Shuffle the Music Tag

Music is something I should talk about more, and I’ve got a great opportunity because Ash at For the Love of Books tagged me in the Shuffle the Music Tag!

Here are the rules, although I’m going to modify them a bit:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for this tag and link to their blog.
  2. Shuffle your entire music library (no matter how old songs the songs are) and talk about the FIRST FIFTEEN* songs that come up (anything like why they are there, if they signify something, any story, why you like them, etc.)
  3. Mention the songs as well as the artists.
  4. Tag 7 people or more to do this tag and please let them know!

*Ash did 20 songs, so I’m doing 20. Also, my library is split between iTunes and Spotify, so I’m going do 10 from each. Long story short, iTunes has a lot of older music I would listen to, some bought, some on CDs from my parents. It’s probably also a smaller collection. Spotify, meanwhile, I got more recently and now use frequently, though I think I’ve mostly saved (and listened to) musicals. So this will be interesting!


1. “The Long Run”: The Eagles





































This song wasn’t on our Eagles greatest hits CD, so I remembered I ended up buying it on iTunes, maybe toward the end of middle school or early high school. The Eagles often sound somewhere between rock and country, and while I don’t really listen to the latter, I find the Eagles’ songs catchy. “The Long Run” is definitely one of their hits, all about taking a chance on a relationship and seeing what happens.

2. “Daniel”: Elton John






































As a kid, I resisted my dad trying to get me into Elton John for a long time, but let’s be honest, he fits very easily into my musical tastes. “Daniel” became one of my favorites…I realize now it’s a pretty sad song about the narrator’s brother, a Vietnam vet, but it’s just so pleasant and breezy to listen to?

3. “Rent”: Rent, film version (Jonathan Larson)



































This was the last album I purchased on iTunes before I was hacked and basically lost my account (though I still had the music downloaded on my laptop as I do own it). I actually much prefer the Broadway version because it’s less stylized, introduces more characters (not to mention has actual context before it), and has more of an ensemble focus…but overall this has been one of my favorite songs recently. “How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?” is basically how I feel watching the news, and I love the lines about trying to focus on the future and escape feelings from the past. Let’s be honest: this isn’t about the actual rent, but the burdens of society on those looked down upon (Roger can’t escape HIV+ and his mistakes that led him to that diagnosis, Collins gets mugged, etc). It’s angry and such a rousing opening number; when I saw this live during the 20th anniversary tour, that opening riff’s volume took me by surprise and I thought, “Yep, this is a rock musical, all right.”

4. “I Have Confidence”: The Sound of Music, film version (Rogers & Hammerstein)

































Apparently my iTunes does have quite a bit of musicals on it! I’ve had this CD since my childhood…I was in a (minor) car accident when I was 5 and was mostly worried if this CD, which had been in the car’s player, was okay. This movie got me into loving musicals and singing back then and I’ve never looked back. While I might generally prefer stage productions to movie musicals now, but I still return to this one regularly and it holds up thanks to the wonderful dialogue and performances. “I Have Confidence” is such an empowering song, and a great scene in the movie–even though my dad annoys me with it sometimes.

5. “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”: Simon & Garfunkel, live Concert in Central Park































The Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park CD from the titular 1981 concert was a regular listen on car trips when I was a kid, and I fell revisited and fell in love with it in early high school, I think (it has a better version of “Sound of Silence” than the original, IMO). The soft rhythms and their lovely harmonizing is certainly present in this carefree song. (Fun fact: my dad was at this concert back then. It was free.)

6. “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”: Jim Croce





























Clearly there’s quite a bit of folk-rock songs in my foundation. While not my favorite Croce song (that would be “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” or “Time in a Bottle”), this is again something introduced to me by my parents’ CD collection and radio channels. It’s just SO CATCHY and casual with plenty of dropped -g’s, humming, lyrics like “ba-da-bee,” sort-of monologue, and good advice (don’t spit into the wind!). Also this is about some sort of gangster named Jim Wailker, not about Croce himself! This song creates a fully-realized world and legend in less than 3 minutes.

7. “Guinnevere”: Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and Young??)



























