Six Musicals With Screwed-Up Messages

When most people think of musicals (and the people who love them), earnestness and over-enunciated love stories come to mind. And while those characteristics do figure prominently amongst shows from Showboat to Once, that analysis overlooks a lot of crazy stuff. Don’t let the tap dancing and orchestral swells razzle-dazzle you: The musical you’re watching might contain a screwed-up message. Here are just six examples:

 

Oklahoma!

This 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic will have you grinning like an idiot and clapping along to songs you probably performed in a school production. Everybody roots for Curly to win Laurey’s affections, and everybody boos filthy Jud Fry when he comes after the couple on their wedding day. But when Jud and Curly fight, Jud “falls on his knife” and dies in front of the entire wedding party. Awkward. So the town elders hold a hasty makeshift trial for Curly, pronounce him “not guilty,” send the kids on their honeymoon, and resume the singing and dancing. The real takeaway: If your fiancé might have accidentally killed someone, you should ignore it and make sure your wedding festivities still take place on schedule. Yeeow!

 


Grease!

This is kind of an obvious one, but okay. Sandy and Danny don’t settle their differences until Danny dresses like a jock and Sandy shows up to the weird fair in a Catwoman suit. Danny starts freaking out (see: “I’ve got chills/They’re multiplying”), and they do a shoulder-shimmy dance to seal the deal. It’s clear that Sandy is going to have to keep dressing like Catwoman in order to hold Danny’s interest. The moral here: if your man doesn’t like you the way you are. . . change!

 


The Full Monty

This 2000 adaptation of the British movie is very funny but very flawed. Down-and-out dad Jerry puts together an all-male strip show to raise money for child support so he can keep his kid. When the one-night-only show is a huge success, he has redeemed himself, and his ex-wife and kid are proud and stuff. What??? I guess we’ve all learned a valuable lesson: when the going gets tough, the adult entertainment industry is always a viable option.

 


Little Shop of Horrors

Nebbish Seymour turns into an “overnight sensation” because of his “strange and interesting plant,” Audrey II. The only problem: Audrey II survives on blood. Seymour resorts to killing anyone who makes him angry, all the while knowing what he’s doing is wrong. But when his love interest, Audrey, finds out, she’s not at all mad. In fact, she thinks it’s sweet and demands to be fed to the plant herself. So, uh, murder-for-personal-gain is okay now.

 


Les Miserables

The second act of this musical makes me want to leap onstage and shake Eponine. That boy (Marius) not only doesn’t want anything to do with her romantically, but he sends her away from the barricade to deliver a note to his girl Cosette. Sure, it seemed like he was doing a nice thing trying to protect Eponine from the impending battle at the barricade, but it isn’t very nice of him to ask her to go running around the city. By the end of the musical, we’re supposed to still care about this ungallant sir. No thanks.

 


Cats

If someone can tell me what the message behind Cats is, I’d appreciate it. For now, let’s just say that cats don’t talk or do ballet, and it’s screwed up to make people believe they do. Plus, those costumes give me nightmares.

 

 

What other musicals do you think are sending a twisted message? Let us know in the comments!

60 thoughts on “Six Musicals With Screwed-Up Messages

    • I’d just like to point iut that ‘The Full Monty’ isn’t really supposed to be a moral story. The whole point of it is the irony in the fact that he’s such a messed up guy, but we love him anyway.
      I’ve only seen the original movie, not the musical, but I the vibe I got wasn’t that we were supposed to learn anything from the story. Every good guy has a dark side.
      Little Shop of Horrors. Again. Irony? It’s really not supposed to be taken at all seriously, and most of it is just silly fun.
      However, Grease. Totally spot on. This was the beginning of the end for like, film culture….

  1. Oh, Figment.

    Other musicals with twisted messages…? Um…
    The Phantom of the Opera (don’t follow a creepy masked guy to the third level down in a basement of a theatre),
    and sequel (Love Never Dies) (I’m not even going to start!),
    Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula (don’t let a vampire and his multiple undead brides seduce you–but Twilight could’ve told us that),
    West Side Story (since it basically echoes Romeo and Juliet, and we all know how well that turns out),
    and many more.

    And Cats does too have a GOOD message: redemption! Grizabella is redeemed when she is sent to the Heaviside Layer (aka cat heaven in the musical) after the rest of the cats, who had previously shunned her, hear her story in the form of the well-known song “Memory”.

    Yep.

