LJWorld.com weblogs In the Dark
High School Musical -- Redux
Think back to your high school days, and the buzz among the artsy performer types at your school as the selection for the year's musical was announced. Chances are, if you were in school more than a decade ago, you heard classic titles such as "Fiddler on the Roof," "South Pacific," "Hello, Dolly," "Guys and Dolls," or that quintessential musical of musicals "The Music Man." Every year, the Educational Theatre Association releases its "unscientific" survey of what musicals high schools across the US are producing. This year, about 830 schools responded to the survey, according to the EDTA's website. Usually there are no big surprises from year to year:until this year.Here's the survey URL if you're interested: http://www.edta.org/publications/annual_survey.aspxNo "Oklahoma." For the first time in who knows how long, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic (which many agree is definitive in marking the beginning of the American musical genre) did not make the top 10 list! "Anything Goes" is also:gone. Two standards of high school musical theatre ousted by:ugh:Disney shows. "Beauty and the Beast" ranked #1 on the high school survey; "High School Musical" was #8. The thought of hundreds, thousands more students across the US brainwashed by the insipid stereotypes in "HSM" makes me shudder...but I digress.Choosing material for high school musicals is challenging you have to find the balance between commercially successful and community-appropriate; balance the need to challenge students' artistic growth with the need to give them material they can perform successfully; and find a show with more than 2-3 major roles (yeah, good luck with that). But I loved seeing high schools take on some more modern choices over the past decade or so "Little Shop of Horrors," "Footlose," "Titanic," "Les Miserables," "Aida," "Hairspray," and yes, even "Urinetown." By now, even some of these titles are dated.Granted, the oldies aren't always goodies many of them have outdated social views about gender and race that pose their own eyebrow-raising problems; some of them have music that is written impossibly difficult for anyone but the most seasoned high school performers. But when faced with the Disneyfication of musical theatre both in high schools and on Broadway I can't help but long for the good old days of just a decade or so ago when musical choices were more:gutsy. I am not advocating that we confine our choices to the classics. Many new works have artistic merit and feature younger protagonists, making them excellent choices for high schools. But one has to ask the question: if high schools aren't performing the "classics," and opt instead for the cute and commercially successful, when and where will our students be exposed to some of the greatest works of American musical theatre?