Gatekeeping- Why?

Jonathan Fong

Musical theatre is a broad term; underneath its broad umbrella, one finds everything from the classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Sondheim to rock operas like Hair and Rent. There’s something for everyone – from a story of humanity woven from a teenager’s broken arm to life-affirming pieces about great tragedies of recent and not-so-recent history, everyone’s got something to love. For those who prefer to work unseen, there’s lights to run, SFX to cue, and an orchestra to play in or conduct; for those who enjoy the bright lights of the stage, there’s everything from the brusque romantic tenor lead who happens to be absent from every single dance number (read: has two left feet) to the comedic character actor who can’t sing to save their life or the dancer who thrills with great leaps and kicks. I think you get my point – musical theatre is diverse, vibrant, and incredible. After all, that’s why we love it, isn’t it?

So then, I must ask – why do we keep gatekeeping this community from that which we disapprove of?

We’ve all, at some point, laughed at something or someone who, in our eyes, is undeserving of our community. Maybe you’ve snickered at that one video of some high school kid in Legally Blonde having the worst voice crack of their life or maybe that video of an epic technical fail at this or that production, or maybe you’ve scoffed at the news that they’re bringing yet another piece of commercialized of garbage onto Broadway. I know there are people who are reading this who hate the way the Tonys in this or that year turned out (I’m looking at you, my fellow DEH, CFA, Great Comet, Mean Girls, and SpongeBob fans) and have gone online to bash fans of what, in your eyes, stole that award. And I know there’s that one singer or actor who you think doesn’t or didn’t deserve their part in whatever production (amateur or professional) of whatever musical.

Admit it – you’ve done it. I’ll go first and say that I have. While I’m not proud to admit it, I’m not ashamed to either. Let’s just say I had concerns when the announcement was made that SpongeBob Squarepants would be brought to Broadway and that I was irritated when Bandstand barely received a passing glance when it came time for Tony nominations and ‘that Dear Evan Hansen thing swept the bloody thing’. I’ve internally facepalmed upon reading news of various casting decisions for Broadway productions and cringed upon hearing praise for that one musical (good luck guessing which one I’m referring to, by the way).

But here’s the thing. Why do I get the right to say what makes an adequate piece of musical theatre? What makes me the perfect arbitrator of the best and worst casting decisions in the history of theatre? Why should I get any say in what others think is their favorite or most hated musical?

I know I certainly don’t have that power. Just as any other human, I have my opinions, and I respect the right of others to have theirs too. I don’t hold the reigns to the progress of musical theatre, neither are my opinions on anything – a show, a performance/production of a show, the performance of an actor or actress – a matter of absolute, undisputable fact. I like and hate certain things, yes, and I’m sure others do too (often in a way that conflicts with my beliefs). But at the end of the day, there’s no reasonable cause for me to attack or hate anyone who disagrees with me or – dare I say it – call them ‘not a true fan’, is there? It’s not like liking or hating Wicked or Phantom of the Opera makes someone a horrible person – liking or disliking a thing or three in the realm of musical theatre, unlike certain unforgivable acts and people within society, is not morally or ethically wrong and should not deserve the same use of language as such acts, as I see sometimes occurs nowadays.

At the end of the day, musical theatre is musical theatre. Love or hate certain parts of it, the whole of musical theatre is what makes it what we love. And we shouldn’t be telling or imposing our views on which parts of it are good, which are bad, and which should be unworthy of being called ‘musical theatre’ on others no more than we should be telling people to stop loving someone they love. Because we all love and care for musical theatre – and we should all be treating each other as such.