  2. Fame! That whole Carmen goes off for fame and dies ofa drug overdose thing? And everyone still remembers her name! And there are other parts…

  3. “OLIVER!”
    In this play, a huge amount of the audience actually likes the “bad” characters (Dodger, Fagin, Nancy, Bill, Charlie, etc.) WAYYYYY more than any of the “good” characters. (Brownlow, Bedwin, Grimwig)

  4. I was in “Cats” last summer in my community, and believe me when I say …. there is no point. There is no real plot. And our costumes were way scarier.

    • Haha, I was seriously about to say that until I read your comment. Let’s not forget “The Producers.” The go to jail in the end after getting caught by the IRS. And then they turn that jail story into a musical. So I’m guessing serving time in jail can really get your creative juices flowing (well, we have some rappers; some Civil Rights Activists…hm, jail must really influence a lot of people.)

      And there’s also “Sweeney Todd.” To get revenge on the ones that stole your daughter and caused your wife to become mad, become a barber, kill all of your clients, and use the dead bodies for meat pies (oh, and have your business partner make a fortune out of those pies too!) And be careful not to kill your estrange wife!

      So yeah…Musicals do have some weird messages…but I still love them 😀

      Except Cats. Never liked it, never wish to see it again!

  5. I agree with Marie J. But she is still forgetting a few. Legally Blonde the musical. If your boyfriend decides you’re not serious you should enroll in Harvard, become friends with someone obsessed with Ireland and participate in a murder trial to get him back.
    Also All Shook up: meet someone, pretend you are a guy, they think their gay, then marry them while your friend who was in love with you marries someone they just met because they like Shakespeare.

    • I’ve not seen the musical, but I thought that Legally Blonde, the movie, had a lovely message, at the end when she decides that her ex boyfriend really doesn’t deserve her.
      Leading Ladies, though… it’s about impersonating someone’s sister to steal her from her fiancé. I don’t need to say more.

    • I actually don’t think that’s the message of Legally Blonde at all, movie or musical. Elle rejects Warner at the end because she discovers that she cares more about herself and about becoming a lawyer than she does about him and finding a husband. Her participation in the murder trial was all about how talent can come from the most unexpected places, which is actually something I agree with wholeheartedly!

  6. There is also Wicked: if someone accuses you of an evil deed when they told you to do it you should become the evil person you were portrayed as.

    • Elphaba was never truly evil. Elphaba did some very bad things in her life, yes, but she was not an evil person. She had a lot to deal with in her life, starting with green skin. When she found out that The Wizard, her idol, the person she had held as a beacon of hope for her (see: The Wizard and I), was a fraud, she was devastated. Elphaba may have done some things wrong, but she was a good person.

      • I never said she actually was evil. She just acted it, and in No Good Deed she talks about how she mus be evil since everyone thinks she is and she decides to give up trying to do good. That is what I meant when I said that.

        • She didn’t act evil because everyone thought she was. She was completely devastated by the betrayal of the wizard and supposed death of Fiero, the only person she really, really loved. After that, she felt that trying to be good just made things worse, and she started becoming darker and doing worse things.

          • Oh my goodness.
            No.
            Wicked is the most amazing play/musical ever invented and it has the best storyline ever.
            The storyline you are talking about, J K, is not at all the storyline intended.
            It’s about how Elphaba was never evil, people just thrust it upon her, and she couldn’t do anything about it because everyone believed she was truly evil.
            Imagine the whole world thinking you were wicked, when you weren’t.
            She didn’t do super bad things, she just tried to help people, but it ended up looking like she was wicked.
            Fiyero is amazing.
            Toss, toss! Haha.
            I hope you see my point now.:)

    • My friend is in that musical in my town…. She says she’s having a blast doing it… And she wanted the part of Mary. Gah… Musicals are messed up.

  7. Actually, I’d argue that the ultimate message of “Little Shop of Horrors” is don’t give into greed. Seymour attempts to pave a path to the life he always wished for through blood and lies. The plant and his greed become bigger and bigger until it devours all he truly had, the world around him and, inevitably, himself. Audrey’s sacrifice is made because the plant (Seymour’s greed) got her, she’s aware she won’t make it, and thinks it will bring Seymour happiness. You also have to remember that Audrey was a bit naive and wasn’t prone to making good decisions (like dating abusive bikers)
    The MOVIE on the other hand is a different story. I ELECTRICUTED A PLANT (CAUSE THAT’S TOTALLY POSSIBLE) SO LET’S FORGET ALL THAT I KILLED AND BETRAYED A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE AND SKIP OFF INTO THE SUNNY BACKDROP! THEN WE’LL DO SOME SEQUEL BATING FOR ONE THAT WILL NEVER BE MADE!

