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It Takes Two/The Odd Couple: Musicals vs. Straight Plays

The Thespian Thoughts blog posts are meant to be a college student’s point of view on various topics in the world of theater to educate all on what encompasses this particular area of the arts.

Ah yes, musicals and straight plays, which one is better? It is an age old question that truly has no answer for it is a matter of preference. I myself have seen and participated in both, starting in musical theater and then getting into plays in high school and college. Here is what I have come to find in my experience.

Plays are all about the dialogue and action. It pulls you into the drama. Every statement and movement is calculated whether it is a comedy, tragedy, or something in between. They can make you viscerally feel their environment, like the sweltering heat that permeates most works by Tennessee Williams, or the family dysfunction in plays by Tracy Letts that have tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, or the recent Broadway adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 that caused some audience members to faint and vomit during the show. Please do not let that scare you off from plays though, every production is different and every interpretation of a play deserves to be told.

In musicals, you sing and dance when words aren’t enough. The songs further the plot and build character just as much as the dialogue. They are spectacles with a purpose.They enthrall us with song to push forward a deeper message. It could be something inspiring such as Rent’s advice to measure your life in love or Hedwig and the Angry Inch preaching to never conceal your true self. Other musicals go an extra mile to make a statement about the harsh realities in our world such as West Side Story teaching us that prejudice hurts everyone and Spring Awakening showing us the consequences of leaving our youth ignorant of adult concepts. Lately I have gotten a lump in my throat just watching an opening number begin even for a show that I knew had a happy ending.

Though executed differently, plays and musicals reflect our humanity at our best and our worst. They are equally fun to be a part of but are also equally exhausting creative processes. Yet, I wouldn’t trade away a single one I have seen or been in. I encourage you all to support your local theaters and see what they’ve got coming up.




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