When people come to the theater, they often have a purpose for seeing a specific show. Some wish to be entertained, others wish to cry. Some hope to see their favorite stories played out in front of their eyes. While I have gone into shows with a variety of purposes before, I have found that the shows and music that have had the largest impact on my life are those which show me a part of my own life or my own heart in a way that I’ve never seen it before. As Stella Adler said, “The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” For me, I am most at home in the theatre when I’m watching a creation whose purpose is to speak some sort of truth to the audience, to make a difference in their lives.
For me, two of the songwriters that have made some of the biggest difference in my life is the duo of Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen- composers and lyricists of Tuck Everlasting and the lesser-known musicals The Burnt Part Boys and Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. Miller and Tysen’s music has accompanied me at some of the most important moments in my life, both good and bad. The stories they compose for possess great lessons on their own, but when combined with Miller and Tysen’s work, the stories are brought to life, and force a person to experience real joy and heartbreak.
Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway in 2016, and received much criticism after closing after just 39 performances. While I’m certain there were many factors that went into this show’s early closing, I also know that this show touched many people’s lives. It left its audiences with a lesson that I think most people today need to hear- “You don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.” This show is one of few that I think was actually better than the book it is based off of. (Spoiler alert ahead) You see, in the book, a thunderstorm destroys the tree, along with its immortality-giving spring. Winnie has no choice but to remain mortal. In the musical, however, we watch Winnie pour the water on a toad, and choose to let her life run its course. She wants to stay on ‘the wheel’- not be a boat stuck floating on top of the water forever. Through Tuck Everlastin, we learn that the most important gift we’ve been given- and that we can give others- is our time. The length of our life isn’t what’s important, it’s about what we do while we’re here. Miller and Tysen relate these lessons in beautifully crafted lyrics, as well as the heartbreaking ballet at the end of the show in which we see Winnie’s life play out in her most joyous and devastating moments. Songs like “Time,” “The Wheel,” and “Everlasting,” remind us that our fear isn’t in dying, but in “not being truly alive.”
I was introduced to the show The Burnt Part Boys at a musical theatre showcase my university put on in late 2016. One of the numbers was “Climbing Song,” and as I watched the performance, I made a mental note to go home and listen to the rest of the show. When I found it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had been written by the same duo as Tuck Everlasting, which had been in my regular music rotation for several months already. As I listened, I knew I had found a hidden gem. In this story of loss and great expectation, Miller and Tysen remind us that, “The devil’s plan is mighty, his work a piece of art. He has blessed every man with a burnt part.” The characters in this story learn how to work through grief and other people’s expectations of them to become the people that they want to be, not who they are expected to be.
Miller and Tysen had a 100% success rate with me thus far, so I decided to discover what else they had created. The final work I was able to find is called Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. (They’ve also composed a show called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but I’ve never been able to find more than a few songs from this show online.) Fugitive Songs is a series of songs sung by characters who are on the run from something- whether it be a relationship, a dead-end career, or a lifestyle. I was enchanted by the hauntingly beautiful songs like, “Wildflowers,” (which helped me through a breakup,) “Reasons to Run,” and “Lullaby,” (which is the only song I’ve ever found with my name in it,) and laughed my way through “Lost,” and “Spring Cleaning.” While this song cycle doesn’t have a plot, it has a theme- we’re all on the run from something. This series of songs encourages the audience to look at their own life and ask, “What am I running from?”
No matter what critics say about Miller and Tysen, there is one indisputable theme among all of their music- they create stories with a purpose. They have created work that forces us to think, to question, to be human. And as creators, they have succeeded in doing what most artists dream of- making art that matters to someone.