    “Love Never Dies”‘s message is just stupid and goes against everything “Phantom of the Opera” stood for. PotH says “Go out with the sensible guy who cares about you and treats you right, not the mentally unstable one who emotionally abuses you.” LND says “Y’know what, we were kidding. That nice and stable guy who risked his life for you was actually a jerk. The one who shows no remorse for killing people is A-O-K to raise your kid.”

    • Remember with Love Never Dies that it has been ten years though, think about how much YOU change in ten years. It is plenty easy to become an alcoholic in ten years, alcoholic often does equal jerk, and for most the show she was trying to keep Phantom away from her kid. Don’t judge it too quickly.

  8. I disagree with IDH. My community theater did Urinetown this past summer, and I didn’t think the message was too messed up. Now the way the musical goes about giving the audience the message may seem messed up to some.

    The message I gathered from it was this: You shouldn’t be extremely harsh and violent, but you also shouldn’t be extremely lax and care free. You need a balance between the two extremes to be able to properly function and allow everyone to benefit.

    -K

  9. Cats was based off of a book of poems…about Cats

    Lesson Learned: Write poems about animals, sell them to a producer, live a long and happy life with your multitude of cats in a mansion.

  10. I disagree about Les Mes, mostly because it isn’t really Marius, Eponine, and Cosette’s story at all. It’s Jean Valjean’s, and the message of it is one of redemption and love and all that stuff. Sure, Marius can come across as kind of a jerk, but that depends as much on the actor as the material itself.

    • I agree, sometimes Marius can come across as a jerk, but he really isn’t supposed to be one. Eponine was a street urchin who followed him around and he just didn’t really care about her. The message of Les Miz is about Jean Valjean – that you shouldn’t return to doing bad stuff if that’s what you’re used to – and Marius, Cosette, and Eponine are just supporting characters in Jean Valjean’s life.

  11. I agree with Grease, and that’s actually why I clicked on the link. I saw the picture, and I wanted to see what you had to say about it. I never liked Grease. The music is okay, but I always felt like too many people liked it. And then there is also the stupid message it gives. No one, male or female, should have to change for the one they love, no matter how strong their feelings get.

  12. I saw Cats when I was nine, and I think I was lost. I didn’t really care about plots and whatnot back then, though, all I cared about was the dancing and acrobatics and music. I love the music, but the plot… well, there isn’t one! (Except what that one person said about redemption, it kinda makes sense…)

    Wicked has a BEAUTIFUL message, though! I saw that when I was nine and my friends and I are obsessed with it. I don’t know how to explain it, but the message is really heart-wrenching. (The message is kinda whatever it means to you personally.)

    • I agree. I absolutely love Wicked. It’s my favorite musical with Cat’s coming in second. In my conservative religious community, however, I have to keep secret the fact that I’ve even seen Wicked. Honestly, most people assume that something titled “Wicked” must be bad somehow and that is true of the book on which the musical is based. Dragon-worship, gay rape, an affair, drunkenness, animal abuse,murder, lying, stealing… You name it, it’s in there. The musical, however, is nothing like the book and that’s what makes it so awesome. The writer took a horrid story with several very twisted messages and made it a beautiful musical about friendship, love, and being true to yourself.

  13. Avenue Q; a standalone musical in that, while the message is quite sound, the delivery is most certainly “messed up.”

  14. Chicago again, but for a different reason. Not because of fame, but because money and power let the guilty free while the innocent die.

  15. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: It’s perfectly fine to con people out of their money, especially if they really deserve it.

  16. I don’t like this article. It makes me see my favorite musicals in a bad way, when really it probably has a good message. This article seems to have been made to look at things the wrong way, which is just what it did. I really doubt that that was the actual message for any of them.

    • It all depends on how you look at the musical. Like Grease-it seems like most people forget that Danny liked Sandy for herself over the summer. It was his friends that couldn’t handle who she was. Oklahoma is a depiction of life on the frontier. Sure, Curly doesn’t fight fair for Laurie’s hand, but it’s love. He left Jud alone as soon as he thought Laurie was his-it was Jud who couldn’t leave it. Anyway, enough soapboxing. 😀

  17. I agree completely. The story isn’t about Eponine, though her tale is probably the most relatable. But to be fair, she never tells Marius she loves him. We all know guys don’t pick up on hints (no offense, dudes).

