Why Queer People Love Jack Kelly and the Newsies

Queer people love musicals. 

It might as well be a fact. With all of the glitz and glamour, it allows for freedom of expression in a way that isn’t allowed in many other places. You can be as excessive as you want – in fact, it’s even encouraged, in the name of entertainment. But what is it about Newsies and Jack Kelly that makes it a fan favorite? 

Newsies The Musical (2012) is based on the 1992 film of the same name. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and the book by Harvey Fierstein, both the film and the musical are based on the historical Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. While it premiered with Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011, the version I will be talking about today is the 2012 Broadway version, directed by Jeff Calhoun. It was opened with Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly, Kara Lindsay as Katherine Plumber, Ben Fankhauser as Davey, and John Dossett as Joseph Pulitzer.

I think the core reason for its status among modern fans – especially the LGBTQ+ population – is that Newsies calls upon a lot of experiences that queer people are familiar with. Essentially, Jack and the other newsies are (probably unintentionally) queer-coded for modern audiences. The story of disenfranchised populations fighting back against an oppressive system and getting their dues is one that never grows old. As the times change, it just finds a new audience to resonate with.

Let’s Start with the Basics: Costuming, Choreography, and Vocal Range

The costuming of the Newsies makes all of them look very NGC (non-gender conforming). They are all wearing pants, and the only main female character is wearing a dress, absolutely. But for the modern audience, pants are a gender neutral outfit choice. Additionally, short hair is also pretty  gender neutral, and it’s covered most of the time anyway. Although one newsie is shaving at the very beginning, none of them have beards. Anyone can put themselves in the position of one of the newsies, no matter how they identify. The newsies are masculine-leaning, yes, but they aren’t necessarily male, and that’s the key element. After all, in real life, there were a lot of girlsies too.

The choreography lends itself to this as well, because Newsies incorporates a lot of dance moves from stereotypically feminine dance practices. Even from the beginning of the musical, the third number “Carrying the Banner” involves leaps and twirls that we typically associate with ballet. Although songs like “Seize the Day” includes a lot of masculine militaristic marching elements, with sharp angles and loud stomping, the dance break also includes synchronized leaping and twirling, not to mention a 7-second long second turn (I counted). “King of New York” is fully in tap, chair choreo,  and a liberal number of splits. 

The vocal range is also of notice, because it’s mostly in the tenor/contralto range, which is the highest male range and the lowest female range, respectively. While it’s sung by men on stage, it’s not in the lower baritone/bass registers we typically associate with men and masculinity. A woman with a lower vocal range could easily sing these numbers. In fact, the lowest notes actually come from a song sung by Medda, a female character (an F3 in “That’s Rich”). 

These three are essential to the understanding of characters on stage, because it is how they present themselves to the audience. Through the discussion above, we have established how the newsies are NGC and that any modern viewer can relate to these characters, putting themselves in these shoes. Because the newsies are supposed to be pretty young, anyone can see themselves as a newsie. Kids are the most gender neutral group among humans, because their secondary sex characteristics haven’t kicked in. They literally haven’t developed gendered features, other than their privates. That’s not to say society hasn’t tried to gender them (they start at birth – just look at baby onesies!) but it is hard to tell the difference between a girl and a boy if you put them both in shirt and pants and cover their hair with a hat. At this point, you might ask, “Why so much emphasis on the gender neutrality of everything?”. Because media is usually super gendered, that’s why. Other than Jack, Spot, and Davey, none of the newsies are really gendered. You might say that it’s only because they’re past puberty, but none of that matters. The fact that they aren’t super gendered is the point. It’s one of the few outlets for people who maybe aren’t super sure of how they fit into society’s cishet patriarchal views. It’s the same reasoning for why main characters of large franchises tend to be super lame – the audience needs to relate, be able to see themselves as the main character, and the best way to do that is to give them nothing at all. Create a bare minimum character that has just enough characterization to lead the story where you want it to go, and voilà, a main character

The Quintessential Found Family Trope

Why do queer people love the found family trope? Easy answer, because a lot of them relate. Many queers deal with familial issues, so their friends become their family. On average, LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to become homeless, and around 20-40% of all homeless youth are members of the LGBTQ+ community.


Even the ones that aren’t homeless grapple with mental or physical abuse at home, with many choosing to stay closeted (which is still a form of mental abuse). They can only be themselves with their friends, who are allies or also queer. The concern about losing family and familial support is one that is always on the forefront of concerns for queer youth, so when the newsies mention not having parents, it’s something that they can relate to. The line “If you can find her” in “Carrying the Banner”, in addition to the indignant “who asked you?” by a whole group of newsies is put in a whole new frame of reference through the modern queer lens. They didn’t lose their mother on purpose, and perhaps their mother doesn’t want to be found. Losing your parents to something other than death is a reality for many LGBTQ+ folks, and it’s a sensitive topic to many. This reaction must feel so different as a queer youth who still wants to make their parents proud, but can’t get that approval.

Additionally, Newsies also touches on the sentiment of missing the kind of family they wish they had, the one that would care for them and accept them for who they are. After “Carrying the Banner”,  Jack has a weird reaction when Davey and Les invite him over for dinner with their family. The hesitant way that Jack says “You got folks, huh?” exposes how, as much as he puts on a tough face with everyone, he still misses that sense of stability and belonging with family. Les says “Doesn’t everyone?”, but Davey holds him back and makes him stop talking. Davey is easily one of the more dense individuals in the show, but the fact that he immediately realized he screwed up and then invites him to dinner shows how vulnerable Jack is in that moment. He says his friends are his family, but he doesn’t really see them that way, not yet. Only through the process of setting up the union and the strike does Jack really accept them as his family. You can see the moment he considers them to be more than friends, when he breaks down after the first unionizing attempt. He doesn’t want to go through with it anymore, because he knows it’s a life-or-death situation for them. The only people looking out for them is each other, and with a bunch of newsies injured and Crutchie in the Refuge, he’d rather be a little poorer than have them dead and injured. This bond forged from dealing with the same oppressive system is something any queer – or frankly any minority – friend group can relate to.

Jack Kelly: Gender AND Sexuality

It makes sense that Jack Kelly is the most popular. He’s the main character after all. However, there’s more to him. He seems very trans-coded throughout the musical. To start off, he has a dead name, something only Warden Snyder calls him. Some people really hate their name, but for trans individuals, it’s not hate – it’s more of a deep sense of unbelonging. It could be, but the common thread seems to be the feeling that that name isn’t theirs. That that isn’t who they are. There’s also how Jack does the unmanly thing (against his whole macho act) and tries to call the entire operation off for the sake of survival. It’s very reminiscent of how people will go back into the closet for work, even though they are out in their personal life, or how people will be out at school and in the closet at home. Survival is the initial goal, and then once they’ve gotten to a place of stability and independence, then they can do whatever they want. But if there are consequences, despite wanting to do whatever you want, sometimes you have to take the temporary hit. Additionally, he has this charming charisma, but it’s conveyed through this exaggerated machismo. A masculine character is confident, so confidence is masculine, so Jack is masculine. It was definitely written this way to show how his confidence is an act, that he’s actually very worried and easily shaken. However, through a modern queer lens, it can be extended to question whether his masculinity is an act. The confidence was an act, and that’s what made him seem so masculine. If the confidence is an act, what else is? It’s an easy line of logic to follow. It is also so easy to interpret Jack to be non-binary or trans. He’s masculine, yes, but he’s also sensitive. He’s an artist. He wants to hide his stereotypically feminine side. This could be seen as wanting to hide his feminine past and then him growing to realize that it is okay to still enjoy those hobbies, or growing into his feminine side to really embrace the NGC. His love interest sees that side of him, and tells him that it’s okay, that in fact, it’s wonderful. Isn’t it the dream of anyone, much less a queer individual, to hear someone say they love even the parts you think are bad?

Sexuality is a bit more complicated, because Jack has a canonical lover at the end, Katherine Pulitzer. However, there is an argument to be made for his relationship with Davey. They’ve had tons of duets since the first act, but Davey is also the first one to comfort Jack (“Watch What Happens”) after the fight, after he truly realizes the weight of what they’re about to do.  Jack and Davey are the only ones to call each other by a nickname as well, Jackie and Davey, respectively. He regains his courage, only to be shot down again after he goes to Pulitzer’s office, sees Katherine, and is simultaneously threatened and bribed by his greatest dream (Santa Fe) and worst nightmare (Crutchie dies and the rest of the boys are also thrown into the Refuge). This is in parallel with how Katherine persuades him to come back after this incident. Jack needs both of them, Davey being his other half both in his personal life and in the union, and Katherine being his actual other half. There’s also something to be said about polyamory, because Davey and Katherine also get along very well, as seen in all the banter in Act Two. In “Watch What Happens”, Katherine pats Davey as if to say “well done” after Jack is cheered up. Then, all three of them also have a trio together, right before “Once and For All”, and singing in a duet or trio is a sure sign of unity, and maybe even chemistry. This whole operation wouldn’t be possible without all three of them, so maybe it’s inevitable that people see more than friendship between Davey and Jack too, not just Katherine and Jack.

Why Does Any of This Matter?

Newsies shows how modern interpretation can create a whole new layer of meaning on a classic musical. Context is important to any media, and putting media into new context can change its core message. Newsies went from an inspirational narrative about making change as the little guy, to a hopeful success story about found family, being true to yourself, and the power of challenging the status quo. This change in message, the modern interpretation also says something about us, the audience. It shows how we’ve evolved, how we focus on different parts of the story, and how more and more people feel free to express themselves the way they feel best. We are more willing to acknowledge and discuss topics like queer-coding and the effects it has on its audience, because it’s less taboo, less dangerous. Not only does comparing the interpretations over time show how the media can change, but also how the viewers have changed, and I think that that’s what makes media analysis so much fun, but also so important. 

Forced Romance- The Undoing of Jeff Calhoun’s Newsies

Disney’s 2017 adaptation of Newsies, directed by Jeff Calhoun and starring Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly and Kara Lindsay as Katherine Pulitzer, is a charming musical showcasing the story of young newspaper sellers as they strike against the monopolist Joseph Pulitzer. Sadly, however, for all its charisma, the musical does little to break free of gendered norms, especially in its two showcase characters, Jack and Katherine.

First, let’s take a look at Jeremy Jordan’s character, Jack Kelly. Jack is the unofficial leader of the newsies, as they refer to themselves. He is universally revered and admired by his fellow newsies. You may notice, however, that no character ever explicitly expresses these feelings. Nobody ever says “gee, Jack, you’re really somethin’ huh” or “I think Jack should be our decision maker.” Most people would write this off as the writers simply wanting to get the idea of Jack being a leader across without having to directly say so. I would argue, however, that there are instances where characters get 90% of the way there anyway, but fall just short of making any direct assertion, like in the opening scene when Crutchie says “I don’t need folks. I got friends” and nudges Jack in the shoulder. How difficult would it have been for Crutchie to end that line with a “like you” or even “I’ve got you and the boys”? It’s a fine line of expression that’s very easy to step over, but too many times masculine characters (and people in general) work hard to avoid stepping over that line. 

Beyond being just a leader, Jack is like an older brother to the newsies. Within a group of young men like themselves, the two roles seem to have more similarities than differences. There’s a sort of emotional support, however, that the ‘brother’ role tends to display more often. It’s characterized by lots of good-hearted teasing and hard-shouldered affection. Jack delivers a classic big-brother staple to Crutchie in the opening scene: “Would I let you down? Huh? No way.” This is followed immediately by Jack calling down to the other newsies to wake up and get ready for work. This is a classic masculine attitude of not-wasting-a-second-on-all-that- unnecessary-emotional-mush. Comfort Crutchie, then go straight to work. No time wasted. Still, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t lean on the textbook older brother mannerisms like noogies, fake punches, and standing up for your brothers when someone knocks them down (ironically, one great example of that last point came against Oscar and Morris Delancey, actual brothers, when they shoved Crutchie and called him a cripple, instigating a swift beatdown from Jack). 

