Politics bleed into the sports world in many ways but it is more and more present in modern theater. Plays and musical’s are one of the most effective ways to portray these social messages. Some plays and musicals considered the greatest of all time are based on the most pressing issues of modern times.
The best example is the 2015 smash-hit, Hamilton. Lin Manuel-Miranda’s play is about founding father Alexander Hamilton but comes with a progressive twist. The characters are played by people of color and is told in a modern hip-hop format. It tells a story based on a key era of American history and tries and relate it to todays political climate and quickly became a massive hit. Its pro-immigrant and feminist rhetoric make it very accessible to todays America and has brought it to be the hottest ticket in NYC.
Before Hamilton was the hottest ticket you saw shows like Fun Home, Kinky Boots and, Book of Mormon. Fun Home shared messages of sexual freedom and existential themes about life and spending your whole life in small town America (Pennslyvania to be specific!) and working on escaping the life you are born into to grow into your full potential. Kinky boots also preaches freedom and liberation from ideals of old. Book of Mormon is a scathing satire of the Mormon church but it also satires Disney and Broadway as a whole and brings audiences to their knees over and over again.
Going back a bit further back, plays like Avenue Q and Rent bring up questions about life in Modern day America. Cabaret is a stunning story of a decadent pre-World War II Germany, with the scary thoughts that this can happen anywhere at anytime. Cabaret is on the front lines of political musicals as it shows the transformation of Germany into the Fascist Nazi society it became.
Those are only a few musical examples and when it comes to talking about the presence of political commentary in theater, it is too limiting to talk about only musicals. One can’t finish this discussion without talking about dramatic plays. The great American playwright Arthur Miller became famous for these messages in plays like “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible”. The Crucible was a reaction to the McCarthy-Era.
It will be interesting to see if a great play emerges from the late 2010s as a reaction to our contemporary political situation. Last year’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Sweat”, touched on these ideas in this decade as a reaction to the loss of jobs and the new role of the American worker. There are famous plays about race in America from “A Raisin in the Sun” to it’s 2011 response “Clybourne Park” and August Wilson’s famous “Pittsburgh Cycle” which included the play Fences, which was recently turned into a powerful film with Denzel Washington.
I could only fit a few of the more well known examples of plays and musicals and I can’t talk in depth about each one as much as I would like, but I urge you all to go discover the world of political theater. These works can really make a significant impact on you and change your entire worldview. And they are entertaining as well. This entry doesn’t scratch the surface of the world of Theater, but these are my recommendations to get started. If you get hooked these will be good jumping off points. Plays bring some critical social issues to life. It is a powerful feeling to get lost in a world of theater.