I really got into Crosby, Stills, and Nash (sometimes with Neil Young) during middle school as I discovered my love for soft songs with lovely harmonies. “Guinnevere” is certainly one of them: slow, some parts almost whispered, close harmonies. And yes, it’s about comparing a woman to the King Arthur character.

8. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”: The Beatles

























Disclaimer: YouTube didn’t have an easy-to-find original version of the song, so instead please have this amusing choir arrangement because I am also choir geek.

The Beatles were another band my parents introduced me as a kid and accompanied us on our long car rides to family. I remember this one fondly, of course, because what kid wouldn’t like the nonsensical chorus of this song? And it certainly remains fun. LIFE GOES ON…BRRRAAA!

9. “Katmandu”: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band





















Another car trip favorite was Bob Seger. This song is heavier than some of his others and so it sticks out…K-K-K-K-Katmandu! Unfortunately, I didn’t learn/remember where Katmandu actually is until much later in life. I always thought of it as mountains in the Western U.S. for some reason?

10. “We Go Together”: Grease, film soundtrack



















I think Grease is kind of a bizarre movie, from the first time  I watched it in like middle school to rewatching it this year. But that’s another topic, and regardless I’ve always liked the music, because the 50s style was something I listened to when I was younger. “We Go Together” is definitely one of those I would listen to…I know all the words, and some aren’t really “words.” One of these days, I will go to an old-fashioned sock hop!


1. “No One Mourns the Wicked”: from Wicked (Stephen Schwartz)

















So, this is saved because it was initially one of the musicals I intended to listen to when I first got Spotify, as several of my friends really love it. While I know some of the songs, and there’s a chance I might have heard snippets of this one somewhere, I still haven’t listened to the whole musical and honestly it’s so popular that I’ll probably see it someday and so I don’t feel an urgency to.

2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”: U2















I know U2 gets a bad rap nowadays, mostly because of their iTunes gift that became difficult to delete because of iTunes’ updates (and now they have another new album??), but I really like their older classics like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono’s vocals are great, and the slow build of the instruments leading into a steady melody provides an immersive experience. My favorite version, though, is probably this, a three-part harmony sung by Broadway and Smash stars (though I haven’t seen that show) Andy Mientus, Krysta Rodriguez, and Jeremy Jordan.

3. “I Love My Daughter” (But Not In A Creepy Way)” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend













Oh, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, how your song parodies make me laugh. This one’s from an early first season episode and it definitely helped win me over on the show. Nothing beats Darryl’s coming out “Gettin’ Bi” song, but he’s genuinely one of my favorite characters and any song with him is a gift. This one satirizes common themes and aesthetics in country songs to a cringeworthy but funny effect.

4. “Imitation of Life”: R.E.M.











R.E.M. is in that collection of music my dad introduced me to as a kid and that I generally grew up with, but that was mostly limited to their big hits and Automatic for the People (one of my favorite albums). But last year I discovered some of their other work on Spotify, probably because I was searching for more of that ’80s-’90s angsty political rock with great vocals like Rent (their album Lifes Rich Pageant was the answer to that). “Imitation of Life” stuck out to me because it’s just plain catchy and I would get it stuck in my head, though the central idea of “imitating life” does have plenty of weight to it. (Also I just watched this video for the first time and…what??)

5. “Take A Byte”: Janelle Monáe









Surprise, a new, non-musical song! This doesn’t happen very much at all. Dirty Computer was actually one of the first albums I really anticipated, mostly because a friend made me listen to the Prince-style catchy “Make Me Feel” when it came out, and I was intruiged by the style of that and the singles that followed, especially as it all made a sci-fi storyline with queer representation. “Take a Byte” isn’t one of my favorites on the soundtrack, but the electronic feel at the beginning definitely highlights the technology theme of the story, and it can definitely be read as queer desire in context.

6.”Many Meetings”: Howard Shore from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack







The Lord of the Rings music is absolutely memorable and great background music. This track has atmospheric elvish (I think?) singing, and the Hobbiton motif that just reminds me of nature and a sense of belonging/home keeps repeating…it’s really beautiful.