All in all, Jack Kelly is a “man’s man”. He’s tough, he’s got swagger, and, like any other male lead character in a major film/theater/television production, he is keen to, and some might argue obligated to, fall in love. We hear this critique constantly of women in lead roles, and rightfully so. But it takes two to tango, and this particular tango reeks of forced, artificial love. Jack immediately latches onto the first girl he sees, Katherine, despite the fact that she’s walking down the street arm-in-arm with another man (who we will later find out is just a colleague). In fact, he shoves Romeo (aptly named for reasons you can guess) out of the way just to get a word in with her. Here, however, the real issue begins to take shape. You could read a script of this musical and maybe, maybe see how Jack falls for Katherine, but once you watch the characters act it out,  it doesn’t seem convincing in the least. Jack never takes a moment to think “Hey, do I even like this girl?” Jeremy Jordan’s character is so caught up in being the cool guy, the king of swagger, that he never drops the act. There’s no real moment of vulnerability. His actions are based on pure instinct, because he finds her physically attractive, regardless of anything else. This is an all-too-common staple of the straight male role, and is very much in alignment with the norms regarding gender roles. He advances on Katherine instantly under the guise of selling her a paper, even offering to personally deliver it to her when it gets released. He says this last bit in a somewhat creepy/pervy way that strongly contrasts the tough-but-loving face he had entered the production with. Not long after, in Medda Larkin’s theater, he barges into Katherine’s private booth and continues to harass her despite her asking him to leave because she’s literally trying to do her job. Instead, he just sits there and draws her face and sings about her as she tries to review the show as if he’s formed any sort of mutual emotional connection with this girl. “I never planned on noone like you,” he sings. Buddy, what are you doing? Jack continues to make advances throughout the production until she finally gives way and “falls in love with him.” 

I should give Jack credit, nonetheless. He’s not a complete rough-and-tough meathead in every category. He paints backdrops for Medda Larkin’s theater sets. How cute. When Medda tries to brag about his artistic abilities, he shuts down her praises, insisting that “It’s a bunch of trees.” This is not as cute. God forbid he just let the poor woman finish her compliment and give a gracious thank you. Don’t let any of the other boys know you’re a talented artist, lest you become just microscopically less of a badass in some teenage boys’ eyes. He diminishes his one ‘soft man’ quality by refusing to acknowledge his talent and shutting anyone down that brings up the subject. Humility is one thing, but to deny the art you love is all but holding up a giant sign saying “My toxic masculinity is a more important representation of me than my passions.”

On the other side of the coin is Katherine. Compared to Jack’s overwhelming sense of confidence, Katherine never seems to feel comfortable in her own skin throughout the first act. Even as she rejects Jack the first time, making up the fake headline “Cheeky boy gets nothing for his troubles,” her voice and facial expressions still carry that hint of apprehension. It’s a decently clever comeback, so why can’t she acknowledge that? Even when she does stand up for herself in Medda’s theater and basically tells Jack to buzz off, all it takes is for him to make a sketch of her face on a newspaper for her to catch feelings. She picks up that scrap paper and her entire expression changes. Where is your resolve, Katherine? Did you forget how much of an f-boy he’s been in the two interactions you’ve had since you met him? The entire sequence reeks of the stereotypical “girl suddenly, inexplicably falls for boy” theme. She does the exact same routine in the deli after the newsies declare their strike: she walks in seeming confident, determined to get the info for the story she wants to write, but as soon as the boys tell her no, she crumbles and begs them to let her write the story. 

This leads to the infamous “Watch What Happens” number, a solo by Katherine that gives a perfect cross-section of her scatterbrained and flustered mind. Within this internal dialogue, she goes through the difficulty of writing such a topic, the backlash she may face for both writing this piece and being a woman writing it, and the weight of the issue itself. On this last point, she realizes the impact this story will have when it gets published and lets out a very girlish squeal to express her excitement. She is, up to this point, a character largely restricted by her own emotions, feeding directly into the stereotype of the woman with little constitution that will need to be ‘saved.’ Finally, she gains some traction in her writing, only to have that thought process pulled off course by the thought of Jack and “what a face” he has. Katherine is incapable of staying on track with her work because she is falling for Jack, a man who, up to this point, has been excessively flirty even when she didn’t want it, and more forward with his intentions than any civilized human being could consider ‘in good taste’ so to speak. And yet, she is a girl, and he is a boy, and despite the complete lack of chemistry and total unnecessariness of a romantic subplot in this story, the writers still force them to fall in love. This enforces societal norms of sexual orientation by implying that since the two major characters are a male and a female, they must be straight, and they must be attracted to each other, regardless of whatever outside circumstances are advancing the actual plot. 

Notice what happens to Katherine once you take Jack out of the equation, temporarily. In the opening number of Act 2, “King of New York,” she already has displayed more confidence than in the entirety of Act 1. Her and the newsies are celebrating their story making the front page, which is a beam of good news in an otherwise challenging point in the strike. She is happy and carefree in this song. The only difference? Jack isn’t there. There’s no awkward forced attraction between the two. This scene is proof that Katherine isn’t a weak or frail character at all; her interactions with Jack are the source of her awkwardness.

It isn’t long, however, before we see these two characters driven apart as Jack learns that Katherine is Pulitzer’s daughter. This leads to a moment of high tension on the rooftop where they argue back and forth, hypothetical punch threats are exchanged, and then, out of nowhere, they kiss. It’s the most inorganic, unromantic moment, though not uncommon in popular media. The fight-turned-fling scene is all too frequently used in the modern era, and is a direct consequence of the same forced romance theme we see in this production. The boy and the girl can fight all they want, but at the end of the day, love (that is, heterosexual, romantic love) wins out, and wins out quickly, as evidenced in that instant swing of emotions.

Of course, this interaction is immediately followed by a whole range of the stereotypical conversations that characterize budding relationships. Jack goes straight from the “what are we” question to the “girls like you don’t end up with guys like me” remark. At this point, the writers aren’t even making an attempt to veer this romance away from any other popular media romance. Jack’s second comment represents a thoroughly beaten-to-death story that, although on a surface level may seem ‘progressive’ by placing the woman in the more advantageous social position, is now as far from an original idea as can be and, in this case, ends up being negated anyway.

The relationship between Jack and Katherine compromises each of their individual characters’ achievements, but it is clear that it disproportionately affects Katherine’s character. All of Katherine’s hard work to be an independent woman and kickstart a successful career in journalism throughout the story is undermined by the fact that, in the end, she leans on Jack, falls in love with him inexplicably (which she admits by the way, saying that she “never saw him coming”), pledges to be by his side forever, and wraps things up as being ‘the girl the hero got’ instead of the individual hero she is. On the other hand, Jack is the hero that saves the day and gets the girl. The masculine character is framed as the winner, even though both played equal parts in reaching their desired outcome.

Newsies isn’t some backwards representation of gender roles that pushes its audience to view the characters in more conservative, traditional ways than are standard for its time. While it doesn’t help to fight stereotypes, it also doesn’t do much to advance them either. It simply feeds off of what popular media has been delivering to the general public during this period of history. It simply sits at our current spot in time, and takes in what it has been given. A casual fan will not walk away thinking “wow, that had some strong underlying sexist tones in it” just as the more critical fan will realize that it did nothing new to help fight the sexist and heterocentric biases that plague media of its time. This does not by any means suggest that it is a bad or worthless production, however. Newsies is a surprisingly pro-union story being told by a very anti-union company, Disney. There are good takeaways from it, but sadly, gender and sexuality do not make that list. One can only hope that, in the future, an updated version of Newsies will make a more conscientious effort to address these issues.

The Angel and The Deviant: Racialized Representations of Womanhood in Newsies

The virginal, well-educated white chick.

The sassy, promiscuous black woman.

Oh boy.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry while I watched these hackneyed tropes play out on the musical stage through the characters of Katherine (Plumber) Pullitzer and Medda Larkin in the 2017 Disney version of the Broadway show, Newsies, written by Harvey Fierstein. While I observed the representation of gender and sexuality amongst the only two lead females in the musical (and debated whether or not to call my therapist to work through my dismay), I couldn’t help but notice a clear intersectionality between each character’s expression of womanhood and her race. It seemed glaringly obvious to me that the intellect, substance, and purity so characteristic of Katherine’s femininity are enabled by her whiteness, and, conversely, the boldness, vulgarity, and ostentatiousness of Medda’s womanly role are spurred on by anti-black stereotypes. While both ladies’ expressions of femininity are infused with radical strength amidst a patriarchal setting, the two women assert their individual identities, degrees of personal value, and sexual positionalities in very different, very racialized ways. 

Let’s start with this doe-eyed ray of sunshine (*eye-roll*).

Katherine, played by Kara Lindsay, claims power through her witty comebacks, withholding demeanor, professional acumen, and substantive contribution to the world around her. As Jack openly pursues a romance with her, she maintains a flirty hesitance for an obnoxiously long portion of the show and responds to his efforts with snappy retorts like, “Oh somewhere out there, someone cares…Oh! Go tell them!” While these sarcastic quips in the script serve as proof that she can keep up with the smarts of the men around her (gross but true), they also establish that she has standards and therefore value. She is not a woman who will take any arm that is offered to her because she’s simply too good for that. 

In fact, she’s so good that she has substance and identity apart from her relation to male characters. Through her journalism career, Katherine has a vision attached to her intellectual abilities and a purpose removed from the era’s norms of domestication, marriage, and motherhood. While her father greedily attempts to stop the newsies in their fight for justice, she possesses a tenacious–and somewhat rebellious–belief that her story can get on the newspaper’s front page and help win the battle for fairer occupational treatment. When Jack asks her if she is following him, she responds with,  

“The only thing I’m chasing is a story.”

Amidst all of this ambition and strength, however, there seems to be a subtle commitment to keeping Katherine palatable for the audience. It’s as if lyricist Jack Fieldman and composer Alan Menkin looked at her character, thought to themselves, “She’s the white, pretty, thin one, so she’s supposed to play the charming female role; let’s make her a little more fragile so people like her,” and then created, “Watch What Happens.”

During the solo, Katherine sings, “Thousands of children, exploited, invisible, speak up, take a stand…”, adopting a nurturing, almost maternal role that allows her to settle into a more traditional frame of femininity. The lyrics, “Write what you know so they say, all I know is I don’t know what to write or the right way to write it!” reveal her waning sense of confidence, and the use of repetition hints at her ruminative thought pattern. The consistently quick tempo of the song adds in an element of rushed nervousness, and Kara Lindsay’s breathless talk-singing (interrupted periodically by her shrill vibrato) clearly indicates Katherine’s frazzled state. All of these artistic choices establish insecurity to offset Kat’s confident façade and help her serve as the Caucasian good girl everyone wants to see.

Speaking of being a “good girl,” Katherine’s sexuality–or rather, her lack thereof–consistently places her in a white light of innocence and purity. She repeatedly dodges Jack’s flirtatious advances with her characteristic, dignified restraint and responds with discomfort to communications of sensuality. For example, when she asks Jack what he wants and he responds steamily with, “Can’t you see it in my eyes?” Katherine’s shocked facial expression and stammering answer of “Yeah, okayyyy,” reveal how she is taken aback by even slight innuendos. 

However, this dismissive attitude is coupled with subtle flirtation, allowing Katherine to fit into society’s ideal of femininity: the woman who won’t give “it” up easily but wants “it” deep down. During Jack’s hokey number, “I Never Planned On You,” she gazes at him with girlish naivete and batting eyelashes, and her buried desire is further insinuated through the gasp of glee she lets out when she finds the portrait he drew of her (to be fair, I would gasp if Jeremy Jordan sketched my face, too). When the pair later engage in a heated argument, Katherine makes the bold move to kiss Jack, confirming her true passion.

Now, this could be my propensity to psychoanalyze, but I think such a gutsy act not only reveals her love but also her repressed sexuality– if it takes the emotional extreme of anger to push her toward one of the mildest forms of physical intimacy, then she is SERIOUSLY chaste…like preeminently pure.

And I think that’s what we, as the audience, are supposed to think of Katherine Pullitzer. Angelic, white Katherine Pullitzer.

Now, time for some Medda-tation (I’m sorry).

Ms. Medda Larkin, played by Aisha de Haas, asserts dominance through her gaudy presence, affinity for men and money, and excessive confidence. Her distinctive aura is perhaps best characterized through her solo number “That’s Rich” wherein she sassily taunts men from the Burlesque stage she owns. While she openly brags about her wealthy status proclaiming, “Cause, honey, there’s one thing you ain’t that I’ll always be, and honey, yeah, that’s right, that’s rich!” the wideness of her eyes, growl in her vocal tonality, and drawn-out nature of her chest vibrato make her character come across as a bit abrasive.

Jazz instruments including the saxophone, trombone, and French horn combine to create a seductive melodic backdrop for the performance, and this risqué scene classifies her as someone who (*cough*) enjoys the presence of men. In contrast to Katherine’s rejection of male attention, Medda feels very liberated to share that she’ll

“…learn to make do with the mansion, the oil well, the diamonds, the yacht, with Andy, Eduardo, the pontiff and Scott…”

In addition to categorizing her as a gold-digger, this lyric points to Medda’s lack of standards, and, consequently, establishes her as having less worth than her picky, white counterpart.

