Musical Theatre Sunday School: Comfort in Times of Trouble

Julie Andrews sings the title song in THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Julie Andrews sings the title song in THE SOUND OF MUSIC

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at some of the fundamentals of musical theatre, and of course we’ll return to those and to others in due course. This week, I thought our reflection could focus on how musicals can bring us comfort in times of trouble. Whether we’re fans of new or old musicals, one thing we’re always faced with is someone who is ready to lash out at a musical that has sentimental value to us – especially as we make our way around the Internet – who seek to diminish our connection with that musical.

Arguments on message boards tend to become heated around musicals like that hold this kind of place in people’s hearts. In the heat of the moment, people tend to forget that a musical being well written is not always the same thing as a musical being one you like. Keeping the two separate and remembering from which side you’re approaching the discussion makes for first prize discussions. But as we all know, it’s not always that simple. And that’s just representative of the discussions we have with people who think musicals have any worth whatsoever! So I’d like to start off by offering this reflection in grace and peace and hopefully it won’t lead to any arguments later down the line. Let’s be compassionate towards each other and acknowledge, when we can, that there’s a difference between – as Stephen Sondheim put it – what is “nice” and what is “good” and that the overlap may or may not be all that great between the two.

The Reality of Comfort Music(als)

I think that we would all accept that music is a huge source of comfort. If theatre is a mirror to reality, then I think it is a fair assumption that we might easily struggle characters in musicals who are sorrowing and troubled who find in music. The comfort of music helps them to face their difficulties. Some examples might include:

  • the title song in The Sound of Music, which brings Maria peace as she wanders in the mountains singing her song and which brings the family together after she has taught the song to the children and “My Favourite Things”, which is used both by the Mother Abbess and the children when trying to find a way through seemingly impossible circumstances;
  • “Moonshine Lullaby” in Annie Get Your Gun, which Annie sings as a lullaby to the children, but also to soothe the wonderful, bittersweet ache she feels having fallen in love with Frank, knowing that she is not the kind of woman he is aiming to marry;
  • “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, which the orphans in Annie sing to lift their spirits and, possibly, “Maybe” if we consider at least part of it to be some kind of lullaby;
  • “Married”, which settles the jitters that September romances bring to Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz in Cabaret; and
  • “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, a hymn known by Nettie and the community in Carousel, the words of which Julie has used in a sampler, that is used twice in the show to give peace to one of the characters.

Some of those songs are ones that I find very comforting and cathartic myself. There are others of course, and we all have songs like those to which we return from time to time. I would so like for you to share some of yours with me in the comment box. Sharing our love for musical theatre is one way of helping the art form we know to grow and develop and to advance our understanding and appreciation of the genre we all love so dearly – at least as much as our heated debates can do! Sometimes its great to take a moment to share the things we like, because perhaps we might see something we never saw before in a show we disregarded or a score we thought we disliked.

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