7. “Encore: Our Shot”: from Spamilton





Although I don’t have much of a personal connection to it because it was so popular and I didn’t quite come to it on my own, I love Hamilton. What a surprise, I know. But did you know there is an off-Broadway parody? Some of it’s great, some is less so, and some of it relies on knowledge of other musicals and actors, but if you love Hamilton it’s worth the listen. This track is just a little ending piece to the tune of “My Shot” about how now their voices are shot and they need a drink. Probably what every performer thinks after a show!

8. “Not Too Bad”: from Fun Home (Jeanine Tsori & Lis Kron)



So, like Wicked, here’s a musical I intended to listen to but still haven’t. I’ve heard some of the songs, but I had to read the book for class last year and I loved it, and I’m just not ready to experience an adaptation of it because what I liked about the graphic novel was so intrinsic to its form and voice. But I’ve heard it’s good. (Also let’s be honest, a song from this started playing once and it was too sad I just couldn’t listen to it.)

9. “Telekenetic Energy”: Chris Tilton, from from Fringe Season 4 soundtrack


I love the TV show Fringe (which, alas, is a subject for another time), and I discovered it has a pretty good score to listen to as background music, so of course I added the albums when I got Spotify. My favorite thing is that most of the titles are puns, including this one! This piece is very tense initially but then evens out (albeit with a heartbeat-like thumping in the background) and grows quieter…definitely like the main character Olivia gaining control of her telekenetic powers! (Maybe. Not sure when this was used specifically.)

10. “I Am Playing Me”: from [title of show] (Jeff Bowen)

And here’s another musical I haven’t listened to, although this one I fully intend to because it’s lesser-known and I don’t really know the storyline. Apparently it’s about the creators of a musical, so it’s very meta, which is the kind of stuff I love.

Wow, iTunes went really well with lots of childhood memories and Spotify was…not nearly as expected. I think I tend to save musicals to listen to them later and what I haven’t listened to is larger than what I have

I tag…


2017 Favorites: Music and Musicals

Welcome to my 2017 in review posts!

R.E.M.: Lifes Rich Pageant

lifes rich pageantEarly in 2017, thanks to Spotify, I rediscovered R.E.M. Automatic for the People has always been one of my favorite albums (and it still holds up!), while I was also familiar with a few of their other hits (“Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” “The One I Love,” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” of course). Of the new songs I listened to, I found myself gravitating to the Lifes Rich Pageant album. It’s heavier than Automatic (which I still think I prefer) and full of optimism and making a difference. “These Days,” for instance, is all about how young people do care about the world and want to do something good with it as they construct their own identities.

Favorite songs: “I Believe,” “These Days,” “Fall on Me.”

Soundtrack to Arrival  (Johann Johannsson)

arrival soundtrack.jpgTechnically I discovered this in 2016 when I saw the movie, but I don’t know if I listened to this or not until this year. Regardless, I wanted a little more variety on this list. This movie relied on sound and music for atmosphere and the soundtrack is SO GREAT, although really intense and creepy at points. So I do not recommend listening to it when you’re looking for more peaceful music to write a paper to though!

P.S. I also recommend the movie and it’s currently on Hulu!

Pippin (Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Book by Roger O. Hirson)

pippinIn April, I saw the Broadway tour performance of Pippin (the acrobatic-intense 2013 revival, which adds a final scene not in the original that’s thematically important). It was at my college and I thought it would be fun, plus I had friends who liked it and the music. And it was certainly fun, but by the end of Act II I was blown away by the story, which originally confused and disappointed me at the beginning of that act because it seemed to be undoing some of the stakes and settling into “love is the solution!” But I was wrong. Really, what Pippin does is literally tear down (and I mean literally) the hero’s journey and accept that life might not be as grand as you hope it will be. It was a little on-the-nose at the end, but I loved the metatheater and found it an inevitable point of life I’ll have to face sometime, as I’m sure my writing and teaching careers won’t pan out exactly as expected. It helped I was studying postmodernism and really clicking with some of the philosophy at the time, too–particularly the part about questioning and dismantling master narratives.

Favorite Songs: “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” “No Time at All,” and “Finale.”