Though Fieldman and Menkin seemed to purposefully dilute Katherine’s boldness to make her more likable, certainly no one behind the scenes put forth the same effort for Medda. It’s as if they saw no possible compatibility between idealized feminine characteristics and a heavy-set black woman, so they instead embraced a narrow caricature–one of shallow identity, excessive expression, and flagrant materialism. To put it simply, they intentionally made her “a little too much.” For example, while Katherine finds her identity in her work, Medda’s personhood is driven by the empty entities of money and sex. While Katherine’s bodily comportment is consistent with timid, inward movement, Medda’s motions are aggressively expansive with outstretched arms, wide shoulders, and a dominating stance. While Katherine is dressed in conservative, simple garb that portrays her as clean and dignified, Medda’s outfits are characterized by outrageous feathers, jewels, hats, and other embellishments that mirror her personal exorbitance. All of these factors place Medda outside the realm of what is considered desirable or even acceptable.

Additionally, unlike the pure and honorable maiden discussed before, the script reduces Medda to a stereotypical Jezebel.

On top of the fact that she owns a burlesque house, innuendos serve as Medda’s main contribution to conversation, and she openly expresses her sexual promiscuity, regardless of context. Even upon meeting the esteemed figure of Teddy Roosevelt, she suggestively remarks, “Come along, Governor, and show me that backseat I’ve been hearing so much about.” When little Les is admiring the scantily-clad Bowery Beauties, she commands the person who’s shielding his view to “Step out of his way so he’s can take a better look,” encouraging lustful viewership in the young boy. This relational boldness translates to the stage where she physically embodies eroticism by swaying her hips side to side and seductively caressing her body.

Each of these examples epitomize how her way of being is, by nature, countercultural and vaguely uncomfortable.

We, as the audience, come to know Ms. Medda Larkin–bold, black Medda Larkin–as deviant. And perhaps we’re supposed to.

Kardashian photo plays off controversial black imagery
Love and Beauty – Sartjee the Hottentot Venus

So, what are we left with after all this discussion?

Still the virginal, educated white chick.

Still the sassy, promiscuous black woman.

But, we can at least rest in the assurance that we’ve viewed Newsies and its two lead female characters through a critical lens–that we’ve sorted through its harmful representations of black versus white womanhood; that we’ve illuminated the frequently-overlooked intersections of race, gender, and sexuality; and that we’ve pointed out the oppressive conventions which prejudice works so hard to keep hidden. Perhaps with this fresh awareness, our generation can create entertainment products that are just as playful, engaging, and insightful as Newsies but with fewer angels, fewer deviants, and more richly-portrayed characters of color.

Cinderella: A new decade, a new way to love you

To the reader: what is your initial reaction to this title?

Is it perhaps, “But I’m a girl, and girls don’t care why [they fall in love]…”?

Probably not – it’s a statement that sounds out of the blue. It ties gender and sexuality together in a way that sounds old-fashioned and sexist.

And yet, when Julie Andrews says it in the 1957 film Cinderella, it strangely makes sense. Unconvinced? I almost am too, typing out these words. But there’s more to a movie than its script, and there’s more to love than a single emotion.

Here, we’ll be analyzing how Cinderella and Prince Christopher’s romance unfolds in two different televised musicals: the 1957 original production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (which I’ll refer to as the 50’s production), and its 1997 television remake, directed by Robert Iscove for Walt Disney Television (which I’ll refer to as the 90’s production). In particular, we’ll be analyzing the couple’s actions before, during, and after the famous song “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful”. First, we’ll explore the 50’s production for its idealistic yet old-fashioned fairy tale romance, and then focus on how Disney tries to put a more realistic twist in their 90’s production. Through scrutinizing the details in this song, we’ll find that the nuances of love change every decade; even within the same fairy tale, we can get drastically different relationships. And while both iterations might seem antiquated for a contemporary viewer, it’s important to consider how the norms surrounding gender and love have evolved over the years, and how they can still change for the better today.

1955: The Perfect Couple of Your Dreams

Let’s rewind back to Julie Andrews, playing the flustered and enamored Cinderella, finally meeting the prince of her dreams:

The night is nothing but perfect – prior to their lovers’ duet, the handsome Prince Christopher (played by Jon Cypher) has already confessed his love to her. They’ve even passionately kissed, despite the fact that they’re practically strangers. Now Cinderella is wondering if this is all a dream – after all, it seems too good to be true. It is in this dazed state that she utters those old-fashioned lines:

Christopher: “Are you [in love]?”
Cinderella: “Oh yes.”
Christopher: “And do you know why?”
Cinderella: “Oh no. But I’m a girl, and girls don’t care why.”

Cinderella (1955)

Cinderella’s lines make sense because this is a fantastical romance of the 50’s. She is the stereotypical ingénue – the innocent woman looking for true love, the model woman of conservative 1950’s America. Within minutes at the ball, she has found the man of her dreams. She doesn’t need to care why this love happened because this is her character’s destiny. When Cinderella wonders when she’ll wake up from this fantasy, she is already entrenched in the sheer magic of this romance. Her voice is angelic, her eyes are faraway and dreamy (note how the two actors almost never look at each other). She sings, “Am I making believe I see in you / A man too perfect to / Be really true”, a direct reflection of her thoughts. And long before the pair start singing, the string orchestra plays the idyllic chords of the melody. If the song cues in the fantasy of a musical, the fairy tale has already begun.

On the other side of this romance is Prince Christopher, equally the 1950’s stereotype as a masculine and handsome man. He too, is entrenched in this fantasy, bestowing flowery praises upon Cinderella. Indeed, “Why is the color of your hair the only color a girl’s hair should be?” is a statement that sounds absurd out of context, and yet within this narrative of true love, Cinderella really is the only girl for him. Where Cinderella is daydreaming however, the prince is direct and assertive. He follows up her flustered words with the bold affirmation, “I always want to know why I do anything! Why I feel anything!” Throughout the scene, he guides her through this relationship, initiating both the confession and intimacy.

The 1955 movie idealizes this couple as a pair of fantasy characters finding true love. The song lyrics serve to emphasis this fairy tale for what it is: something extraordinary and magical. The two ideal characters find their ideal relationship in mere moments, perfectly reflecting the gender stereotypes of the 50’s.

1997: Realism in a Fantastical Romance

More than 40 years later, director Robert Iscove and choreographer Rob Marshall would take a different approach to this relationship. Note that the premise and the song lyrics are almost identical: Cinderella and the Prince take a break from the ball. Their first dance is just as electric and romantic as the 1950’s, but that’s where the similarities end:

Instead of immediately going into a passionate kiss, the scene begins with Prince Christopher apologizing for what he perceives are his parents heckling Cinderella. The conversation then turns to Cinderella’s unpleasant relationship with her family, the Prince’s distaste of the ball, and the two going back and forth about an ideal bride. This is nothing like the dreamy conversation of Andrews and Cypher – they’re closer to conversation topics that you or I could talk about.

We also see that Brandy’s portrayal of Cinderella is very different than Julie Andrews’ performance. Where Andrews’ Cinderella was angelic and passive, Cinderella is more assertive, yet also more hesitant. When the Prince starts to tell her about his wish, she advises him (from personal experience):

Cinderella: “You know the trouble with most people is that they sit around wishing for something to happen instead of just doing something about it.”

Cinderella (1997)

Cinderella is pushing the Prince to be more active in fulfilling his desires. Yet at the same time, she is nervous about being at the ball at all, worrying moments ago that her past and family make her an outcast in this luxurious ball. It is no longer just a perfect fantasy for Cinderella, but a wonderful moment highlighted in the context of her normal life.

The Prince (portrayed by Paolo Montalbán) is also a vastly different character – a man conflicted between the duties of the royal throne and his desire for true love. And when he does find the person who can fulfill both, he is elated and nervous. When trying to explain his feelings to Cinderella, he rambles awkwardly, in stark contrast to the confidence seen in his 1950’s incarnation. Prince Christopher is again the one to initiate the song, but the choreography starts him off kneeling in front of Cinderella. This height dynamic also differs from the 50’s production, where the Prince stands powerfully over Cinderella the whole time.

The new composition and choreography deserve to be emphasized here. Alongside the new height dynamics, there is more movement from Cinderella and Prince Christopher. They sit and stand, walk around the courtyard, embrace, and separate throughout the sequence. There is more agency in the choreography of the characters. When Cinderella leaves the Prince’s side for a moment, singing the lyrics “Am I making believe I see in you / A man too perfect to / Be really true”, it reflects her actual doubt about the situation. Unlike the 50’s Cinderella, who sees this as a perfect fantasy, Brandy’s Cinderella has to actively contend with the reality of her background interfering with this ideal escape. When she resolves this doubt by immersing herself in her love of the Prince, the two come back and share a passionate kiss (which realistically happens after getting to know each other a little more). The 90’s production repeats the climax of the song; the repetition by the actors affirms their union after their initial hesitance. And after Cinderella runs off into the night, the two sing the climax one more time, illustrating how the characters themselves are connected even though the “magic” of the ball is now over.

This iteration of Cinderella and Prince Christopher is more human than before – their character conflicts and personalities come into play throughout the song. It is no longer a perfect romance between perfect characters, but a seemingly perfect romance amidst the colorful reality of two vastly different people. The backdrop is now the 90’s, marked by third-wave feminism and increasing diversity and globalization. By incorporating more motion and character dynamics into the song, Iscove and Marshall paint a different and more realistic picture of the fairy tale couple.

2021: So What is Love, Really?

And now we arrive in 2021, where relationship dynamics have again changed. To the 21st century viewer, the story of Cinderella may permanently be associated with old-fashioned, sexist stereotypes about gender and love. In every rendition, Cinderella is a beautiful, kind girl that finds happiness through the man of her dreams. To some, that may mark this story as nothing but a stagnant fairy tale, which can never be progressive due to the constraints of its fundamental story.

And yet we have seen how this relationship has been shaped into new dynamics over time, even within the context of the same musical and song. With the 1955 musical, we saw the idealized fantasy of the 50’s in full force, the dreamy couple singing of perfect love. In 1997, we saw a more humanized rendition, where the titular question is more one of doubt and excitement, and the love blooms within deeper character conflicts. Indeed, the story of Cinderella is by nature antiquated. But it’s equally a product of a popular culture that shifts with the times. For every decade and new audience, Cinderella represents a different version of love – one that reflects both the story’s roots and its audience.

So to the reader, I end with a parting question: What does the love of the 2020’s look like? And how will the story of Cinderella rise to answer that question?

Don’t be Gay in Indiana (or as a Straight Man)

I first watched Netflix’s The Prom during winter break of last year, right around when the movie first released for streaming. I remember inviting one of my friends over to my Blakemore dorm (we both stayed on campus over winter break) one night to watch it, as I had wanted to see the stage show on Broadway before COVID happened and we’re both gay. We played it from her old MacBook while sitting on a soft, fleece blanket spready out on the floor, and I vividly remember us having a blast with the movie’s enthralling set design, energetic choreography, catchy musical numbers, and just the fact that it was a cheesy, feel-good teen flick.

However, not even I with my shameless love of tasteless teenage films can look past the movie’s idealistic and poor depiction of the LGBTQ+ community and their struggles. None of the movie’s flashiness can’t make up for its lack of depth and nuance with regards to two of its primary queer characters, Emma Nolan and Barry Glickman.

Starting off with the lesser of the two evils, Emma Nolan isn’t actually the worst depiction of a lesbian teenager possible, it’s just a horribly idealistic one, largely due to Jo Ellen Pellman’s portrayal of the character. Emma’s introductory number “Just Breathe,” establishes her as a severe optimist, and this is hammered in through Pellman’s constant grin. No matter how sarcastic I was about being gay in Indiana, I would not be smiling if I just got verbally berated in a crowded school hallway. Pellman’s smile undermines the horrific nature of the homophobia she just experienced and makes it hard to relate or understand her pain since it seems like she’s not even feeling any pain at all. Especially since she is the only out lesbian in the entire school, I have a hard time believing she is taking her situation this well and with that big of a smile. It doesn’t help that principal Tom Hawkins supports Emma, which seems rather unrealistic for a highly conservative high school in small-town Indiana. Had absolutely no one been on Emma’s side, we would have seen a whole new dimension to the daily struggles LGBTQ+ people face that The Prom completely skips over.

