In tur­bu­lent times, mu­si­cals are hav­ing (an­other) mo­ment. By Meghan McKenna

Fashion (Canada) - - Culture Index -

Iwas six years old the first time I saw Cats. It was both mes­mer­iz­ing and trau­ma­tiz­ing: As Griz­abella sang “Mem­ory,” I sobbed so pow­er­fully I’m sure the cats could hear me from my seat in the mez­za­nine. When my mother asked what was wrong, I had a hard time ex­plain­ing my tears. I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t sad—I was just over­whelmed with emo­tion. Since that day 17 years ago, water­works like that have con­tin­ued to hit me when I least ex­pect them: watch­ing the fire­works at Magic King­dom, look­ing through el­e­men­tary school year­books or, most con­fus­ingly con­sid­er­ing I wasn’t born un­til 1995, listening to Bryan Adams’s boomer hit “Sum­mer of ’69.” I’ve found only one way to de­scribe this gut-wrench­ing, chestcramp­ing, tear-jerk­ing feel­ing: nostal­gia. Griz­abella’s “Mem­ory” is an ode to her for­mer self, some­one who was young, glam­orous, beautiful and gone. As a child, I un­der­stood this raw bit­ter­sweet­ness. Mu­si­cals are al­most in­her­ently nos­tal­gic. No mat­ter how hip some of them be­come, or how thor­oughly they pen­e­trate pop cul­ture, they are still an old-school medium. Af­ter all, they are out­sized emo­tions en­hanced by song. It’s no won­der, re­ally, that when mu­si­cals hit hard (think Rent, Hamil­ton and Dear Evan Hansen), they seem to hit hard­est among teenagers. Watch­ing some­one belt out a per­fect E-flat ma­jor with tears rolling down their face gives you the same stom­ach churn you get when you ro­man­ti­cize your past. Mu­si­cals are ide­al­is­tic and in­spir­ing and, like get­ting lost in an old di­ary, of­fer an es­cape from a re­al­ity that, trag­i­cally, rarely pauses to give you time to sing.

This is why so few are set in con­tem­po­rary times. Grease (1978) cap­i­tal­ized on Amer­ica’s nostal­gia for the ’50s, Hair­spray (1982) cap­i­tal­ized on Amer­ica’s nostal­gia for the ’60s and Rock

of Ages (2005) cap­i­tal­ized on Amer­ica’s nostal­gia for the ’80s.

But nostal­gia isn’t so much a time pe­riod as it is a feel­ing. La La Land, per­haps the most ac­claimed movie mu­si­cal of the past decade, is grounded in this feel­ing. Damien Chazelle’s Os­car­win­ning film is set in present-day Los An­ge­les, but its sweep­ing waltzes and wist­ful duets wor­ship Old Hol­ly­wood. Its charm—and the core crit­i­cism against it—is that it is a guile­less es­cape from Amer­ica’s un­set­tling po­lit­i­cal present. In the age of the re­sis­tance, #MeToo and #Os­carsSoWhite, some felt it was ir­re­spon­si­ble to ig­nore the now. But I dis­agree. I’ll al­ways wel­come a feel-good song-and-dance dis­trac­tion to pull me back to an­other time—to help me feel emo­tions other than frus­tra­tion and angst, if only for an hour or two.

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