Falsettos (Music & Lyrics by William Finn, Book by Finn & James Lapine)

If you’ve talked to me at all in the second half of this year, you probably know about my love for Falsettos. It all started with the release of the trailer for the PBS broadcast of the 2016 revival, which I’d previously heard good things about it. I managed to see the recording in a theater in July and you bet I’ve got the PBS recording from October saved on my DVR permanently.

falsettosI previously discussed it here, where I got carried away talking about some of ways it addresses gender roles. Look, this musical was basically made for queer musical and literary nerds. (I admit I am not Jewish, and when I watched it with a friend of mine who is, he pointed out a lot of little jokes and references that had gone completely over my head.) It’s intensely character-focused, using repetition and motifs like games/sports and cooking to show how strict gender roles and homophobia are affecting everyone. (It’s all sung-through.) Some lines from Act I (originally written and performed in 1981) are mirrored in Act II (from 1990, before the two were combined for the originally 1992 Broadway production), displaying character development. The set changes to express the state of the family. Serious issues and real-life history are handled head-on, while other scenes feature more abstract caricatures of masculinity. And did I mention the harmonies are lovely? The soundtrack is basically filled with bops and tear-inducing ballads.

It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, but ultimately it just fills me with hope and happiness at how much this family went through and grew together.

Favorite Songs: …I have to choose? Fine. “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” “This Had Better Come to a Stop,” “I’m Breaking Down,” “Jason’s Therapy, ” “The Chess Game,” “The Games I Play,” “I Never Wanted to Love You,” “Father to Son,” “Falsettoland/About Time,” “The Baseball Game,” “A Day in Falsettoland,” “Everyone Hates His Parents,” “What More Can I Say?”, “Something Bad is Happening,” “Holding to the Ground,” “Unlikely Lovers,” “You Gotta Die Sometime,” and “What Would I Do?”…yeah, look, this was hard, but there’s 34 songs so I narrowed it down, right?

Something Rotten! (Music & Lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell)

something rottenI really discovered this last year, but I saw the tour over the summer (with Adam Pascal aka Roger from RENT as Shakespeare!) and it the soundtrack has now become a staple in my family. “Welcome to the Renaissance” has been such an earworm, and I returned to it frequently this semester as I studied many of the poets and playwrights mentioned in the song. Basically, the show is a humorous interpretation of Shakespeare (represented as a rock star, performing some of his famous poetry in rock anthem style) by focusing on his rivals who get a soothsayer to tell them what Shakespeare’s next play will be, except they get it mixed up with musicals and breakfast food (“Omlette…Ham…Danish”). While I do prefer more emotionally intense musicals, this was basically made for both the musical and English geek in me. There are so many references to various musicals and Shakespeare plays! And I’m sure I’ll use some of these songs in my own classroom for fun.

Favorites: “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” “A Musical,” “Hard to be the Bard.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask, Book by John Cameron Mitchell)

This one was a long time coming until I got fully into it over Labor Day weekend. I first discovered the beautiful and epic song that is “Origin of Love” when skipping to a random segment of a recording of an Anthony Rapp concert on YouTube. I didn’t quite know what it was about, but I loved what I was hearing, and I looked it up on Spotify and found the Neil Patrick Harris 2014 Hedwig album (labelled “Original Broadway Cast,” as hedwigJohn Cameron Mitchell’s recordings are under the Off-Broadway and the movie albums). But I mostly just listened to that song for a while. I also knew “Sugar Daddy” because a friend showed the Tony performance to me previously.

Even though the show contains a lot of improv and it’s an unusual format for a “musical”–more like a rock concert with  Hedwig and Yitzak telling the story of her life, sometimes playing multiple characters–listening to just the 14 songs on the album (though I usually omit the instrumental intros and the Hurt Locker joke song) tells such a story. The music and metaphorical lyrics, especially in the last 4 songs, illustrate Hedwig’s breakdown and acceptance of herself so beautifully. It’s a story of healing and being yourself with an awesome rock score.

Also, shout out to Lena Hall, who has become my newest inspiration because she can play both a man (though written for a female voice) who impersonates other men, as well as Hedwig herself (written for high tenor) and rock out. I think I’ve finally found role(s) I can play as an alto?