Another instance of Pellman’s questionable acting is right before and during the number “Alyssa Greene.” Yet again, Pellman maintains a smile as she confronts Ariana DeBose’s Alyssa Greene. It’s hard to believe that Emma is actually mad at Alyssa when her face does not match the words coming out of her mouth, and it is even less believable when she grins while walking with Alyssa during the musical number as if they didn’t just have an intense argument. Here, Pellman’s and Debose’s great chemistry work against each other as Alyssa’s pain is simply not reciprocated by Emma, and even when Emma breaks up with Alyssa I don’t believe that Emma actually wants to break up with her. The smile Pellman maintains while saying “it hurts too much” does not show at all that Emma is hurting, but quite the opposite. This overly positive portrayal of a traumatized teenage lesbian doesn’t provide a platform for real life gay teenagers to relate to because most kids aren’t optimistic about the trauma they face, and they need representation that shows them that it is okay to feel depressed, angry, and even unforgiving.

While I don’t think Pellman’s portrayal of Emma is particularly relatable or realistic, there still is a certain charm to Emma’s hopeful optimism that might work better if it wasn’t in a story that wants to talk about the trauma of the LGBTQ+ community particularly in young adults. On the other hand, James Corden’s Barry Glickman is straight up insulting to the LGBTQ+ community and even less relatable.

The root of the problem with Barry’s character is that he is played by James Corden, a straight man. Corden cannot properly portray a gay character because he cannot understand what it is like to be gay in a straight-dominated world. It feels almost mocking to have a straight man play an overly flamboyant gay man as it plays into the stereotypes that straight men have typically used to oppress gay men. For example, Corden’s exaggerated arm movements and sassy gait feels very forced in the opening number “Changing Lives” especially when compared to Andrew Rannell’s Trent Oliver, someone whose sexuality is never explicitly stated yet played is by an actual gay man, who is much milder yet still sassy and dramatic in a natural. Barry’s suit is even a dazzling and sparkling teal blue, adding to his aggressive flamboyance, compared to Trent’s monochromatic red.

Another scene I take issue with is the shopping scene in “Tonight Belongs to You,” where Barry takes Emma to the mall to get a makeover for the prom. This scene pushes more harmful stereotypes that are perpetuated by the fact that Corden is a straight man singing these words. The lyric “you can borrow all my makeup” reinforces two gay stereotypes, in that gay men are into makeup and lesbians aren’t to be more “masculine.” This coupled with Corden’s overly affectionate and exaggerated acting create a character that doesn’t seem realistic and only serves to perpetuate stereotypes. This scene in general implies that a gay man is better at dressing someone of a different gender simply because they are more feminine despite not being able to completely understand a woman’s experience (just like how a straight man cannot completely understand a gay man’s experience!). Hearing Barry call himself “Miss Glickman” is also particularly uncomfortable because when said by a straight man, it again plays into the stereotype that one’s sexuality makes them an expert on genders that aren’t their own. It is absolutely possible for gay men in real life to fall into these stereotypes, but in real life James Corden is not a gay man, and watching him act this way only pushes straight-male dominance.

Beyond Corden’s portrayal of Barry, I take issue with the way Barry’s main plot line of his parents not accepting him resolves. Barry’s mother surprises Barry in the school hallway. While Barry is hesitant at first, his mother is quick to admit her wrongdoings and they make up. Unfortunately, not every gay person gets to reconcile with their homophobic parents. In fact, it could have easily been a very dangerous situation for Barry to meet up with his mother in case she hadn’t changed, which many parents never do. Though an incredibly heartwarming scene, this feeds into the glittery optimism that underlies the movie, and while I love cheese and happy endings, wrapping everything up in a neatly tied bow doesn’t work with how serious of a story and subject matter the movie is trying to tell.

When the entire film is full of messy plot lines that get resolved too quickly and too cleanly, it’s hard to view the individual struggles the queer characters face as realistic. The struggles these characters face only end up grazing the surface of the trauma LGBTQ+ individuals in the real world face and get resolved by sparkling glitter and spectacular dance numbers, which no matter how well-intentioned will never reach the heart of traumatized queer folk to relate to.

Katherine Plumber: Feminist Icon for the Patriarchy

The 2017 recording of Disney’s stage production of Newsies tells the story of a young and plucky trail-blazer that risks it all to make history: Katherine Plumber. Of course, Katherine’s story is a part of the larger telling of the newsboy strike of 1899, led by Jack Kelly. While Katherine and her writing talents are essential to a successful strike, this is not her character’s only purpose. She also fulfills the oh, so necessary role of Jack’s love interest. Interestingly Katherine Plumber is not a character in the original 1992 film of Newsies. In adapting the story for the stage, Harvey Fierstein replaces Bryan Denton and Sarah Jacobs with our leading lady.  

Bryan Denton, reporter for The Sun (Newsies, 1992)

Sarah Jacobs, sister to David and Les & Jack’s love interest (Newsies, 1992)

In the musical, the importance of Katherine’s role as a reporter is obvious. Her publication of the original strike story in act 1 and her idea to write The Newsies Banner in act 2 gives the strike the public attention needed to make change. Therefore, Fierstein needed to include a reporter character that is willing to help the newsies. This begs the question: why make this character a woman? Katherine’s agency, showcased through the newly added number of “Watch What Happens”, provides the argument that making the reporter character a woman creates a rarity for the Broadway stage: a female character that has an important part to play in the plot of the story. As a feminist and female performer, I desperately want this narrative to be true, and it is to a certain extent. However, why does Fierstein also have to make Katherine Jack’s love interest? Fierstein includes Katherine’s relationship with Jack to confirm his masculinity, emphasizing Jack as the main character.

Katherine first shows her agency in the dialog break between “The World Will Know” and “The World Will Know” (reprise). When Jack jokingly asks if she is there for him she replies, “The only thing I’m following is a story.” This line asserts that Katherine is, first and foremost, a reporter. Kara Lindsay’s excitement when the reprise begins confirms that Katherine is after the story, not Jack. Her facial expressions and body language show that Katherine is excited for her big break, and this acting leads right into “Watch What Happens.” Throughout this number, Katherine goes against the norm of a female lead. This “I want” song is about her career aspirations, not about the boy, as many leading lady’s “I want” songs are. The staging of this song further supports the idea that Katherine is not your typical female character. Throughout the song, Lindsay uses space. She moves across the entire stage and fills the space with big arm movements and a spread stance. Compare this to Julie Andrews performance of “In My Own Little Corner” in the 1957 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Julie Andrews conveys that she is a good girl, mild and meek, through her small movements and confinement. 

Katherine claims her space in “Watch What Happens”

Writers Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and choreographer Christopher Gattelli further show that Katherine’s agency is crucial to and accepted by the newsies in “King of New York”.

“She’s the king of New York.”

-Race, “King of New York”

The newsies sing, “We was sunk, pale and pitiful / … / She fished us out and drowned us in ink.” They could not have accomplished what they have at this point without Katherine’s help, showing that Katherine has the power to direct the story. Furthermore, Gattelli’s choreography shows that she has even more agency than the newsies; she is able to do things that they cannot. When the newsies have Katherine take the spotlight in the tap number, she includes displays of flexibility that leave the newsies in awe. 

Race is shocked by Katherine’s abilities

Katherine has the means to make a difference, even without the help of her powerful father. She has the intrinsic motivation to write the story on the strike; as she sings in “Watch What Happens”, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.” She has the ability to make the story successful; her story makes the front page “above the fold”. There is no need for her to solidify her place in the show through her romance with Jack. This nonsense is evident in the discrepancy between Katherine’s and Jack’s ages. The crux of this story is that Jack and the other newsies are children. The show promotes the message that newsies and the other child workers should be allowed to be kids, not to be disrespected as laborers. 

“Each generation must, at the height of its power, step aside and invite the young to share the day.”

– Governor Roosevelt

Therefore, one has to assume that Katherine, the working girl that comes up with the idea to expand the strike to all child workers, cannot be a child herself. A relationship between a boy and a woman in a show that emphasizes children’s rights uncomfortably forces this love story onto the audience. In the 1992 movie, Jack’s fling with Sarah is much easier to accept because she is also a child. So what is so important about this relationship that Fierstein needs to provide Jack with a love interest, even if she is illogically older than him? The romance is not included because Katherine needs Jack (or even because she loves Jack) but because Jack needs Katherine.

Jack’s power as the leader of the newsies comes from his masculinity. As Pulitzer says, Jack is “Mr. Tough Guy”. However, analysis of Jack’s character shows that he is not this perfect display of masculinity that the other newsies see. He dreams of running away to Santa Fe so he can trade working for having a family with whom he can have lazy Sundays. He has an aptitude for painting and pursues art as a hobby, not as a means of income. He puts himself at risk to feed and cloth the boys at the Refuge. However, the newsies need to see Jack as their fearless leader. Therefore, scenes where Jack seems to lose his masculine power are followed by scenes where Katherine is solely operating as a love interest. After Jack laments about running away to Santa Fe in the Prologue, Katherine makes her first appearance as Jack offers to deliver her a paper, personally.

When Miss Medda reveals Jack’s artistic talents, Jack runs into Katherine again and sings “I Never Planned on You”.  Jack betrays the newsies and accepts Pulitzer’s bribe and Katherine and Jack kiss.

These scenes focusing on Katherine as an object of Jack’s affection reassert Jack’s masculine power. They set Jack up for his displays of leadership. Meeting Katherine establishes his role as the leader. Seeing her at the Bowery sets him up for “The World Will Know”, where Gattelli showcases Jack’s masculinity with hard and tense choreography. Jack’s kiss with Katherine propels him into “Once and for All” and through the resolution.

Jack needs Katherine to connect the contrasting elements of his character, but this development comes at Katherine’s expense. Katherine sacrifices her own agency so that Jack can fulfill his potential. While Katherine has the ability to drive the plot, she still has to be an object of male affection so that Jack can claim his power. This shift in Katherine’s position is shown in the rhetoric in the final scene. Miss Medda brings Katherine to the Governor. Jack has Katherine as an ace up his sleeve. Katherine is a feminist character, but in the most palatable way.

She has agency, goals, and a career, but at the end of the day, a man benefits from her success more than she does. 

The Prom: Where Realness Was Lost From A Real Story

Having graduated from a conservative Christian high school in the Midwest just a few years ago myself, I’ll admit that I felt good watching The Prom, the musical film on Netflix, where the Hollywood stars flinched at the fact of Applebee’s being the nicest restaurant in town (which, in my case, was also true if counting within 30-minute drive distance).

Available on Netflix in December 2020 and having been adapted from a 2018 Broadway musical of the same name, the story of the Prom starts on Broadway, where four not-young-anymore yet unavailing Broadway stars get together and decide to do something to gild themselves and their career – activism that is. Through Twitter they discover that a girl called Emma in Edgewater, Indiana was banned to attend prom just because her date was a girl, so the Broadway stars set out to rescue the girl and the insensible citizens of Edgewater.

The four Broadway stars in The Prom. From left: Trent Oliver(Rannell), Dee Dee Allen(Streep), Barry Glickman(Corden), Angie Dickinson(Kidman)

It just so happens that, I also know a guy from my high school who was almost kicked out after the school found out that he was gay, and at the same time, he was a talented singer. Therefore I could not restrain myself from substituting him into Emma’s position, and this is when problems arise.

The chapel of my high school in which students were given a 20-minute service everyday(I am not Christian by the way.)

There are some apparent cultural issues with the Prom (By the way, this Indiana resident complaining about the mall set in the movie being too luxurious for Indiana had me laughing out loud). For example, putting the Christian faith as the main motive of the homophobic antagonists (Edgewater citizens) does not put forward a practical activist message, and surely will not move anyone in my high school (if they could actually make it to the end of the movie which I doubt). The ending, where the leading homophobic, the PTA president Mrs.Greene, accepts her daughter, Alyssa, and Emma being together because she loves her daughter, is where even I was caught off guard. P.S. The villain’s daughter falling in love with the protagonist, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Not only because people usually do not change their religious beliefs suddenly in real life, the surprise I experienced was also evidence of shortcomings in character shaping in this movie.

Alyssa Greene and her “control freak” mother

Since this movie and the original musical was adapted from a true story, I looked it up, just to discover that I am more drawn to the real-life version than the adaption. Although starting way behind, we are seeing less gender stereotypes and more attention on different sexualities in musicals this several years. One problem to do this in, especially, Broadway musicals is that audiences and especially the producers are used to all the glitz and laughter they associate with music theater, and so they believe that The Prom has to be another one of those Broadway musicals. As a fan of movies that discuss serious issues, I understand that the four Broadway stars were there for comedic effect, and I have no problem of with serious story being told in a more manageable manner, but the issue comes when the subplots of the Broadway stars is overshadowing the true main characters of the story, Emma and her girlfriend. The story of Dee Dee learning to act for others’ benefit is a good one, and Streep did it very well, but that plot could become another musical instead of occupying the limited time we have for Emma’s encounters and thoughts.

