When I joined the Board, I had a vague idea about what I wanted to write, but the more I thought the more that this article really fell into place for me. I wanted to talk about some of my favorite classic musicals, but how to go about it was the key; how could I make them relevant to today? It occurred to me that I could think of connections between the classic musicals, and make them relevant to today’s world. I will be using Fiddler on the Roof, Hair and She Loves Me, as I found that these three really do connect to us today.
Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and script by Joseph Stein. The show itself is based on Tevye’s Daughters by Sholom Aleichem. The plot follows Tevye and his family along with the other villagers in the hamlet of Anatevka. It is about their daily lives and the struggles they experience as people of Jewish descent in Imperial Russia, and the Tsar’s edict that evicts the Jews from their village in the year 1905. Fiddler on the Roof opened in 1964 and ran more than 3,000 performances.
It connects to today because we see people that are immigrating to other countries, for a variety of reasons, but just like the characters in the Fiddler musical, the immigrants are in search of a better life for themselves and for the ones that they love. The second connection is the fact that Fiddler mixes the old world and the new world. The old world is the parents and the other adults in the story who think that everyone should live their lives the way they always have; that is, according to tradition. The new world point of view of the three daughters, who take their lives into their own hands, and the characters end up breaking the tradition in order to live on their own terms. I find that this is still very much true today, as the parents and other adults, who want what they think will be best for their kids, might not agree with their children. We see that young adults are making life choices of their own, now more than ever.
Hair is a Rock Musical with script and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rando and music by Galt MacDermot. Hair revolves around a cult of people known as “The Tribe,” a group of politically active hippies living the bohemian life in New York City. This group is fighting against the draft into the Vietnam War. The Tribe is also facing the daily struggles of love, the sexual revolution, their conservative parents and society in general. Hair opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances.
The overall message of Hair is something that is still relevant today. The message of power to the people which the characters are sending as they try and protest the Vietnam War; they were trying to send a message to the government to stop the war. Today, we see this because everyday citizens try to protest the government’s actions at the national, state and local levels. The characters in Hair are trying to live their lives, and although the world is changing around them, they will not be swayed from their message so easily. Millennials today are similar to these characters all those years ago — they have a message that they are trying to spread and they will not break for just anyone. Millennials of today reminded me so much of the characters in this musical because they’re trying to make the government listen to them and make their voices heard.
She Loves Me is another musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick with the script by Joe Masteroff. The plot is about Georg Novack and Amalia Balash, two Budapest shop employees who are at odds with each other. The two will discover that they are each other’s pen pals who exchange letters through the lonely-hearts club ads. They ultimately meet when Amalia asks for a job in the Parfumerie where Georg works. The musical opened in 1963 and the 2016 revival was the first Broadway production ever to be live streamed.
This musical has two connections to the modern day and they both go hand-in-hand with each other. The first is that people are set up on dates through online websites or dating apps. Georg and Amalia correspond with letters and they form a relationship and fall in love. Today, you are paired with someone that you initially don’t know on a dating app or website, and you start forming a connection with each which only makes the opportunity to share romance stronger; like Georg and Amalia’s love. Georg and Amalia start as friends and then as the friendship grows and blossoms into love, you the viewer, learn just how much the two bickering associates actually care for one another. Today, people are bonding and making lasting friendships on the internet just as Amalia and Georg did through their letters.
When you think about it, the classics are just as relevant today as they were when they first opened on the Broadway stage. While this is just a small list, I hope that it made some connections that these musicals have for us today.
(Photo Credit for Hair, Walter McBride / Retna Ltd, Fiddler on the Roof; photo credit for Fiddler on the Roof, Sara Krulwich/The New York Times Photo Credit for She Loves Me, Joan Marcus)