Favorite Songs: “The Origin of Love,” “Sugar Daddy,” “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town,” “The Long Grift,” and “Midnight Radio”

Penderecki: St. Luke Passion

I got the privilege to see this performed at my college with Penderecki in the house (he was supposed to direct but was advised not to by his doctor, so someone close to him direct it instead). It’s the story of the Crucifixion focusing on the emotional human aspect. My choir director (who was in one of the choirs performing it) told us how the score is very experimental and strange, and that definitely came through–especially the chilling moments of loud chattering (and banging from the orchestra) that represented the crowd. I really enjoy classical choir pieces! That said, like Arrival, this is another piece that isn’t recommended to listen to when you’re studying because of its intensity.

Singular Songs and Honorable Mentions

  • “Kia Hora Te Marino” (Christopher Tin): This is SUCH fun piece we did in choir this semester. The lyrics are from a Maori text. Here is a great performance of it.
  • “Tshosholoza” (arr. Jeffrey Ames): Another blast to perform from choir this semester, and you can see a similar performance here. It’s South Africa’s unofficial national anthem, and we sang it right after their official one.
  • “The Book Report” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (only the 1999 revival I believe): I love how this illustrates the 4 types of students writing essays for class: trying to hit the word count, getting off-topic, overachieving, and ANXIETY! (Charlie Brown’s the last one and I find it very relatable, plus he’s played by Anthony Rapp!)
  • I’ve only just started listening to more of Come From Away, but I love “Welcome to the Rock,” “Me and the Sky,” and “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere.” I’d love to see it sometime, and I’m glad they’re making a movie.
  • Dear Evan Hansen I tried to get into shortly after it came out, but there wasn’t a plot synopsis on Wikipedia yet and I didn’t get through the whole thing. Then suddenly it blew up and like Hamilton last year, it was hard to make something for myself out of something so popular. I also feel like the context for the songs is extremely important and so I would need to read the script (or see it, but that’s unlikely) to fully appreciate it. BUT I do listen to “Waving Through a Window” and “You Will Be Found” regularly and was blown away by Ben Platt’s emotional singing in “Words Fail.”
  • Kinky Boots: I got to see this in October because it stopped on tour at my college. It was a lot of fun, and I found myself surprised that I actually liked the music more than the story. Don’t get me wrong! The story was enjoyable enough, but it was the music that stood out to me. Even though it’s Cyndi Lauper (who I like well enough, but she’s known for a different style), it’s much more rock than pop, which is a style I LOVE in musicals. That said, I haven’t listened to it much at all since I saw it, so it didn’t feel right to include it on this list.

Any recommendations? I know I need to listen to all of The Great Comet; I only know a couple of songs so far. It’s definitely a play I would have loved to experience…


My Favorite Musicals with LGBTQ Characters and Themes

In honor of this year’s exciting Tony Awards and Pride Month, I bring you this post that kind of turned into mini-essays. But I’m not apologizing.

I’ve always loved musicals, but over the past year (thanks in part to some new friends and discovering Hamilton and Rent) I’ve gotten very much into more recent and modern musicals, most of which I haven’t been able to see. And as a result of this and some discussions in my classes this past semester, I’ve also learned a lot about the intersection of musical theater and the gay community. Yes, it’s a bit of stereotype, but there’s actually a reason for that. (This and this video do a better job of explaining than I ever could. I recommend.)

If, like me, you discovered with the Hamilton phenomenon that it’s possible to follow along to a musical–especially with sung-through ones–with a little aid from Wikipedia, then have I some recommendations for you! Note: these are all musicals I’ve listened to in their entirety (and several times more).

In order of production date:


falsettos flowchart

Hello, this is my current obsession. Specifically, the 2016 Broadway Revival recording. I’d been aware of the revival, but this wonderful trailer (warning: some spoilers as to the plot of Act 2?) for the upcoming fall broadcast on PBS because this was professionally filmed!! (I cannot wait to see this…the choreography and set design with them moving the blocks around looks so fun and you can’t get that from the soundtrack.)