Constance McMillen, whose story the Prom was based on

Emma is played by Jo Ellen Pellman, who was competent to be the main character though it may not appear so with all the starry casts around her. The character is based on the real-life Emma, Constance McMillen, who was rejected from bringing her girlfriend to prom in 2010. Instead of the Broadway stars, the person who persuaded McMillen to stand up for herself in real life is her mom, also a lesbian. The intrapersonal interactions we see of Emma in the movie is mostly with the Broadway stars, and a small portion being with her girlfriend, Alyssa. A good way to portray a character is to make their experience relatable, and hanging out with Broadway stars is just not one of those.

As said before, I wonder what the story would be like if the adaption focuses on the real story, such as the relationship between McMillan and her parents. More specifically, how McMillan was mostly raised by her dad, learned that her mom was a lesbian at the age of ten, discovered that she was also a lesbian, and was encouraged by her mom to fight against the discrimination she faced. The idea of accepting your parents as they are, accepting yourself as you are, and accepting your children as they are, I believe, will be able to put forward a more intimate story about sexuality and identity than the glittery stale popcorn we end up with, and will be able to make more audience sympathize with Emma whether they are in it for same-sex relationships or not.

The parent-teacher association in both the movie and real life organized a secret second prom which everyone in the school except for Emma knew. The almost first thing she did after finding it out in the movie, was to go meet with her girlfriend Alyssa, who sings her “I am” solo; They hold hand, and Emma broke up with her. No I did not see that one coming either. Maybe the book writers think it was a good idea to break up with their girlfriend right after she is deceived by her friends and her mother just because she made you feel embarrassed. This leads us into another major flaw in the Prom’s character design – Alyssa.

Emma(Pellman) and Alyssa(Debose)

The fault with Alyssa is not at Ariana Debose who played her and I personally think Debose did a really great job as I could feel Alyssa’s emotions from her facial expressions. Rather what went wrong is that, as the bridge between Emma and the “liberals”(also no idea why they had to be this unnecessarily political), and the conservative Midwest, you would think Alyssa has an important role in the movie. But no, she is the substitute of the old-style I-sit-here-and-do-nothing heroine waiting for Emma the hero to act. One trend we often see in queer literature is that the traditional unequal relationship remains, except that instead of boy saves girl now we also have boy saves boy and girl saves girl(couldn’t think of a girl saves boy example from the top of my head). It is not hard to make Alyssa not the daydreaming princess – she should be longing to go to the prom too! Having her by Emma’s side when she is going through all of this will not only make Alyssa Greene a fuller character, but also without leaving me wondering if the two actually likes each other.

The movie The Prom tries to create a positive message and some entertainment for its audience, but it turns out that the positivity pulls us away from the no-joke real-world issues it is aiming at, and the entertainment distracts us from getting to know the main characters enough to empathize with them. It is ironic that the gilding(glitz and stars) of this movie is exactly what the Broadway star in it were trying to do. Although musicals on gender and sexuality issues is a fairly new field, that does not mean there is no movies and plays (or, guess what, real personal stories) to learn from, and as a 2020 movie the Prom could have done better on reflecting the real world the same time as entertaining through its book and character design.

Why Would a Man Even Want a Frothy Little Bubble Anyways?

By: Andrea Dorantes

I’ll be honest.

After watching Amazon Prime’s cringe inducing girlboss Cinderella a few weeks ago, I was dreading watching what I worried would be another icky attempt to wokeify a shamelessly simple story. After all, Brandy’s performance in the 1997 made-for-TV version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella must have walked so Camilla Cabello’s could run, right? Surprisingly, not really.

Camilla Cabello brought us a rendition so quirky (she’s not like other girls, she’s a girlboss!) that it makes Brandy’s “frothy little bubble” rendition feels even more antiquated. Especially when held up to her counterparts, the “ugly” stepsisters, Brandy’s soft and lovely performance of a girl contentedly trapped by circumstance reflects the way Cinderella exaggerates what it means to be a desirable young woman.

The stepsisters, here portrayed by Natalie Desselle (Minerva) and Veanne Cox (Calliope), and Cinderella are clear cut examples of two classic musical theatre tropes: the scene stealers and the ingenue. The ingenue is the dream girl. She is kind and naïve, virginal but a little sexy, not stupid but not too smart for her own good. She sings in a sweet and lilting soprano so clear it might even symbolize her own purity. Meanwhile, existing on an alternate plane of femininity, is the scene stealer. She is brash and loud, raucous and funny. A little witty, sometimes bawdy. She delivers the over-the-top performance of a lifetime, and even if she has real goals, we laugh to think that someone like her could ever achieve them. When Cinderella expresses a faraway dream of marrying the prince, we believe her. When the stepsisters express the same desire, we roll our eyes and laugh. Why?

The answer appears simple enough. Someone (men, perhaps?) created the formula for a perfect woman that resembles our sweet ingenue. Maybe this version of a woman is attractive because she seems the perfect amount of submissive for wifehood, or maybe because she is more of an accessory than an independent being. Regardless, it excludes any woman who has ever had a complex thought or sung even a note as a mezzo soprano (let alone as a brassy alto). So where does this gatekeeping of femininity leave our stepsisters?

All you have to do is watch the way all three women move throughout their spaces. Brandy’s Cinderella almost floats, serenely smiling and breezing through even the crowded village streets. Stumbling in her wake come Cox and Desselle’s Stepsisters. They trip over each other, bumbling around, comically falling and smiling so exaggeratedly it resembles a painful grimace. Even Cinderella’s effortless wooing of Prince Christopher (Rupert Windemere Vladimir Karl Alexander François Reginald Lancelot Herman Gregory James) is held in stark contrast to Calliope’s “infectious” laugh and Minerva’s frenetic eyelash batting.

If the character choices aren’t enough, the audience is told exactly which slot to fit these women into through each word and note written for their music, most clearly in the contrasting “In My Own Little Corner” and “The Stepsisters’ Lament”. These two “I Want” songs are describing similar goals: both parties desire to step outside of their situation and be swept away by a handsome prince.

“In My Own Little Corner” gently plunks in ebbing and flowing orchestral swells to match moments of Cinderella daring to dream and gingerly retreating to the safety of familiarity. The music matches her delivery. She is airily fantasizing about adventures she is aware she never will have, all while contentedly characterizing herself as “mild”, “meek” and obedient. Even Robert Iscove’s staging of this performance contributes to the tease. Brandy longingly gazes out the window, but not too long to make you think she might actually do something to leave. Just like before, the ideal woman gives you a hint of a spark, but not too much that it burns out of control.

Meanwhile, “The Stepsisters’ Lament” interrupts the lovely waltz from “Ten Minutes Ago”, bursting into life with jaunty trumpets and a much faster tempo. The introductory ascending glissando tells the viewer that this is going to be silly and fun. The Stepsisters sing in a nasally pitch and full-throated short spurts. Cinderella would never belt, but the Stepsisters do to express their frustration and anger (emotions the ideal woman would never feel, let alone display). They are boiling over with jealousy at their own shortcomings in the eyes of the prince, and it all spills out into this number. Just like “In My Own Little Corner”, the staging contributes to the clumsiness of the “ugly” girls. They literally interrupt the beauty of Cinderella and Prince Christopher’s moment, spying and fighting uncoordinatedly until they end up soaked in the courtyard’s fountain, sputtering and indignant.

Now, I know it is unusual to consider the Stepsisters’ feelings. I mean, they are villains at worst and henchmen (henchwomen?) at best. Sure, that characterization contributes to their portrayal. But that’s the whole point. Strong, bold, and combative women don’t make great romantic leads when the requirement for a romantic lead is to allow yourself to be loved on a man’s terms. Women around the world watch Cinderella and leave with an unrealistic expectation of what makes a perfect woman. Walt Disney Television’s 1997 Cinderella, while groundbreaking in its own right, didn’t do much to challenge this expectation. For little girls like me, who preferred basketball shorts to glass slippers, belting to lilting, and experienced several big emotions on the daily, the “ugly” stepsisters seemed like far more relatable women. It’s a shame they aren’t given more to do than stew about being “usual” and therefore undesirable. I guess that’s a problem to tackle with the next remake! Just keep Camilla Cabello far away from it.

Folks, we finally got a headline: Women only exist to serve Men

You heard that right: all two female characters (with more than a few lines) in the 2017 live recording of Disney’s NEWSIES aren’t allowed to have interests or personality traits unless those aspects benefit the male protagonist.

By Nicole Anderson

The two characters I’ll be examining will be Katherine (Plummer) Pulitzer and Medda Larkin. While they both seem to be written as strong and independent women, you don’t have to look too hard to see the dependence the male characters’ storylines have to the traits they’ve been assigned.

First, Katherine. She is the first female character seen on stage in this musical and by far the most relevant throughout the story. You would think that would be a good thing, as there is more content to work with and more opportunities to develop as a character, but as it turns out, everything about her serves a purpose for the protagonist, Jack Kelly. With the help of the playwright Harvey Fierstein and lyricist Jack Feldmen, the plot and musical numbers pair together to perpetuate the notion that Katherines entire existence was created to advance Jack’s plot.

I’ll set the scene: a beautiful unnamed female enters stage right and walks past our handsome hero. He hits on her to no avail, and that’s the end of it, right? Unfortunately, no. It’s a broadway show! There’s gotta be a half baked romantic plot line for the cocky main character!

This takes place in the form of Katherine, an aspiring reporter. Right off the bat as he attempts to advance on her, she claims to not be in the habit of talking to strangers. His retort? “Well then you’re gonna make a lousy reporter.” Sadly, he’s got a point. Her being a reporter effectively opens the door for continued interaction between the two of them. This relationship will go on to fuel several actions for him later on.

“I’m a blowhard. Davey is the brains.”

-Jack Kelly

This quote is spoken from Jack to Katherine after the initial interview she does with the newsboys in regards to the strike. A recurring theme of the female characters is that they are everything that Jack is not. Jack is not the brains behind the strike, Davey handles that, so plot-wise he needs someone to be the brains behind the media and raising awareness.

Being female is also essential to her character because a male reporter at the time would never have to dig this hard to be able to report on “real news.” Her solo song, “Watch What Happens,” is prefaced with Jack saying, “Write it good. We both got a lot riding on this.” Jacks quote perfectly captures her necessity to him: without her being who she is, this strike potentially falls through.

It wasn’t good enough for her to just be a reporter, so they wrote her character in a way that gives her no choice but to write about their situation. Here’s a short list of reasons she has no choice but to write about the strike:

  • She is trying to depart from the social pages, a subject area she’s been stuck in for awhile.
  • She is desperate for a big scoop.
  • She has moral obligations to the newsboys and other kids working jobs around NYC.
  • She sees potential for a raise and a promotion if she takes this story.

“But all I know is nothing happens if you just give in. It can’t be any worse than how it’s been, and it just so happens that we just might win. So, whatever happens, let’s begin.”

-Katherine (Plummer) Pulitzer, “Watch What Happens”

Not only is she talking about the situation that the newsboys are in, whether it was meant to be interpreted this way or not, she is also describing her career. She has literally nothing to lose; nowhere to go but up. Everything about her ensures that this will get written about with no questions asked.

In terms of the plot, she’s after this big scoop, but only because it helps the male characters cause. It isn’t her own independent dream. The NEWSIES success is reliant on her.

Don’t believe me? Have a listen to the song “King of New York”.

When you do, take special notice to how Katherine does not sing the line, “I was a star for one whole minute” and how the newsies sing about how much she helped them. This further emphasizes how it moves the male characters plots along but not necessarily her own.

Additionally, she is Pulitzer’s daughter. There is, of course, the obvious pull to write this in: it’s more dramatic for Jack’s character when he realizes his enemy is his quasi-girlfriend’s daughter and will advance his story-lines. But, also answers the question brought up about her in regards to why she hangs around The World so much when she works for The Sun (aka how she was able to interview the newsies in the first place).

It gets worse.

As Pulitzer does his classic evil guy monologue explaining how he’s ten steps ahead of Jack and gives a little more insight to Katherine’s background, he reveals why she doesn’t work for him. He says it’s because she wanted to earn what she was given, but again, from the plot’s perspective it’s really so that her character has the liberty to write about the strike; a liberty she wouldn’t have if she worked for her father. So while on the surface it looks like she is taking initiative in her life, that decision more serves the purpose of being able to get the strike more media attention.

