The day I stood in a queue in the rain for two hours in order to meet the star of one of my favourite shows may have cemented my status as a Musical Theatre Geek. I’m not the geekiest of geeks, but I have gone way beyond the remit of the recreational musical goer.
My list of top shows is long and diverse, but something that I’ve noticed crops up over and over again is a genre I like to call ‘the inappropriate musical’. By this I mean something that is categorically not The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins.
Obviously, ‘inappropriate’ is relative to the audience. When my sister and I watched Grease for the first time (aged nine and 12 respectively) it was definitely inappropriate. Now, it’s absolutely fine. [Think Grease is an innocent musical for pre-teens? Watch it as an adult and note the innuendo and references to gang bangs].
The history of musical theatre contains frequent public eruptions against supposedly corrupting musicals. In the 1960s, there was outrage at the naked scenes in Hair. The 1970s saw Jesus Christ Superstar condemned as blasphemous, though it pales in comparison with the outrage caused by Jerry Springer the Opera’s depiction of Jesus in a nappy three decades later. The hottest ticket in the West End currently is The Book of Mormon, a show that has (unsurprisingly) been criticised by Mormons worldwide, and includes a song with a chorus of “F**k you God”.
My favourite musicals incorporate a whole range of areas that might be deemed ‘inappropriate’, especially by a certain section of the Christian community. Including – but not limited to – puppets having sex; AIDS; the occult; homosexuality; masturbation; racism; and depictions of Jesus that are not necessarily biblical.
Should this be a guilty pleasure of mine? Is this really the kind of pastime that a Christian – especially one training to be a vicar – should be enjoying?
Should I be prayerfully considering whether God approves of my tastes? Instead of queuing up for bargain tickets, ought I to be holding a placard and chanting opposition? Will my musical tastes eventually land me in hell?
The short answer is no. Getting ridiculously excited about finally securing tickets to The Book of Mormon does not alter the fact that I still strongly object to using the C word and that I love a flipping good tune with desperately clever and funny lyrics. I am not taking my faith or my calling any less seriously by enjoying a song that parallels baptism with losing your virginity. (I just have to remember not to start singing it the next time I’m assisting with a full immersion…).
Surely it’s a good thing that there are musicals out there that encourage people to think about faith? If people aren’t reading the Bible, isn’t a musical interpretation of the Gospels the next best thing?
I know some people who have sought to boycott Tim Minchin’s fabulous musical of Matilda on the basis that he’s an outspoken atheist and have been aghast at his involvement in the latest production of Jesus Christ Superstar. But personally, Matilda is a work of genius (and not at all inappropriate, bar fart jokes) and surely having an atheist in a production about Jesus is a good thing?
Traditionally, musicals were a tool with which to explore controversial issues through the accessible format of song and dance. I think it’s an excellent thing that after all this time they are still managing to stir people’s reactions and generate debate. I’m looking forward to the next big show that manages to do just that…