Falsettos has a bit of complicated history…originally on Broadway in 1992, the show is actually a compilation (and edited to flow as a result) of the one-act musicals March of the Falsettos (originally off-Broadway 1981) and Falsettoland (1990). And both of THOSE musicals continued the story that began with In Trousers (1979). All three follow Marvin, a gay man and his complicated family and their relationships…as you can tell by the flow-chart poster above. Basically, at the start of Falsettos (or March of the Falsettos), which takes place in 1979, Marvin has divorced his wife Trina to be with his lover Whizzer, but wants “a tight-knit family” with the three of them and he and Trina’s 10-year-old son Jason living together. Naturally, there are problems, and Marvin’s wacky psychiatrist Mendel and Trina end up in a relationship, too. Then Act 2 (or Falsettoland) takes place two years later and centers around Jason’s bar mitzvah, the looming shadow of the AIDS crisis, and adds some new characters in the form of the lesbians from next door.

Falsettos is almost entirely sung-through, so I encourage you to listen to it. There’s a reason this (well, the original) won the Tony for Best Book–there are so many interesting themes running throughout, which become especially evident with everything set to music, and the characters are so complex and three-dimentional. Act 1 especially investigates masculinity and the gender roles of the time and–I’m willing to bet–the traditional family, and particularly a Jewish one. (I’m no expert on this, but Judiaism is a them throughout as all of the characters are Jewish and it plays a large role, from Jason’s bar mitzvah plot to the opening number “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” Yes.) “Falsettos,” after all, refers to a nontraditional, not-manly male voice range. Marvin and Trina have pretty ingrained gender roles–Marvin, navigating his new relationships, expects Whizzer to occupy traditionally feminine roles, while Trina tries to fill those roles but finds them unfulfilling if the relationship is not loving. Whizzer might have a lot of stereotypical gay man attributes–a love for style, promiscuity–but he wins at chess and racketball, and he loves baseball while Marvin hates it. Meanwhile, Jason struggles to see how his father fits into manhood and is anxious about what he’ll grow up to be like. Those fears are displayed in the show’s only real non-realistic moment, “March of the Falsettos,” a bizzare dream-like sequence where Marvin, Whizzer, and Mendel sing a falsetto blending with Jason’s pre-pubescent voice all about how masculinity and homosexuality are not necessarily opposite: “Who is man enough to march to march of the falsettos?” The first act concludes with “Father to Son,” in which Jason essentially comes out to his gay dad as straight and Marvin gives some lovely advice about embracing oneself. It’s a beautiful song that works both ways as the two accept each other.

And that’s just the first act. I haven’t thought about the second act as a whole too much, because it’s a little less upbeat (aka less fun to listen to), and I’m prepared to really take it all in during the PBS broadcast. God, I really hope they win Best Revival.


rent cast picture

And here’s the show that’s more or less responsible for this whole list, as I mentioned in the intro. Rent‘s been influential to me in various ways, including how I think about singing, performing, and telling stories on stage. (And , if possible sometime, I just really want to play Mark.) Rent is an updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème. The characters’ names and professions are updated and Americanized, and a traditional opera became a rock opera, Paris’s Latin Quarter became New York City’s East Village, and tuberculosis became AIDS. Naturally, it deals heavily with gay history and culture of a particular place, in the East Village near the end of the AIDS crisis. There’s the HIV+ couple of Collins (gay, black) and Angel (Latinx usually, gender identity hotly debated and kind of before modern terms but basically she’s a drag queen that switches between pronouns), and Maureen (clearly interpreted her as bi in the film, less blatant in the stage show, some stereotypes but her dramatics are also evident elsewhere in her career) who left Mark for Joanne (lesbian, butch, black).