With such large numbers of supporters, supplied by the news, the strike becomes too big to ignore. It is no surprise when the newsboys reel in victory.


Her first introduction is her allowing Jack and the boys to stay in her theater, sheltering them from the cops. From the get-go, her only purpose has been to help the men of the story. One could say that she is a business owner and a strong female character, but the sad truth is that just like Katherine, the only aspects of her character that we are told about directly benefit Jack.

Her theater is used for three things only:

  • Sheltering Jack from the cops.
  • Her show (which really only happens so Jack has more opportunities to talk to Katherine).
  • Housing the massive rally at the end of the musical (which ultimately ends with them winning the strike) .

Notice how all its’ uses help Jack?

“There’s one thing you’re not, that I’ll always be and baby that’s rich.”

Medda Larkin, “That’s Rich”

Again, we run into the realization that just like Katherine, Medda is something Jack is not: rich. She has money.

She’s exactly what Jack needs in order to succeed.

If it wasn’t enough for her to own a theater and shelter him from the cops, she also pays him for his art, and in her own words gives him, “a little something extra, just account’a I’m gonna miss you so”. Being rich is the opposite of what Jack is, making it necessary to his success for her to be just that that. Also, I’d like to mention that if it were stated that she had major investments or was trying to buy something expensive, I wouldn’t even mind that much that she’s only shown using her wealth to help the boys. However, the only thing she even mentions using her money for is to pay off the theater (helpful for Jack) and paying Jack for his art (obviously very helpful for Jack).

The first time we meet Medda she also mentions that she knows the governor. That’s cool! That definitely was not only written so that the newsboys can exploit Medda’s relationship with him to finally win the strike in the end!

oh wait…

Of course it was. Is Jack socially powerful? Yeah, maybe for the boys his age that sell papes, but overall in their society? No. Is Medda? Yes. In classic fashion, Medda has pull with high society because Jack doesn’t. The female character, again, has the opposite of the traits that he exhibits because they need to be for him to succeed. So she does what any good supporting character should do, and serves her purpose: she brings in good ole’ Teddy Roosevelt to set all this strike nonsense straight and win the newsboys their rights.

In summary, the issue is not that they aren’t given any hopes, dreams, aspirations, or duties that they want to accomplish, but that they aren’t given any that are solely for their own benefit. Consistently they are assigned traits that match what Jack needs and nothing else. Whether it was a random line about why Katherine hangs around The World so often, or a fun fact that Medda knows the governor, every aspect of the female characters in NEWSIES serves a purpose for Jack Kelly’s story.

Gender Representation in The Prom, But Give it Some Zazz

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t care for The Prom. It’s a recent film adaption of the Broadway musical on Netflix, with Ryan Murphy of Glee directing. The plot was all over the place and most of the characters were not likeable. But for an attempt at being a progressive film which ended up being a mainstream version of an LGBTQ+ film designed for straight people, it did have complex and nuanced depictions of gender in its effort to challenge the current social narratives. The most surprising part is, they come in the form of two side characters, Mrs. Greene, and Principal Hawkins.

The Prom is a satire on Broadway itself. It tells the story of four Broadway actors in need of a career boost, who attempt to help a girl named Emma who wants to attend the school prom with her girlfriend. Mrs. Greene, the PTA president, cancels prom to prevent Emma from attending, which is where Dee Dee, Barry, Angie, and Trent step in to try to help Emma for publicity. The four of them along with Tom Hawkins, the school principal, help Emma get the prom that she deserves.

Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins may seem like typical characters with nothing interesting at first glance. Their outfits are plain and their personalities ordinary next to the eccentricities of the Broadway actors. But their gendered behaviors and actions provide a complicated and nuanced depiction of gender that challenges societal ideals. So, for once, the Broadway stars won’t be the stars of this analysis, no matter how much they try to shove themselves into the narrative (except for maybe just two guest appearances from Dee Dee.)

Let’s start with one of the most obvious representations of gender, physical appearance. Mrs. Greene, president of the PTA, is always wearing business clothes, in varying shades of pinks and purples. The film emphasizes her position of power despite being a woman in her appearance, with her pink blazers helping her stand out amongst the crowd and reminding you of her femininity. Her makeup is always perfect, paired with earrings and a classic hairstyle. These are all typical portrayals of femininity.

Principal Hawkins’ character follows suit (literally), by dressing in a masculine style, wearing almost exclusively suits and sporting a beard. Both characters are stereotypically masculine and feminine in their appearance, which doesn’t challenge the current expectations of gender expression. However, it is their behaviors and actions which contrast with their standard looks that make you realize why the producers made this choice.

Mrs. Greene being the strong-willed president of the PTA needs to be authoritative. She stands up for her beliefs and is charismatic enough to rally the rest of the parents behind her. The way she acts contrasts with her feminine appearance, as she takes on characteristics that are more often associated with men. However, this is in part by her being in an authority position. Women must be more assertive to be taken seriously, even if it leads to them being deemed bossy or controlling when the same is not said for men in positions of power. The choice to have her wear stereotypically feminine colors undermines and contrasts the more masculine undertones that come with her being an authority figure. Women in higher up positions in the workplace usually dress more masculine, in blazers and pants and dark colors, rather than anything too feminine since masculinity is associated with power and leadership. Mrs. Greene embodies the ideals of being a strong and assertive woman in power, while also reclaiming her femininity in her position.

On the other hand, Principal Hawkins, also an authority figure, acts less like the usual men that we would see in these roles. In his first encounter with Dee Dee, she says that he doesn’t fit her usual demographic of gay men, to which he replies that straight people like Broadway too. Our first impression of Principal Hawkins is that he not only likes Broadway, but is an avid fan and isn’t afraid to admit it. In Dee Dee’s experience, she has seen that men liking Broadway is seen as effeminate and is associated with gay men. Later, when Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee are on a dinner date, he opens up to her and says that Broadway provides an escape from his everyday life through a soulful solo number. Despite outward appearances, Principal Hawkins shows a level of depth and vulnerability that is not often seen from men in film in general, let alone for a side character.

This opposing gendered behavior between Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins does raise the question of favoring men over women. We have Mrs. Greene as a strong woman who made it to being the president of the PTA, and who is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs. We have Principal Hawkins showing that there’s nothing wrong with men being vulnerable and showing emotion. But are we not made to favor Principal Hawkins over Mrs. Greene, despite them both breaking stereotypes? The obvious answer is that Mrs. Greene is the antagonist whose homophobic beliefs leave little left to be admired about her, while Principal Hawkins is the voice of reason and is just trying to help Emma get to prom. It’s just the role of their characters in the plot, so what’s the big deal?

If audiences see Mrs. Greene as the enemy, then are we not also seeing a woman in power as the enemy? Principal Hawkins’ character is praised for his vulnerability and breaking the mold by getting a romance story and a happy ending, while Mrs. Greene is almost constantly shown in a negative light. We learn from her daughter Alyssa that her husband left her, and ever since she’s been pushing Alyssa to be the perfect student in hopes that he will come back. Besides this one small glimpse into her personal life and her redemption at the end of the film when she accepts Alyssa’s identity as a lesbian, we are made to despise her throughout the entire film. In fact, her homophobic beliefs make it uncomfortable to like her as a character (assuming you don’t share her beliefs), so how are you to like anything else about her? She is a homophobic mother who initially couldn’t accept her daughter coming out and is no stranger to personal attacks when it comes to upholding the conservative beliefs of her town. She is also a woman who made it to a position of authority, and a single mother whose husband left her for reasons we are not privy to. Yet both parts of her are antagonized in the film whether intentionally or subconsciously.

On a lighter note, everyone’s favorite part of musicals: romance. But this time, a subplot between Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee, which presents a complete 180 on the traditional musical romance. From the get-go, Dee Dee gets Principal Hawkins to take her out to dinner, subtly making the first move. Later, Principal Hawkins finds out that Dee Dee and the others originally came to help Emma for publicity, and he leaves her. To win back his favor, Dee Dee goes all out in a performance of his favorite song performed by her on Broadway.

Their roles have been reversed. Instead of the boy losing the girl and then fighting to get her back, Dee Dee has taken on the role of the boy in love and challenges that old trope. Their love story also avoids the objectification that often comes with traditional Broadway romances. Principal Hawkins, although perhaps given more depth to serve as a more compatible love interest for Dee Dee, still serves other purposes in the plot that make him a stand-alone character as well. In fact, he is the one who solved the original conflict in the film. He worked with the state attorneys and helped win the legal battle against the PTA cancelling prom. His purpose in the plot is greater than to just be a love interest. Their romance goes against the traditional narrative and flips it on its head by having Dee Dee and Principal Hawkins switch roles.

Through all of this, remember that Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins are side characters. They are hardly a part of any of the musical numbers or spectacle. Even in Principal Hawkins’ solo number he is singing about being entranced by the fantasy world and escape of Broadway. They are spectators just like us. It reveals the nature of the “real world” outside of the Broadway world and makes their stories more directly applicable. The setting of this musical reflects our own society, so any challenges to the default narrative suggest ways of change in our society. This raises a lot of questions that we are left to ponder.

We have seen how Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins show a nuanced representation of gender and don’t fit neatly into the stereotypes often seen in the media. But their representation isn’t perfect and still reflects the dominant narratives in our society. What about patriarchy? Mrs. Greene has less agency than Principal Hawkins as a woman and a single mother. For Principal Hawkins, he has a choice over how he acts and chooses to embrace the more emotional and vulnerable aspects of his personality. Mrs. Greene feels that acting more masculine is her only option to keep putting up a front in order to get her husband back. We aren’t even told her first name like Principal Hawkins. She is still tied to her husband’s identity through her last name and does what she does for him.

The Prom has complex representations of gender roles, but it still shows how those representations function within the dominant frameworks of our society. Gender roles can be challenged, and successfully so. This film normalizes the breaking of gender stereotypes by using Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins to ground the film in realism. But we must keep in mind the intersectionality of one’s identity, and how it can be harder for some people to challenge narratives than others because of the amount of agency they have. Mrs. Greene and Principal Hawkins are cisgender, straight, and have conventional gender expressions; they only break stereotypes through their actions. In reality, people have such complex identities and face prejudice from multiple systems at play. Nevertheless, perhaps changing the narrative is one aspect of this musical that doesn’t have to stay within the make-believe world of theater.

Jack-yll and Hyde?

Disney’s 2017 rendition of Newsies: The Broadway Musical!, directed by Jeff Calhoun, seems to captivate its audience and pull each spectator in many different, creative directions. Some strong feelings have been assigned accordingly surrounding the ideas of gender and sexuality when further investigating the role that Jack Kelly plays within the musical. Jack Kelly’s character and portrayal investigates the duality of masculinity, and in doing so, both reinforce and broaden the masculine male stereotype. While possibly not the model musical for progressive gender and sexuality ideals, Newsies begins to break the barriers of “previously understood” masculinity in the context of this time period while reconstructing Jack’s role as a stereotypical male leader.

Let’s start from the beginning. This production was created to encompass the true events of newsies in 1899 through musical form. I don’t know much about 1899 except for the fact that this was the year Al Capone was born and also during a time period when masculinity had a definitive reputation — Ya know, the aggressive, big muscled, confident, independent, and assertive, dashing young man type. There we go, I just described Jack Kelly…well, the “masculine” side of Jack Kelly.

Let’s address Jack Kelly’s “strong” masculine side. Within the first 6 minutes of the musical, we see him approach Katherine in a charming, confident manner in an attempt to flirt with her. Although we quickly see Katherine shut this down, Jack’s masculine side is slightly more revealed to viewers as he is not afraid to go for what he wants (assertiveness ✔). We also get the same sense from his environment and his actions. His New York accent subtly reinforces the idea of brashness and aggressiveness. This is also revealed in how he interacts with Pulitzer and the rest of his crew. When the newsies are disrespected, Jack springs into action to be their protector (✔) as they work to form a union. Within the newsies, he interacts with the others by bumping into each other and playfully hitting each other like guys do (tough love ✔). In addition to the shouting, grunting, and yelling embedded in the choreography and vocals, Jack’s body language and dance style is combative in nature at times (aggressive ✔). We specifically see this in the fight scene involving Pulitzer’s two men that sell the newspapers.

