Theatre yesterday and today



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"In general, musicals bring happiness to people.”

This quote from Gabby Cohen, the senior vice president for brand strategy at SoulCycle in the New York Times last week, made my heart sing. She was referring to the recent uptick in the trend of boisterous Broadway show music at exercise classes all over the city. To that I say: what took them so long?

I've been listening to show music at the gym since the 1970s, protected by earbuds, of course. Such personal taste in music is something I've had to defend my whole life and, having lived in Los Angeles for much of the last thirty years, it was close to a love that dared not speak its name. Spending as much time as I did driving, I always needed to be sure my windows were rolled up so as not to offend others when stopped at a traffic light. The sound of a chorus singing "When Mabel Comes in the Room" has the same effect on some as when a car pulls up next to you with its bass dialed up past "eleven." But no mind. I stayed closeted if that's what it took to listen to this particular type of music that has given me so much pleasure.

As the article goes on, we get closer to the truth of things: "Broadway Bodies began years ago with a 'Broadway cardio program,' said Alistair Williams, its executive director, and to this day highlights its classes as offering a 'shame-free zone' that brings people back, again and again." Exactly—a "shame-free zone." I couldn't have put it better myself. And now with Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, the biggest selling original Broadway cast recording to hit the charts since Camelot in the early 1960s, there is finally (in the words of W.S. Gilbert) "beauty in the bellow of the blast." Again from the sameTimes article: "SoulCycle’s Hamilton-scored ride is, predictably, its most popular class ... riders range in age from 12 to 70, and, as Ms. Cohen points out, they all know all the lyrics."

Legitimacy at last! I think it's also interesting that a show like Hamilton should be popular for its driving music, considering its greatest attribute is debatably the words. But perhaps that's another reason people like moving or cycling to it: the lyrics keep your mind off the activity at hand. I've always found that while working out words with music serve as a means of distraction. Conversely, when I'm trying to do any sort of writing, the concentration it requires to pay attention makes it impossible for have any music in the background with lyrics. This is why classical music is so comforting and complimentary to my personal creative process.

It was actually last year in Los Angeles where I first heard about a Hamilton-inspired SoulCycle class from my daughter. She and her friends were undeterred that the classes were being taught way across town. They immediately signed up and, naturally, it helped feed their Hamilton obsession already underway. This fits perfectly with the article's assertion that "as one instructor joked, these may be classes for frustrated Hamilton ticket seekers—a support group for those who want the community feel of theater but blanch at spending $800 to achieve it."

I admire everyone joining this movement in movement classes right now. It bodes well for getting Broadway show music out in the open where it belongs. It's never been difficult for me to explain my particular bent for show tunes,

even if I have to begin from a defensive stance. They "send me" because the songs almost always tell stories. They're poems set to music, really. And yes, it can be argued that country-western songs do the same thing, as well as rock and certainly rap. But there is something about the measured structure of a Broadway show song and its inherent theatricality. In addition, I have seen so many of the shows I listen to that it helps recapture what got me caught up in its story and songs to begin with. This all makes for a powerful connection that leaves me breathless in admiration for all it takes to achieve the level of success necessary to make a Broadway musical work in the first place.

That said, I think a SoulCycle class would probably kill me regardless of whatever music is played.

If you would like to comment on any of these posts, please do so below. I look forward to hearing from you.