Rent premiered on Broadway in 1996, the year after AIDS’ highest death toll and the first year the death toll went down due to breakthroughs in medicine. It’s also against the gentrification of the East Village (though it focuses more specifically on tent city problem) which has very much happened anyway. It quickly became a period piece–not conceived that way like Falsettos (or, rather, the second act was in 1990), as there are As such, I think there’s been some debate out there as if it’s still relevant, especially the (exaggerated, I would say, as is the whole thing is quite theatrical) attitudes toward the economy and gentrification. And while I can’t cover everything here, I found the title song “Rent” very relevant in 2016 and 2017, because it’s so much more about the landlord/rent/lifestyle problems that form a skeleton of a plot, pushing the characters together before more important problems occur and Benny (the landlord) clearly isn’t the villain.  What “Rent” (the song) is really about are the burdens and hurdles from a society that doesn’t seem to care (“strangers, landlords, lovers, your own blood cells betray”), stifling voices and artistic creativity. The opening line of “How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?” is basically a summary of the United States since 2016, regardless of your political viewpoint. There’s a persistent call for change and looking forward–“zoom in as they burn the past to the ground and feel the heat of the future burn” and “how do you leave the past behind when it keeps finding ways to get to your heart?” speak to the overarching theme of “forget regret, or life is yours to miss” (more about that later). But there’s this frustration that leads to the angry rather than inspirational idealism of the rock score (which when it kicks in live, sounds very much like you’re at a rock concert), because the “winds of change keep ripping away.” Rent wasn’t Jonathan Larson’s chosen title–he wasn’t happy until he learned that it could also mean torn apart, which is also relevant–but it fits metaphorically to the debt owed to a society that isn’t even helping you, and that in turn speaks to some queer and otherwise marginalized experiences. It’s the frustration that birthed the ACT UP movement during the AIDS crisis and the reason capitalism and commercialism doesn’t always support artists. It’s no coincidence that metaphorical rent shows up again, as Angel and Collins refer to “renting” love because they know they both are going to die, and “I don’t own emotion, I rent” from “What You Own” (one of the greatest duets ever) because Mark and Roger struggle with creativity and being themselves. At the very least, Rent captures a particular group of people at a particular time and reflects that demographically and emotionally through music.

“La Vie Bohème” (including its concluding “B” part) is, for me, the key to understanding what Rent says about gay culture, sexuality, artists, recreational drug usage, and AIDS (and the intersections thereof). It’s essentially a celebration of the culture, filled with risqué dance moves and wonderful rhymes like “to sodomy / it’s between God and me” and “to leather, to dildos, to curry vindaloo / to huevos rancheros and Maya Angelou.” There’s even a shout out to ACT UP. It’s engineered in every way to make homophobes uncomfortable. And the “B” part has some of the most telling lines–the reclamation of “to faggots, lezzies, dykes, crossdressers too” (which was performed at the Tonys in ’96!!) and “living with living with living with not dying from disease.” If Rent is a work within the postmodern school of thought, and I very much argue it is (enough fourth-wall breaking, meta aspects, and pastiche to go around), then the master narrative it is undoing is that of the AIDS crisis and those living with HIV, which was rather discriminatory and otherwise pitied. Rent repeatedly refuses to define the disease in terms of death, instead framing it in terms of continuing to live (“Another Day” is a great example of this). It refuses pity and regret (“forget regret, or life is yours to miss”), instead celebrating sexuality and enjoying love and each day, which is sure to piss off the people who think you deserve to die. And while heroin is clearly an addictive substance that’s painful to quit (the drug dealer is a real villain; he’s so creepy), nothing about Mimi (including her erotic dancer job) is stigmatized–it’s only Roger who blames himself for his past. There’s a reason the show ends on the wonderful chorus of the “no day but today” refrain (underrated line: “give in to love / or live in fear”), mixed with “I die without you” from “Without You”–death is going to happen and it’s painful when your friends go, yes, but living proudly is fulfilling and the ultimate defiance.

There’s a lot of different versions of Rent floating around, which can make getting into it potentially intimidating, and I’ve been fortunate to see all of the main ones. My recommend ranking would be: 1. The current 20th anniversary tour/a live unabridged production if possible, because it’s such an interactive experience that doesn’t quite come across anywhere else, 2. The original Broadway cast album, because I adore the cast (ft. young Idina Menzel) and it’s mostly sung-through so you’ll get it all (if you like only listening to musicals), 3. The final Broadway performance DVD (and on Youtube, frankly), because you can see the Bohemian-style industrial staging, naturalistic choreography, and it also has a great cast (Renée Elise Goldsberry!), 4. The movie with the deleted scenes of “Halloween” and the second part of “Goodbye Love” (on YouTube) inserted as they are on the soundtrack, 5. The theatrical movie, which isn’t bad and has the main beats and benefits from film techniques like montage at points (especially “Without Love”), but it does lose the metatheater aspects and those cut songs are really important in my opinion. (Additionally, I’m very skeptical of how it’s going to translate to the “live TV musical spectacular!” format next year on FOX, and the high school production is heavily censored that it misses the point and usually doesn’t adhere to the racial casting.) That said, I did originally get into it, as many do, with the original movie release. So…

