By David T. Valentin
Not many people can say they’ve had the opportunity to see five Broadway shows in the course of three weeks, let alone seeing two Broadway shows in one day.
If someone had asked me a few years ago what I thought of Broadway shows, I would’ve just shrugged it off as nothing too special. Broadway never really had a special place in my heart growing up, and although I’ve seen very few Broadway shows over the years, before the pandemic, none impressed me in the way that a book and a movie couldn’t already do.
But then a pandemic happened, and life was brought to an abrupt halt for three years. For some, the world never stopped but that’s beside the point. And as the world opened back up, as sport stadiums and concerts seemed to resume, it never seemed fair that places like Broadway remained closed.
I never knew how much I needed daydreaming as a writer, the moments where you need the time to fly in between commutes and you just doze off for minutes, maybe an hour or so, until your commute is over and all of a sudden you’re brought to the real world.
I tried to fill that wanting to daydream with books that inspired me and pushed myself to write things that I thought needed to be said, emotions to be felt. But the more I tried to force it, the more I tried to convince myself that although the world might be burning my art is still needed, the less I wanted to pursue art because it almost felt futile.
Of course, art isn’t always a muse. Sometimes it’s a job, or a gentle kick from a deadline. Sometimes you needed to just sit down and do it. But no matter how much art might become a job to some, it still needs that magic, and the world just didn’t have enough of it at the moment and, quite honestly, neither did I. The world seemed too grim to peel your eyes away from, and too grim to try and slip away into some other world.
The world started opening up again, but for some the doors in our head just kept shut. And, I’ll be honest, I was very much afraid those doors would never open up again; that daydreaming and art were chores to trudge through.
And then Broadway happened. First, I saw Come from Away a play about 9/11 that was equal parts entertaining, comedic and emotional. You might be thinking, “How the hell could a play about 9/11 cheer you up?” Well, because it taught me even in the worst of times, you’ll always have someone to help. That someone might not be someone you know, but it’s somebody.
Next was Hadestown, a retelling of the classic tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice; a story you might already know and yet... you still think the ending might be different—you still hold out hope it might end well for the two of them. As Hermes, the narrator of the story, says at the end, “It’s a sad song. It’s a sad tale. It’s a tragedy. It’s a sad song. But we sing it anyway. ‘Cause here’s the thing, to know how it ends and still begin to sing it again, as if it might turn out this time.” That single line captured and reminded me of why we tell stories, in an attempt to understand our experiences and the human condition, to understand our hope that things might turn out differently despite of the way things are (as Hermes also brilliantly says).
Then there was the Tina Turner Show, a show I wouldn’t think I’d see by myself but glad I simply agreed to go—a Broadway show of resilience, of success, and failure. It allowed me to step into the life of someone else from a different time, and see, that although life might’ve been hard for the famous Tina Turner, she pushed on through. Not just for herself, but the love of her sons and the love of her art.
Before Tina there was Aladdin, quite possibly the funniest show I’ve ever seen on Broadway; a show that captured the magic of Disney and translated it there right before your very eyes. It may sound silly but, A Whole New World was possibly the most beautiful moment on Broadway I’ve ever had the opportunity to watch.
Finally, but before my Broadway finale, there was Phantom of the Opera, the longest running Broadway show in Broadway history running since 1988. The show is a testament to the timelessness of art and music, the ability to resonate across time and space and to still touch the hearts of its audience.
And then there was the revival of Company starring Patti Lupone. Now, going into the play I didn’t know anything about the play at all to be honest, I just wanted to finally see Patti Lupone perform. And then I found out it was a Stephen Sondheim show and I was even more excited, because what has Sondheim made that has not been just pure beauty and fun?
The musical comedy follows a woman named Bobbie (yes, a woman in the revival) as she wrestles with turning 35 and being single while she’s surrounded by married couples. The show immediately captures your attention through humor, but through the humor there’s one question that lingers in Bobbie’s mind: why get married if you might get hurt?
And then there’s the finale song, Being Alive; a song where Bobbie realizes that we can’t be so afraid of being hurt that we forget to live.
In these trying times it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel and it might be easy for us to lose our way. But like art, hope is the whisper of a muse and a little bit of work. But even more so than that, art is hope that our legacies might last beyond our lives and a testament that we lived; that we were afraid to try even though we might fail, hoping that things might turn out differently.