OK, I know it sounds like I’ve been really laying it down on Jack and his strong masculinity, but the importance of this post is to capitalize on the duality of masculinity and how men, specifically leaders, are “supposed to act” according to society’s standards. While we see the tough guy act from Jack often, there are numerous times we see the “softer” side of his masculinity; sometimes, we even see both at the same time. We begin to see this benevolence in the very beginning with the rest of the newsies. Jack is informally established as their leader and takes care of the group even though he’s an orphan himself (care taker ✔). He even takes the worst sleeping spot so the other newsies can sleep a bit more comfortably (humility ✔). He also sings with Crutchie about his dreams of leaving New York City in “Santa Fe” and living out the dreams he has for himself there. Here is the big kicker, are you ready? Jack is also an artist (a softy with a creative side ✔). He loves to draw and paint and has established a relationship with Medda, a vaudeville performer. She lets Jack paint backdrops for the theatre in exchange for protection against Snyder and the refuge. It’s very clear throughout the musical that Jack has a soft spot for his friends and especially for Katherine, whom he gets all flirty and gushy for (emotional ✔).

There are numerous instances throughout the musical in which we see the duality of masculinity present in Jack Kelly’s character. In addition, it’s imperative to investigate the role the musical plays in showcasing the blend between the stereotypical man and the role a male leader plays in society. Within Newsies, we can quickly identify Pulitzer as being the ideal “male leader” of this time, a stereotypically strong man with an abuse of power problem. While we also see Jack as the leader of the newsies, it’s clear these two characters display leadership in two very different contexts. We see this even during the distribution of newspapers for each new day; Pulitzer’s men, while not even in a seemingly large position of power, look down on Jack and make him out to be less than them. Through this, we can see the outdated form of masculinity clashing with the new. Jack, himself, experiences a duality of masculinity in which the “old” has a time and place, and the “new” paves the way for a dually soft but strong leadership approach.

During this time period, men in power seemed to be of the utmost masculinity. They were deemed strong, aggressive, assertive, and unafraid to fight. They were the ones who could provide and had the most influence. However, we see throughout the musical that while Jack did not have this stereotypical masculine leadership, he arguably had more influence than the ones in “power.”

While Disney’s Newsies typically gets a bad reputation for reinforcing the most basic gender stereotypes, a closer look at this musical shows just how keen the writers and directors were to begin a societal push for the duality of masculinity in male leadership. Thankfully, it is our normal. In our society now, we have this idea of our leaders being  more approachable and better listeners, as well as decisive and confident. Overall, while it may not be the most progressive model for gender stereotypes, Newsies begins to crack the barriers of strong masculinity within established gender stereotypes, and does a pretty good job at it, especially for its time. And hey, who doesn’t like Jeremy Jordan?

Nothing New(sies) Here: A Failed Attempt at Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Disney’s Newsies, tells the story of the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899, and does so through dynamic choreography, lovable characters, and empowering musical numbers. While Alan Menken’s music, Jack Feldman’s lyrics, and Harvey Fiertsein’s book all make for an enjoyable performance, the musical grapples with breaking down stereotypes and, ultimately, falls flat on its face. Specifically, in its depiction of Katherine, the ambitious journalist who takes on writing the story of the Newsies. Played by Kara Lindsay, Katherine is a character audiences should see as the modern woman who won’t take nothing from no one, especially some wise-crack (but oh so handsome) newsboy. However, she ends up as being simultaneously completely unrelatable and predictable as (you guessed it), the arrogant, dashing newsboy has a vulnerable side that softens her up, thus making her lose any and all ambition that was established in the early parts of the musical.

Katherine is presented as what most people consider modern feminists to be: bold, ambitious, and witty, which the musical amplifies through her quick retorts to Jack’s initial advances. In the interlude of “Carrying the Banner”, Jack pushes his friend out of the way to get to Katherine. Not only does this action emphasize his hyper-masculine characterization, but it allows for Katherine to establish her character only a few minutes into the musical. The man she is walking with begins to speak for her, but she pushes by him and speaks to Jack herself. Without even taking a second that most people would need to think, she responds to Jack by saying, “I have a headline for you. Cheeky boy gets nothing for his troubles” (07:39). Kara Lindsay embodies writer Harvey Fiertsein’s the words with the perfect amount of wide-eyes and gaping mouth, to imply that Jack’s offer to deliver the paper to her personally is not some generous offer like he’d think it is. From the get-go, Katherine should be something young girls aspire to be and women resonate with. But, as is a running theme in Newsies, Katherine’s character arc plateaus once the plotline shifts to her falling for Jack.

Her ability to spin a phrase and stand up to the demeaning retorts by the Newsies like, “Shouldn’t you be at the ballet?” (44:05) sets her up to be “different” from other girls. She’s snarky and bold, so isn’t that feminism? Well, kind of… but not entirely. What happens so often in modern media that wants to avoid falling into the trap of creating mild female characters with no agency, is that they overcompensate by making their characters too perfect. Basically Katherine’s only flaw is that her dad is the owner of the World. And that problem quickly finds its resolution and that’s the end of that. The problem with this kind of representation is that it is as equally inaccurate as the quiet and modest representation. Female characters do not have to always know the witty and smart thing to say, and they can have fatal flaws. However, Newsies falls right into line with other musicals, movies, and television shows that make their female characters so bold, snarky, and witty that they’re not even real people: they’re just characterizations of women.

Not to mention, the musical completely fails at providing Katherine with any sort of dignified resolution. Her song “Watch What Happens”, establishes in Act I that Katherine is a multifaceted character. She’s brave and ambitious, but also knows that female journalists are not only uncommon, but belittled. Kara Lindsay’s acting during this song shows a fierce determination in her eyes mixed with the perfect blend of uncertainty. Questioning her abilities, “Those boys are counting on you. Oh, those poor boys” (49:00), she begins to ramble her thoughts, concerns, and passions throughout the song. The quick tempo and speed at which she sings the lyrics both highlight her anxiety with taking on a project like this, while also reaffirming her sharp mind, which makes audiences aware of how good of a journalist she can be. How she sings the lyrics, and the composition of the song, going from determined and fast to almost a whisper and unsure, shows the internal struggle Katherine has with this task. She has this confidence in herself that exudes out of her when she has to be quick with a reply to the Newsies, but when it comes to actually reporting, she knows it has to be so superior no one can ignore it just because a woman wrote it, thus producing a heightened sense of anxiety. The song builds during the chorus, both through Katherine’s vocals which get louder and more assured, but also with the music. What starts as just a repetitive piano note to match her internal dialogue swells with the incorporation of brass instruments as she realizes the magnitude of what she’s about to do, and that she’s capable of doing it. The title, “Watch What Happens” is both about what the positive ramifications are of reporting about the exploitation of young boys, and how her career will inevitably take off after such a successful report.

But then the song takes a turn, which is the first inkling that Katherine, despite being a headstrong woman with a drive no one can undermine, is unfortunately going to end up with Jack. While those rooting for “Jackerine” may be excited about her change of heart, it is incredibly disappointing for yet another female character to essentially forego all her traits from most of the first act because the writer has to have a relationship arc.

If the second verse of “Watch What Happens” wasn’t enough of an indication that we were going to get a Jack-Katherine storyline forced down our throats, “Something to Believe In” sure does. Before the Act II song begins, Katherine and Jack are fighting (fingers crossed they don’t end up together). But don’t worry, the classic trope of mid-fight make-out happens and every issue is resolved with just a little bit of relieved sexual tension. “Something To Believe In” completely unravels all of Katherine’s previously established traits. The lyric “I have something to believe in now that I know that you believed in me” (1:45:30) states that Katherine essentially had no confidence in herself until getting Jack’s reassurance. So I guess we’ll just forget the whole “Watch What Happens” scene. While Jack repeats the same sentiment, it makes sense for his character: he was questioning his decision to go further with the strike and even took the money from Pulitzer, only changing his mind after hearing Katherine’s idea. The piano backing and soprano voice of Kara Lindsay is intended to bolster the sweetness of this confession of her feelings. They hold hands after Katherine’s verse and stare into each other’s eyes as they sing in unison, culminating in a passionate kiss as the triumphant brass instruments swell. The music, blocking and lyrics are a great way of affirming their feelings, and for unraveling all of Katherine’s traits.

By the end of the show, sure Katherine wrote the story, but other than it reaching Roosevelt and helping the Newsies, there is no real indication of how it helped Katherine achieve any of her previously stated goals. All we get is the knowledge that Jack is staying in New York, and is thus staying with Katherine (thank God!). Considering the fact that so much of Katherine’s character arc in the first act is about her establishing herself as a legitimate journalist, the ending leaves so much to be desired. If you were to meticulously edit out all instances of Katherine and Jack’s romance, the plot would still work on its own. The forced relationship helps appeal to more audiences, and is typical of a Broadway musical. Very rarely is there a musical that does not push two heterosexual characters together. The problem with this happening in Newsies is that it is unnecessary to the plot, and thus feels like something the writers included because, duh, who doesn’t want to see a beautiful woman and handsome man end up together. The musical doesn’t make any commentary on their differing statuses other than a comment or two from Jack like “What? A little different from where you were raised?” (1:40:14), and any issues that do arise are quickly resolved through a kiss and a song.

The bigger, more glaring problem with the unnecessary inclusion of this relationship is how it undermines Katherine’s character. Somehow Newsies managed to create Katherine as someone who embodies both extremes of how to write a female character. She begins as a too-perfect-to-be-real character with her unnaturally quick witted responses and only gets one moment of depth in “Watch What Happens”. Then, she all of a sudden becomes the exact character the “too perfect to be real character” overcompensates for. She falls head over heels for the guy, despite his arrogant disregard for her obvious disinterest, and loses all of that ambition, agency, and boldness she had in Act I. She suddenly only found confidence and motivation after Jack believed in her, and her songs switch from a quick tempo with witty plays on words to doe-eyed angelic love songs about finding purpose through Jack. While Newsies tries to represent Katherine as someone who breaks from typical expectations of what a woman is, both in 1899 and 2017 standards, it fails miserably by giving her ambition that does not amount to much by the resolution other than an artificial and unnecessary relationship with Jack. Therefore, try as it might, Newsies does not break down stereotypes (or shatter glass ceilings), which is apparent through its poor representation of Katherine, despite doing everything in the first act to make us hope for otherwise.

Love Thy Neighbor

Megan Walters

I never had heard of ‘The Prom’ Netflix film until watching it a few weeks prior. Netflix has been hit or miss recently, but I was hopeful regardless. As someone who is a musician and performs on a regular basis, and was a classic ‘theater kid’ in middle and early high school, I can’t pass up a chance to watch people randomly burst into song and dance.

However, when I read the synopsis of ‘The Prom’ before pressing play, I genuinely became excited. The film’s main characters and plot line featured two lesbians–one of them open and the other closeted and one of them fighting for them to go to prom together. As someone who identifies as bisexual and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, this would be the first time I’d really seen people like me in the major key role. It also offered a different perspective for me personally. I was never ‘out’ in high school. The crushes and little love tales came and went for me in high school and I decided it would be best for me to simply keep my mouth shut. ‘Who needs love anyway!?’ Was what I would tell myself. The world, my own personal world rather, was not ready. It was better that way.

So, I sat myself down and got to relish in my old memories of high school while the movie started to move forward. Of course, it did not start with Emma right away. We are first whisked to New York where the likes of Dee Dee Allen (Maryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Cordon) take the center stage and mooch off each other’s massive Ego. In a rash decision to prove to the world that they are good people, they hear about Emma’s story through Twitter, their two friends, Angie Dickinson and Trent Oliver join them, and they run off to Indiana in an attempt to ‘help’ Emma with her dilemma.

And then we get to hear Emma sing for the first time. Her wonderful soprano voice soars above the bullying and harassment made from her small-town classmates. She is caught in the whimsical, upbeat song of ‘Just Breathe’. The song is joyful, the point is that everything is going to be okay, just take a deep breathe and all the unjustly words said to you will evaporate. Kind of reminds me of songs in other musicals when the main character arrive in the ~Big City~ for the first time and the song is mostly just about how big and wonderful everything is going to be now that they are in the ~Big City~.

But…that’s not really how it feels being gay? Or at least, it sure didn’t feel whimsical when I realized I wasn’t like everybody else. Now, perhaps I’m interpreting the song differently. Because while ‘Just Breathe’ is about taking a deep breathe and the butterflies go away, it also begins with the line, ‘Don’t be gay in Indiana’ and throughout the piece Emma continually mentions trying to leave as fast as she can in ‘leave today, pray the greyhound isn’t full’ and how badly she feels like she’s screwed up by mentioning her severed relationship with her parents and ‘then guess what’s about to hit the fan?’ if you’re out. The song’s lyrics overarch a duality of how she is feeling, trying to relax and stay calm about being the true person she is, even though it is completely rejected by the society around her. However, the way the instrumental line moves doesn’t necessarily match the lyrics. It’s fast, upbeat, and overall joyful. The backing track has spunk to it and the musical line travels upward musically when Emma sings, ‘Just breathe, Emma’. I think this is when the musical first started to confuse me a little. Because I personally couldn’t really identify with the overall joyful theme of the music when half of the song’s lyrics is joyful and whimsical and the other half is Emma proclaiming: I have severed every known relationship I have here because I chose to openly be my true self.