Spring Awakening

spring awakening

I debated whether I should include this because the gay subplot is fairly minor, but since it is overall about the failure of sex education, I think there’s some overlap into larger issues that do affect the community. (Also, it’s good.) You may be familiar with Spring Awakening from last year’s Tony Awards, which featured the Deaf West’s revival in an amazing performance incorporating sign language. And that was a perfect language to incorporate, because Spring Awakening is all about the problems of a lack of communication and education about sex between kids and adults. The original Broadway musical, meanwhile, featured handheld mics for effect and a young Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff.

Spring Awakening is an adaptation of a play of the same name (well, in German) by Frank Wedekind from 1890. Both the play and the musical are somewhere between a cautionary tale and a giant ad for better sex education, covering puberty, desire (hetero- and homosexual), rape [this depends a bit on the production from what I understand though], suicide, incestuous abuse, abortion, masturbation, pregnancy, and I’m not even sure this is a comprehensive list. Like Rent, it’s also primarily a rock musical, which highlights that frustration toward society I talked about above. The gay parts are, from what I can tell, really just a small solo in “The Bitch of Living” and the reprise of “The World of Your Body.” But it’s placed in this larger context of kids having feelings they don’t know what to do with because it’s all taboo. It’s all about sexual oppression. And all that doubles with gay kids.



Let’s be honest, this is probably the least well-known, least-acclaimed, and certainly hardest to get into on this list. If/Then takes place in two different timelines as Idina Menzel’s character Elizabeth (who comes to be called Liz in one timeline and Beth in the other) moves back to New York after a divorce and decides to hang out with either her new friend and neighbor, Kate (LaChanze), or her old friend from college, Lucas (Anthony Rapp). Some songs are split between timelines, often interrupted by dialogue not on the soundtrack and the Wikipedia page doesn’t summarize it literally. (Fortunately, the libretto was put online by MTI to commemorate it being licensed and then…continues to stay there so here’s the link.) And yes, all of the songs are essentially about the same thing–making choices. But it’s catchy, okay? Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, and LaChanze in particular are amazing singers.

Kate is a lesbian in a relationship with Anne (Jenn Colella) who she marries in both realities while being funny and trying to get Elizabeth to find someone, too. But let’s be honest, the main reason why I love this is because of Lucas. Not only am I biased because it’s Anthony Rapp, who through Mark in Rent was responsible for revising some ideas I had about singing and who is going to be in the new Star Trek as the first gay character, but this is a bisexual character! Liz says near the beginning that he’s dated boy boys and girls (including her), and he continues to do that well after college. In one reality, he pines over Beth (the amazing “You Don’t Need to Love Me”), while in the other reality he dates a guy and the two eventually marry and adopt kids (“Best Worst Mistake”). He and Liz reconcile in “Some Other Me,” a beautiful song about what they might be up to in other realities, which reaches a height with Lucas’s line “I found myself a woman, or a man, and haaaad a sonnn!” And that’s just it. That’s what being bi is like. You don’t know who you’ll settle down with. And now I’ve got that feeling set to music.

What I Haven’t Listened to Yet

  • La Cage Aux Folles
  • The Color Purple: I just finished the book to this and I have just recently listened to just about all of it, but I didn’t follow along with a summary yet and I’m a little confused about how the timeline works in comparison to the book. Also, I had such a great experience with the novel that I’m not ready quite yet to see another interpretation.
  • Fun Home: Yes, yes, I know. I read the graphic novel for the first time this year, and I loved it; Bechdel’s thought processes read a lot like mine, especially with how she was always connecting things in her life to literature. But I’m just not ready to exchange that very literary experience by listening to the musical I guess, so I haven’t… (though I have heard a couple of songs)
  • A Chorus Line
  • Cabaret: A tour of this is going to be visiting my college this spring, and I’m definitely going to see it!
  • Kinky Boots: This is also going to be at my college in the fall so I think I’m going to see it then.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch: I’ve heard a couple of songs from this (“Origin of Love” is fantastic), but I haven’t listened to it all yet.

Do you guys have any recommendations?