Elevating the Ordinary: Exploring Heightened Realism in Musical Theater

Elevating the Ordinary: Exploring Heightened Realism in Musical Theater

Bringing the Extraordinary to Life

As a lifelong devotee of musical theater, I’ve always been fascinated by the genre’s ability to transport us beyond the everyday. There’s something magical about the way a character can suddenly burst into song, their inner emotions spilling forth in a lyrical cascade. But what if I told you that this heightened sense of reality – this seemingly fantastical element – is actually a reflection of a deeper truth about the human experience?

Let me introduce you to the world of “heightened realism” in musical theater. It’s a concept that challenges the notion that the genre is simply an escapist form of entertainment, instead positioning it as a powerful tool for exploring the complexities of the human condition. Through the skillful blending of the ordinary and the extraordinary, musical theater has the unique ability to elevate the mundane, shedding light on the profound within the seemingly insignificant.

The Art of Blending the Ordinary and the Extraordinary

Think about it – when was the last time you found yourself quietly observing the world around you, only to be struck by the sheer beauty or poignancy of a seemingly mundane moment? Perhaps it was witnessing a mother tenderly tucking her child into bed, or catching a glimpse of two strangers sharing a smile on a crowded city street. These are the kinds of ordinary occurrences that we often overlook, dismissing them as routine or unremarkable.

But what if, instead of glossing over these moments, we brought them into sharp focus? What if we amplified them, adding a layer of heightened emotion and visual spectacle that elevated them to the realm of the extraordinary? This is precisely what the best musical theater does, using the power of song, dance, and staged imagery to transform the quotidian into the sublime.

Elevating the Ordinary: Lessons from “Amphibia”

One prime example of this heightened realism in action can be found in the Disney animated series Amphibia. As writer Janie Walenda so eloquently observed, the show’s protagonist, Anne Boonchuy, grapples with the profound challenges of navigating a new, fantastical world – one filled with talking frogs, newts, and toads.

Yet, even in the midst of this wondrous and bizarre setting, the series never loses sight of the very human emotions and experiences that drive its characters. Anne’s struggle to reconcile her friendships with Sasha and Marcy, for instance, is “surprisingly realistic for a children’s cartoon” – a testament to the writers’ ability to find the universal within the hyper-specific.

What’s truly remarkable, though, is the way Amphibia seamlessly blends the extraordinary with the ordinary. As Walenda notes, the show’s “style of humor is extremely effective” in this regard, utilizing a “contrast of deadpan and dramatic editing” to heighten the mundane and make the fantastical feel grounded.

Embracing the Messy, the Chaotic, and the Sublime

This notion of embracing the chaos and complexity of the everyday is something that U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón deeply understands. In her recent conversation with Chapter 16, Limón eloquently described the “aliveness” of springtime, a season that is simultaneously thrilling and unsettling.

“It’s not like the lazy days of summer when you know it’s gonna be 90 again today,” Limón mused. “Instead, it’s just doing all the things all at once. And there’s an aliveness to spring that I really love. It’s one of my favorite times to write.”

It’s this sense of the extraordinary within the ordinary – the idea that the mundane can be imbued with a kind of magical realism – that lies at the heart of heightened realism in musical theater. By embracing the messy, the chaotic, and the sublime, the genre invites us to see the world anew, to find wonder in the everyday, and to recognize the profound within the seemingly insignificant.

Singing as Rebellion and Celebration

And what better way to express this heightened sense of reality than through the power of song? As Limón so insightfully observed, the act of singing is akin to “a rebellion against everything that is suffering” as well as “a celebration of everything that’s alive and whole.”

This sentiment is beautifully encapsulated in the film Rocketman, a biopic that delves into the life and music of the legendary Elton John. Through its deft use of magical realist devices, the film transports us into Elton’s memories, blurring the lines between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

As writer Devin Faraci so eloquently put it, Rocketman “successfully uses multiple magical realist devices in conveying both its narrative and the basic conceit of singing in drama.” From the moment Elton bursts through the rehab center doors in a resplendent winged demon costume, we’re plunged into a world where the impossible and the mundane coexist, where the act of singing becomes a portal into the depths of the human experience.

Finding the Extraordinary in the Everyday

And that, my friends, is the true power of heightened realism in musical theater. By elevating the ordinary, by imbuing the mundane with a sense of the sublime, the genre invites us to see the world through a new lens – one that celebrates the complexities of the human condition, the messy beauty of our shared experiences.

So, the next time you find yourself captivated by a seemingly ordinary moment, take a moment to consider how it might be transformed on the musical theater stage. Imagine the way a simple gesture could be amplified through song and dance, how a fleeting glance could become the catalyst for a grand, emotional outpouring.

Because in the end, that is the true magic of musical theater – the ability to find the extraordinary in the everyday, to celebrate the profundity of the human experience in all its messy, chaotic glory. And as we continue to explore the depths of this genre, I have no doubt that we’ll uncover countless more examples of this heightened realism, each one a testament to the power of the arts to elevate, to inspire, and to transform.

So, let’s raise a glass to the musical theater pioneers who have paved the way, and to the countless more who will undoubtedly follow in their footsteps, fearlessly diving into the depths of the human experience, and emerging with stories that will captivate, challenge, and forever change us. After all, as the team at Musical Theater Center knows, there’s nothing quite like the magic of the stage to remind us of the extraordinary that lies within the ordinary.

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