has borne the fruits of historical storytelling, activism and unity. From the big tree has come the community impact bound by social and psychological benefits to the youth of today as generations continue to be the beneficiaries of this as the cycle of musical theater goes unbroken.

The earliest musical theater in the United States was all about the song and dance. Minstrel shows and vaudeville acts were the entertainment of the day. Music and dance evolved into something with a plot creating what some called the hybrid musical. Composers introduced a storyline with songs supporting the plot. Eventually, a main character is introduced with early songs setting the stage for their plight or story. Music and movement now revolved around the characters on the stage and the story they were there to tell. 

After the infancy of musical theater in the United States, it grew into a kind of adolescence in its social and historical awareness of the issues of the time. As the world changed in the early part of the twentieth century, theater presented an outlet and a stage, literally and figuratively, to convey the messages of the time, and in some cases warning the public of what was happening or what was about to happen. 

For example, 1933’s, “Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror” portrays the plight of disabled people under the Hitler regime while humanizing those who were largely presented as fascinatingly abnormal. This singing and dancing expose has all walks of life displayed singing from atop tightrope and overall living the circus life from the stage. While chronicling a troupe of misfit circus performers working to make sure the show goes on in Nazi Germany, it shows the juxtaposition of the balance between the joy of the big top and the deteriorating conditions of the outside world. 

Decades later, similar themes are seen in the award-winning musical, Wicked. Wicked, which is a show dedicated to the backstory of Elphaba, the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, and G(a)linda, The Good Witch, touches on themes similar to Nazi Germany. 

Furthermore, theater continued to present history to audiences around the world in productions such as Hamilton, Les Misérables, Newsies, and Sound of Music. These musicals, along with many others, introduced a new way to learn about history. Through song and dance (and sometimes, rap music). 

In time, theater became a voice for generations addressing the issues of the day. 1957’s    West Side Story addresses the issues of racism and xenophobia against Puerto Ricans. It set to music the struggle of the immigrant in the United States and the realities of territorial gang violence spawned differences in culture and beliefs.

The contributions of large scale musical theater to the United States are undeniable. Small scale productions have also influenced and changed communities and the lives of young people. With the growth of musical theater across a national level, so too did the importance of theater traverse education as arts programs grew and flourished. Unlike its large-scale predecessor, school production offers intrinsic benefits to the student actors beyond the presentation of messages to the masses.

The American Alliance for Theater and Education states that students participating in theater programs have higher attendance rates; have improved reading comprehension and have improved focus and engagement. A 2014 study from the University of Maine explored the psychological and social benefits of theater involvement for children. The study found an increase in empathy and self esteem among students participating in theater programs. Of the benefits to musical theater, Shannon McCauley, former president of the Archbishop Ryan Parents’ Theater Association, supported the study’s claims by stating that, “Becoming involved in Musical Theater was the best thing that happened for my children. They gained confidence, made lasting friendships, and strengthened talents.” 

I had the opportunity to prove this study in interviews with some friends of mine on their experiences in musical theater. Nadia Cruz, a current senior at AHS, and Meghan Moore, a 2021 DeSales University MT graduate. 

Nadia, who always had a passion for singing, saw past musicals at AHS and thought it was so cool how they put everything together. So, come her sophomore year, she thought that  it would be a fun idea to participate in The Addams Family. 

Nadia expressed how much of a positive thing theater is, and the amazing impact it can have on peoples’ lives. In our interview, Nadia stated that, “…Overall, I think it’s a great place to be and you just create these crazy bonds with people, and you’re able to express yourself whether you know it or not.” 

Meghan, whose passion for musical theater has extended into her career, started in early childhood, doing theater camps with her sister. However, she didn’t truly get into musical theater until right before high school, when she discovered that the Arden Theatre had classes. 

In her freshman year of high school, Meghan participated in Annie. It was after this show that her love for theater was locked in tight. She stated that she could really see herself doing this as a career after that show. 

Meghan went into detail about how important it is to understand that theater is a journey, and you have to have patience with the process. She also goes into detail about how theater is all about love. You love the rehearsal process and you love the people and you love the final product of all your hard work. 

From the big stage to the small stage, musical theater has been an important part of the tapestry of American culture. With a song and a dance, stories of our past, our future and all of the struggles of the human experience can be conveyed. The value of entertainment to the masses down to the formation and betterment of our youth are the gifts built behind the curtain. 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Parrot Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *