Musical theatre is a mythic art form. Its performers and audiences are meant to believe that it is perfectly appropriate for an individual to start singing about their feelings in a similar way that we are meant to believe lofty, allegorical Greek myth. I don’t say this with any judgment; we construct narratives and spite our rationality all of the time to simply get through the day.
In the common lived existence, for a man from a foreign country and time to explain a specific aspect of his culture, he’d likely tell you about it and use words, but those words probably wouldn’t adhere to the melody of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. Similarly, its unlikely you happen across a green witch proclaiming her individualism and the strength of her will by belting her face off, but “Defying Gravity” from Wicked provides just that.
The constructs of musical theatre (rhyme, orchestration, vocal technique, leitmotif, harmony, et al.) key into something deeper, something more visceral, something more cathartic than mere words might unlock. We follow plot with our overdeveloped minds, but we listen to music with our bodies and with some not-worth-attempting-to-describe spirit inside of us.
Music makes us groove (think “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars), provides us catharsis (think “Chandelier” by Sia), brings us together (think “We Are the Champions” by Queen), and so many, many more things.
For me, at the intersection of boogie, catharsis, and community is this: the Musical Theatre Banger.
An individual’s idea of what constitutes a true Musical Theatre Banger is up to them and them alone, but my definition tends to graze in the pastures of key changes, uptempo grooves, and power pose anthems.
Here are some examples of Alex Schneidman Certified Musical Theatre Bangers: “Revolting Children” from Matilda, “Non-Stop” from Hamilton, and “Me and the Sky” from Come From Away. Now, while this short list comprises of modern musicals that have been influenced by the pop music of the day, there are certainly some Bangers™ from the classics. “Oklahoma” from Oklahoma, “An Opening for a Princess” from Once Upon a Mattress to name a couple.
But what banger bangs the bangiest? What is the true Musical Theatre Banger? Does it matter?
Yes. Yes it does matter, dammit. So I enlisted my theatre nerd roommates and this month we will be running a musical theatre March Madness style bracket to discover An Ultimate Musical Theatre Banger. Join us. Leave your field to flower.
Here’s how it will work: My two roommates and I have made a bracket of 64 musical theatre bangers of varying popularity and cultural permeance. As you’ll see, they also vary greatly in both time period and “taste.” Over the month of March we will argue, sing our favorite bars, and contend why such and such Act One Finale bangs harder than so and so Eleven O’Clock Number. As there are three of us, for a song to beat another it needs to convince at least two of us that it slaps harder than the other. As the rounds progress we will be incorporating guest judges to add a little life to our limited white boy perspectives. After six rounds, one banger will remain, and shall be an Ultimate Musical Theatre Banger.
How we made the bracket: The three of us in my apartment (me, Michael, Chris) each made lists of 64 “Musical Theatre Bangers” adhering to our own individual perceptions of what that phrase means. Where there was overlap, we filled the bracket. Forty or so songs were placed via this method. After that, we each got eight songs to ensure a trip to The Search for an Ultimate Musical Theatre Banger. Seeding was done through a mix of objective and subjective measures.
This will be a multimedia experience, with recordings of our conversations and curated Spotify playlists to follow along with our analysis.
Please join us on this hilarious journey through the weeds of power chords, riffs, and choral unison. It’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s all that it’s designed to be.
You can find a blank PDF of the bracket here and a basic .png at the bottom of this post. Feel free to fill it out with your thoughts and follow along with ours.
I have Spotify playlists that you can follow on my Spotify account here. Embedded versions of all four quadrants’ playlists can also be found at the bottom of this post. The songs are listed in the order that they appear in the bracket.
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