I’ve been a bit of an insufferable theatre kid lately.
I rewatch episodes of Schmigadoon’s second season over and over, and replay the same clips of Jane Krakowski, Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming. I stare at set photographs for Wicked and continue to obsess over Ariana Grande. A Little Priest has been on repeat. It’s this absolutely brilliant song from Sweeney Todd, where Mrs Lovett and Sweeney giggle about the various professions they could slaughter to bake into pies. The wordplay is top-notch. Sondheim was a true genius.
Musical theatre keeps me grounded, sane, if you will. I catch myself smiling an insane amount every episode of Schmigadoon this season, because musicals like Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, Chicago and A Chorus Line are ingrained in my heart. I could list every single lead actor and become even more insufferable talking about their talent and brilliance.
I truly admire the cast of Schmigadoon. You’ve got Ariana DeBose from the recent remake of West Side Story, and Patrick Page and his insanely deep voice from Hadestown. Cecily Strong was the reason I watched episodes of Saturday Night Live. There’s Dove Cameron and her music career, and Kristin Chenoweth in frankly every single thing she touches. And that’s only five people.
It’s an impressive line-up.
It’s a bit of a segue, but for a long time I was afraid of labelling my depression. I thought I wasn’t depressed enough for it to be deserving of the label, despite the breakdowns and exhaustion. I think once I allowed myself to accept that I have depression, I understood depression.
There aren’t qualifiers for how much sadness, lack of emotion or emptiness that a depressive person must have – but I have been through depressive episodes that certainly tick all the boxes. The last wedding I attended is marred by a four-day or so period afterwards where I sunk, emotionlessly, into a state that was like sleeping wide-awake, without dreams, all because I realised I was in a relationship that felt pointless. I compare it now to being body-snatched, as if aliens possessed me and wondered why this puny human being wasn’t in a relationship with their preferred sex for the sake of it. The celebrant had said, marriage is forever, but dating this dude… I’m definitely not getting married today.
Musical theatre has saved me in the sort of way people claim an omniscient non-existent man in the clouds has saved them. I probably express my disdain for religion, in particular Christianity, quite too frequently for the Christians that are likely around me, but I have to briefly mention there are so many Christianity-based musicals, not that I really care for any of them. But this very-tangible thing keeps me flat-footed on the ground, and sometimes I indeed feel like an insufferable theatre kid, because I am in need of a little comfort (or a little priest) more than I might necessarily realise.
Let’s do a little experiment: for once in my very word-and-language life, let’s look at some numbers! Honestly, I don’t hate numbers, I just feel awkward around them, which is strange, because there are musicals like Six, Nine, 13 the Musical, and 9 to 5, so you would think maybe I got numbers even just a little.
Not a single one of those musicals has anything to do with maths.
I have three main playlists to spur on my musical theatre obsession: the main one, ~Musicals~, a playlist organised like an Intro to class, and a playlist I constantly forget about, crammed with songs I don’t skip as frequently as, say, one of the random 13 the Musical songs. I really should remove some of those songs from the ~Musicals~ playlist if I don’t ever listen to them (I will never be talking about you, ‘It Can’t Be True’, you piece of gossipy brilliance).
~Musicals~ is currently 1,058 songs long, at 61 hours and 19 mins runtime. For context, there are twenty-five songs on the 2022 Broadway Cast Recording of Into the Woods—which I fell in love with the day it came out, sitting on a bus headed to Australia Zoo—and that very cast recording runs for one hour, fourteen minutes. Yes, I did just confess there are certain songs I rarely listen to from start to finish, but when I’m listening to full cast recordings for the first time, I clearly didn’t hate them then. Unlike the majority of & Juliet.
Lately, I’ve been in a sort of funk. I feel overwhelmed by a lot of things, and I know I do not need to bombard my readers with them, but I think often enough there is that undercurrent of my depression. That hopeless feeling, the lost sort of ache. Every Wednesday for the last few weeks, Schmigadoon’s sequel season upended my thoughts entirely.
Where the first season was focused on paying homage to musicals from the 40s and 50s (think Sound of Music and Oklahoma!), this season enters the 60s and 70s of musical theatre. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, the central premise is that Melissa Gimble (Cecily Strong) and Josh Skinner (Keegan Michael Key) find themselves trapped within a musical, and their return to the ordinary, boring world, must be earned by reaching the end of the musical.
In the first season, Melissa and Josh needed to understand that concept of true love, and this season they must find their happy end. Or that’s what Martin Short dressed as a leprechaun sung to them on the opened hood of their car. Really, you just need to watch the show. He was in the first season as essentially the same character, haven’t you heard of a running gag?
I think it is fascinating to underpin my depression, my mental health, and whatever is going on with it with a television series that is trying to find happy endings through song. In Episode Four, ‘Something Real,’ Miss Codwell (Chenoweth) and Dooley Blight the Butcher (Cumming) perform an absolutely absurd number about murdering children and selling them as meat. The song splices up ‘A Little Priest’ and ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ from Annie. Some pure genius looked at Kristin Chenoweth and knew she would annihilate in the best possible way a performance as a Miss Hannigan/Mrs Lovett mash-up character.
The thing is, I probably shouldn’t be grinning this hard at ‘Good Enough to Eat,’ a song that features children proudly confessing they are ‘scrumptuous’ and offering their little heads on clean white plates. Chenoweth and Cumming have such undeniable chemistry, having previously been in Disney’s adaptation of Annie together. I think a part of why musical theatre is such a comfort to me is because there is so much joy in its creation. Alan Cumming has the biggest fucking grin on his face the entire performance, so how can I be disgusted at how comfortable Dooley Blight is with potentially murdering these orphans?
So, I hope we never stop creating musical theatre. For the sake of my mental health, sure, but for all the theatre kids out there too. It’s a hard knock life, some might say. Find what makes you become insufferably happy, even if it’s a song about whether a priest would taste delicious.
Author: Keeley Young writes queer literature, fantasy fiction, poetry (sometimes), and emotion-focused work that he hopes makes people feel heard and seen, even just a little. You might be familiar with his work with ScratchThat from last year, where he wrote about cuddling with robots, communing with a dead gay lover, and summoning demons.
Artist: Cyndra Galea (she/they) is in the third year of her Bachelor of Fine Art’s in Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Communications. When not found with her head in a book or three, Cyndra can be found radioactive antique hunting, fixing classic cars with her dad, drawing on her iPad, or writing and editing her manuscript. Cyndra aims to work as a structural editor when she finishes her Masters of Editing and Publishing, but also dreams of releasing novels of their own.
Editors: Kelly Rouzbehi and Rory Hawkins