The serious side of musicals refers to any of the dark moments and those moments are usually represented by elements of tragedy. These moments exist in the happy musicals, those that are not even happy, but just not sad, and well obviously they exist in the sad and tragic musicals. There are serious moments like unrequited love, death, prostitution, misery, discrimination, racism, gang violence and others.
I was well aware that sad was a musical emotion from before college. But I did not identify the sad moments as dark or serious. I hardly remember what sad was like in those days and did forget which shows they happened to be in. But it wasn’t forgotten in Wicked. I feel like in the college years, that emotion decided to start from the beginning and reached a degree that almost seemed impossible.
There are some serious moments that I keep on overlooking. These are moments I know happen in certain musicals, but keep on overlooking them. I always overlook parts of the serious side in Wicked even though I know it is in there. I never have overlooked the love triangle. It is the whole discrimination side of the story and the Wizard’s desire for power that keeps on being overlooked. That is partially due to the fact that I still view Wicked through the eyes of a middle schooler even though I also view it through the eyes of a college student. Another reason why I keep overlooking it is because the core of Wicked is the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba and not so much about the whole discrimination situation even though that is still quite important to the plot.
But there are some musicals where the serious side just cannot be overlooked. Les Mis, Rent, and West Side Story are musicals that there is no way you can overlook the serious side. That is due to the fact that all three are sad musicals. West Side Story, in my opinion, is the mildest of all three and deals with gang rivalry which eventually leads to gang violence. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, but the main character’s names are Tony and Maria and a main difference is that one of the two main characters survive.
Rent deals with HIV/AIDS, which is the main serious moment the show focuses on, but there are other moments of seriousness. Roger for instance is dealing with depression and Mimi is a heroin addict. It may have less deaths than West Side Story, but in my opinion, it is even sadder than WWS.
The saddest musical in my opinion so far is Les Mis. It deals with prostitution, poverty, unrequited love, a high death toll, injustice, abuse and other heartbreaking things. Without Les Mis, it still would be quite difficult to find other serious moments in other musicals.
All of the characters in some way experience something tragic in their lives. Cosette faces horrible abuse as a child and later at the end of the show, her father, Jean Valjean dies. Jean Valjean faces hard labor, injustice, and has to spend his life as an ex-convict. Fantine’s storyline is very heartbreaking because she was abandoned by her lover leaving her to be a single parent, has to leave her daughter in the hands of the Thenardiers, gets fired from her job and has to turn to prostitution to provide for her child, but little does she know that the Thenardiers are horribly abusing Cosette and later dies, but dies knowing her child will be safe and protected knowing that Jean Valjean will raise her daughter as his own.
The Thenardiers don’t really seem to experience anything tragic, but their inn eventually goes bankrupt. Eponine, their daughter, does not have many good things happen in her life because she was raised to be a criminal and has to face horrible abuse by her parents and she feels unloved, neglected and lonely because she is left to fend for herself since her parents don’t even care or even love her. On top of all of this, she has to face unrequited love for Marius, but the really heartbreaking part about this situation is that Marius is the only light in her miserable life, but yet she can’t have him. She does not really get to experience happiness, but eventually she does after she gets shot at the barricade, which ends up being fatal, and ends up dying in Marius’ arms.
Enjolras, Gavroche and the students (excluding Marius) all lose their lives in the rebellion as well. Gavroche is the Thenardiers’ son, but the students take him in and they end up becoming like his family.
Javert is a tragic character who was born inside of a jail and does not seem to have much of a tragic life, but after realizing his beliefs and views of the world were wrong, misery comes crashing down on him in a matter of seconds after realizing that Valjean has changed. Javert always believed that “once a criminal always a criminal” and strictly follows the law, which eventually leads to his downfall eventually leading him to commit suicide. Marius, the survivor of the barricade, has to deal with survivor’s guilt and he literally lost all of his friends at the barricades including Eponine. All of these Les Mis characters in some shape or form experience something tragic in their lives. Some of them have very empty lives and some don’t, but still they all belong in Les Mis.
One thing that South Pacific deals with is interracial marriage, which does touch on the idea of racism in a way. It does bring up the fact that racism is taught, which is expressed through the song “You’ve got to be carefully taught”. Both relationships, which are between Nellie and Emelie and Liat and Joe Cable both have their serious nature, but one of them turns out to be tragic. The relationship between Liat and Joe Cable, a sub-plot, is tragic because Joe Cable does leave Liat because he knows his family will not approve even though he loves Liat himself and while on a dangerous mission, Joe Cable gets killed. The relationship between Nellie and Emelie, the main relationship. almost didn’t happen in the end because Nellie left him after hearing about his interracial children, but in the end came back to him and Emelie got rescued from the dangerous mission he was on with Joe Cable.
Even Phantom of the Opera expresses levels of darkness. It after all is a haunting musical but at the same time a romantic musical. The entire story is a love triangle between Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom. The Phantom’s story is one of unrequited love, but at the same time he is judged for his deformed face and does not have a very happy life, but rather a very heartbreaking one. The serious side mainly applies to the Phantom and he does not respond very well to his unrequited love due to acting in destructive ways and tries to get Raoul killed.
The serious side of musicals is just as important as the comic side of musicals. You need to have the darkness because it does add incredible texture and balance to the world of musicals. You cannot have all musicals just having comic and happy moments. Having the serious moments adds more strength to a plot than what it appears. The negative emotions come from those serious moments.
While I still associate musicals with comedies, I think the moments of seriousness and non-seriousness moments are very even and are well-balanced out. But yet there are still serious moments that are still overlooked even if I know they happen.There are other musicals that I know that have the serious moments that I did not include above, which include Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and even Newsies because they all have to put up with the negative emotions at some point.
What are your opinions about the serious moments of musicals?