    There are so many amazing messages in Les Mis, and while Marius is admittedly my least favorite character, I would hope that Valjean’s, Javert’s, and Fantine’s stories have more of an impact that the little love triangle.

  18. It should be noted that (1) all of Eponine’s love confessions and angsting are internal, although the audience glimpses it and (2) Marius is a little socially awkward and in the book unsure of himself. Not picking up Eponine’s few hints could be because (a) he simply didn’t understand them or (b)because he found it doubtful enough that ONE girl would like him, let alone two.
    Also Les Mis’s message is NOT about a love triangle and Marius, Eponine, and Cosette are mostly side plots. Or, in the case of Cosette, an adorable and charming plot device.

  19. The Phantom of the Opera: Don’t go out with guys that live in drippy caves and have a life-sized plastic mannequin that looks exactly like you. Creepy.

  20. Two words: South. Pacific.
    It’s basically saying creepy old guys hitting on young girls is totally cool, and prostitution can be called true love. Yayyyyyy

  21. I totally agree with Grease. I’ve actually never liked the musical as a whole, though I have to admit the music is catchy.

    I disagree with the assessment of Little Shop of Horrors. Seymour makes a lot of bad decisions, yes, but in each case it is clear what the right decision would have been, and he is punished in the end for going down the wrong path.

    I’ve honestly never seen The Full Monty but I’d like to, and I don’t like the idea that “It’s okay to be an adult performer if you have no other options!” is a bad message. Obviously it’s not a family show, but I don’t think it’s marketed as one. I think that adult performer is a valid career and certainly not a choice that is morally wrong.

    Other than that, loved the article!

  22. Phantom, anyone? The creepy masked dude that lives in the basement and tends to KILL people is NOT your father and you should NOT follow him. At what point did Christine decide this was a good idea?

    Poor ‘Ponine… She didn’t deserve what she got…

  23. I know it’s not a musical, but I wanted to add the Disney movie Aladdin, because it basically tells girls that it’s totally cool to go off with a stranger on a flying carpet without your parents’ knowledge. That kind of goes against all the stranger-danger lessons in our youth.

  24. I don’t understand why people think musicals are all clean and appropriate…I have some pretty racy stuff on my iPod and the music from Book of Mormon beats all of it. Look it up if you don’t know what I’m referencing, but make sure your little siblings are far away.

    • Haha I totally agree. A lot of people have this massive misconception that all musicals are rainbows and butterflies. Just look at The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, Chicago, and you have some pretty raunchy stuff. A lot of people also forget that many deal with really heavy topics, like Next to Normal, where the lead is a bipolar depressive who thinks her dead son is always talking to her…

  25. RENT! Message: you can rip people off and live irresponsibly as long as you have friends to do it with you! And anyone who gets a job and becomes a productive member of society is a total traitor!

    9 to 5: Kidnapping is okay if the guy is enough of a jerk!

    (I don’t really agree about Les Miserables, because Les Miserables is one of the best musicals of all time in my opinion, but oh well.)

  26. hey Merrily We roll along: first of all it’s told backwards
    then its about a guy who tries to become famous with his friends. Things he does wrong marries the wrong girl and has a son, ditches his friend, cheats on his wife, remarries the girl he cheated with, becomes famous but leaves his ditched friend behind AGAIN, falls in love with another girl, is going to get a divorce but then the girl is blinded when his current wife throws iodine in her eyes, in the end he is alone and wondering what the heck he did wrong. Moral: Want to become famous? Go ahead and just do everything wrong to everyone you love and you’ll be faouse. yah!

  27. Carousel: “abusive marriages are fine because he really loves her”. Really? Great music, but terrible values!

    Spider Woman: the protagonist, a man in prison, dies for his friend/lover/cellmate, who only slept with him to manipulate him into helping his cause. And we feel bad for Molina being in prison, even though he clearly committed statutory rape. The boy was 15-16!

    If/Then: a woman has to chose between two fates: a happy marriage and children but her husband dies a few years into the marriage or never meeting him and destroying your relationship with your best friend by aborting his child after a one night stand. I mean, isn’t there a third option?

    Hair: I do like this show, as I do the other ones I’ve referenced, but what are they trying to say? The protagonists indicicivity in regards to the draft ends with him dying in Vietnam. Many characters dropped out, but they’re aimless and lost. Yet the one college student is torn between her two friends/roommates/lovers who are torn between her and each other. Their complicated triangle is never resolved be caused they’re all so lost.

    I disagree with the one about Les Mis. Yes, Éponine makes bad life choices, but the message is about love conquering all and redemption!

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