If I came out in high school, perhaps my friends would have understood, but there still would have been snide remarks and jokes that overall, would make me feel hurt. My family, forever and always traditional, would have not believed me, blamed the ‘liberal’ high school ideas for the ‘influence’, and many tears later, I probably would have ended up in some type of therapy or gone off to some type of camp. I have memories of my Dad saying multiple times to my brothers “Remember, you can’t be gay in this household.” Well, little did he know he was talking to wrong kid(s). My Mom told me if I was queer she would stop paying my tuition for college when I was Freshman. Well, guess I’m waiting until after graduation to let her know. I have a distinctive memory of my Mom reading a book entitled ‘The Homosexual Agenda’ during the supreme court rulings in 2015; a book about how members of the LGBTQ+ community are attempting to ‘destroy traditional marriage’. Sometimes she would try and discuss it with me, but I had nothing to say to her. There wasn’t really room for discussion.

In the end, when I hear this song, I want to enjoy it, I really do, but I can’t find myself identifying with Emma as much as I’d hoped. While I believe there is nothing wrong with being hopeful, I feel like the character was written to blindly miss the reality of the situation. It is not a happy life she is living; it is a hurtful one. I don’t believe many people in her position would have this overall cheery disposition; especially when a spotlight is put on you during your teenaged years. Maybe certain types of people loved to be in the spotlight, but in high school, I could not WAIT to get out of it. I enjoyed being put in the back (I am tall), I could love what I got to do when I performed and at the same time, no one got to stare at me while I did it.

I continued to watch the musical, pondering the different songs that came on and the morally ambiguous choices that the Broadway squad make in their’ humble’ efforts to help Emma. They go through the motions of protesting and failing at it horrendously. Emma’s classmates continue to be rude and misunderstand her until Trent Oliver meets up with them at the mall and a musical number ensues called ‘Love Thy Neighbor.’ It was this musical number where I finally understood why this musical was written the way it was. The Prom is a gay musical for straight people. Because straight people aren’t ever going to fully understand or identify with Emma’s character. They are not going to understand the fear and reality of getting thrown out of your own house like Emma, or the unnecessary mockery and hate Emma receives from her classmates. Or the fear of the possibility that is what could happen if you chose a path similar to Emma’s; a fear that constantly drives Alyssa Greene, Emma’s girlfriend, further into the closet. Straight cis people can empathize and educate and help, but they never have to fear being in the same position as our main character.

Enter the Broadway squad to steal the show constantly with their over the top musical numbers, glitter, and sparkling lights. This is something everyone can get behind and easy for everyone to understand and accept. Like in the song ‘Just breathe’, there’s almost two stories happening at the same time in ‘The Prom’ and gap is bridged with the song, ‘Love Thy Neighbor’. The number is an ensemble piece, but with the mean high schoolers and not the Broadway stars, it starts with them talking and discussing the current events of the terrible prom that was given only to Emma in the high school gym. Trent Oliver is by himself with the students and begins singing about the different types of ‘sins’ each of the kids has committed that would cause them to ‘burn in hell’ if they treated those action the same way they treat homosexuality. He goes through pre-marital sex, getting tattoos, and someone’s Mother getting a divorce. Eventually the cast of the touring musical, Godspell, joins Oliver for support and the song ends when the high school kids also decide to join in the song and dance. They determine that Emma did not turn gay, she was in fact, always gay and that doesn’t make any better/worse than they themselves.

The musical, in short, is for people like the high school kids that do not understand. Because at the end of the musical when the lies have been revealed and settled and Emma’s partner shows her true self to the world and her mother, there is another prom. And it is not a prom specifically for members of the LGBTQ+ community, it is a prom for everyone. A prom where Alyssa Greene’s mother shows up and decides to love and accept her daughter even though it goes against everything else her character has done throughout the film. The musical is for the broad spectrum of people and the reality is, it is for straight people to get an inner glimpse of what being different might be like. Of what being different was/is and probably will always be like; specifically in terms of sexuality. It doesn’t really try to make you fully understand what being gay is like; Emma is after all, only a character and while she is the main character she only takes center stage briefly. The Broadway wannabe mega-stars are the true spotlight with all of the glitter and show. It’s an introduction to life within the gay community. The musical plays it safe, has many character stereotypes and tropes, and doesn’t veer too far from the typical structure of what makes a musical a musical.

So at the end, when I had finally finished watching, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little hurt. It would’ve been a little nice for Emma to be a bit more realistic and for her story to be more personal. It would have been nice to see her as the full person she is, her fears and loss and all to get her to become the person we see her as. I know I am fully a person and have a story to tell with being in the closet and slowly coming out to trusted friends one at a time as my years in college wore on. However, I still enjoy musicals and the song dance and well the overarching message of the film: “Love Thy Neighbor.” When it all comes down to it, there is nothing morally wrong with the film because that is the message that it wanted to portray. I still enjoyed the musical and the journey it took me on even if it wasn’t completely realistic. While the film may not be specifically for me, I still chose to enjoy it, because at the end of the day, the most important thing I can do is ‘Love Thy Neighbor.’

On Revision:

Oh, revision. How dreadful it can be.

I don’t know about you, but I hate revision——or, at least I used to. Until recently, I would despise “revising” my work because it felt like editing something I already wanted to be done with. “Revision,” in an academic sense, usually happens by force, typically so you can achieve a better grade.

But what, really, is revision? Let’s define what it means to revise something (you know I love definitions): “to re-examine or make alterations to.”

To re-examine or make alterations to.

I love the first part of this definition: “to re-examine” because it feels much deeper and more significant than editing does. Editing is surface-level——it is grammatical or organizational. Revision, on the other hand, is deeper——it demands that the core of your piece (your primary question, your thesis, etc) be re-examined. Revision demands you take a step back from your writing, inquire deeply about why you are returning to your work, and then set out on a new path that will drive your piece forward.

When returning to your writing, I think it is helpful to consider the following questions:

  • Why am I returning to this piece? Is it to edit, or to revise?
  • If it is to edit, you might consider:
    • What are the areas that need attention?
    • Are my title and opening sentence engaging?
    • Is my argument both provocative and clear?
    • Is the flow of the piece effective?
  • If you are revising, you might consider:
    • Since last reading this piece, what has stuck with me? Do I remember feeling like something was missing?
    • Is this piece still as relevant now? Or perhaps it has lost or gained relevance? Why?
    • Are there areas I can go deeper here? How can I engage with my own story to invite empathy and reciprocity from my reader?

Allow me to let you in on my own recent experience with revision.

Dr. Essin asked me to write a final post in my semester series entitled “On Revision.” I really should’ve written this post a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t find a hearty reason why I needed to write about revision… (because, really, I was thinking about revision as editing.)

But a few days ago, devastatingly, a friend of mine from high school, Dylan, passed away. Dylan’s passing sent me back to an all-too familiar feeling I had when I was a senior in high school and another friend, Malcolm, died. For me, Malcolm’s death will always be tied to the musical Rent, which I wrote my final blog post on last semester. When this tragic similarity stirred up in me, I knew I wanted to revise my post on Rent. With a new sense of urgency to tell the redemptive story of Rent’s power to heal communities in tragedy, I got to writing.

Below is the revised version. You can read the first version of this post here. Pay special attention to the way this post engages a personal story (to encourage empathy and reciprocity from the reader) where the first version does not.

In the winter of my Senior year of high school, one of my friends tragically died of a brain aneurysm. At only fifteen, Malcolm was full of joy and life until the very moment he passed.

Throughout the entire winter semester, I was in rehearsals for a blackbox performance of Rent where I would play Mimi Marquez. On the morning of our only performance, Malcolm’s death was announced during our chapel service. I remember the deafening silence of the building ringing through my ears. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to scream, cry, run, puke, or hide so I just froze. When we all stood up to leave the chapel, it felt like the whole school let out a collective cry.

It was obvious that we could not perform Rent that night, but we were faced with the decision of whether to perform the show at all. 

That night, sitting in my room as I thought through the options, I couldn’t help but acknowledge parallels between the moment I was in and Rent’s very own premier. Months before Malcolm’s death, when we chose Rent as our show, I did some research on the creation of the musical. I learned that the night before Rent was set to premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1996, Jonathan Larson, the creator and composer of the musical died suddenly.

I took to Google to learn more about Larons’s death and discovered he also died of an aneurysm. I also discovered that the cast of Rent decided to continue on with their opening night performance the next night. I sat in this tragic similarity wondering how they did it. In an interview with Playbill, NYTW director James Nicola said, “Life was imitating art in more ways than one, and the group of angst-ridden bohemian rockers danced in celebration of Larson’s life and work.” After the first performance, it was clear that a Broadway transfer was imminent for the show. Producer Kevin McCollum said, “We had no choice… Everybody had a higher purpose, and it was to get Jonathan’s work heard and seen. And there was no looking back. … We were breathing life into the voice of a young man who had much more to say … There was no room to be afraid.”

In that moment, I knew we had to perform Rent for the school—not in spite of Malcolm’s death, but because of it. Like the original cast of Rent, we had a higher purpose, and we had the opportunity to “breath life into the voice of a young man who had much more to say.” There truly was no room to be afraid. It was a beautiful and powerful performance that led our community toward healing. In that performance, I discovered Rent’s ability to move across time and across tragedy to address timeless questions of life and death, uniting communities through the paradox of joy and sorrow along the way.

Three years later, I would be reminded of this unique ability as I watched Rent again and felt an eerily deep connection between the musical and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Rent opens with the title song and imagery of New Yorkers shouting on balconies, living in the tension of paradoxical celebration and mourning. In a similar way, today’s New Yorkers meet each other on balconies and fire escapes every night at 7pm to sing communal praises to the medical workers fighting COVID-19 on the front lines. With shouting, cheering, and crying, New York exhales a collective acknowledgement of the joy that exists—particularly the joyful reality of a shared experience—and a plea for better. While the connection between Rent and COVID-19 is related to New York City, it goes far beyond just geography. 

The musical begins on Christmas Eve in 1989 with a simplistic film reel shot by Mark who is played by Anthony Rapp. Mark is filming a documentary about New York City—specifically about the lives of the homeless population and those affected by HIV/AIDS. The reel shows a shot of Radio City Music Hall, moments of extreme poverty, people experiencing homelessness, etc. These shots—which you can watch below—felt all too similar to what I can picture NYC looking like right now, absent the masks. Mark sings, “How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day. / Headlines, breadlines blow my mind, and now this deadline: ‘Eviction or pay’ Rent.” I did a double take thinking about the transcendent reality of this lyric. Not only are Americans struggling to pay rent, but breadlines have returned, except this time people have to stay in their cars.

Rent tells the story of watching an illness unfold with no ability to stop it. Its characters find solace in the community of those around them, particularly those who share the same experience as them. This community is most emphasized in the “Life Support” scenes where the characters who have AIDS meet as a support group. Some of the most beautiful moments in the film are when characters take a moment to acknowledge their illness—both Angel and Collins and Mimi and Roger share sweet sighs of relief as they recognize their shared reality.

The illness that unites this community, though, is also what ultimately shatters it (before coming back together, of course). Back in Life Support, Mimi begins to sing “Without You” as she grieves the end of her and Roger’s relationship, but we start to see the people in Life Support lose their lives and fade away. The shot fades into the Subway where Collins is holding Angel, who is dying. That image is harrowing as it once again brought my mind to the COVID era. Collins and the rest of the friends watch Angel lose her battle, unable to do anything to heal her. We see the same fate begin to unfold for Mimi, too, who takes her last breaths in the final scene of the movie. Roger holds Mimi in his arms as he sings the song he’s been writing for a year, Your Eyes, and Mimi is revived by his love. In this final moment of the movie, we feel the weight of Angel’s death and the harsh reality of life with AIDS wash over us, while simultaneously celebrating the life that we have. The cast sings “No Day But Today” as Mark plays his finished documentary in the background.

Rent doesn’t present a perfect parallel to COVID-19, I know that. But that’s the beauty of it. Rent can speak to us in its original form because the questions it asks about life transcend time. Rent can speak to me in the wake of a friend’s death, in the midst of a global pandemic, or just on a random Tuesday.

I think, now more than ever, the question of how we measure our life is incredibly important. In the middle of quarantine, maybe we did measure our life by cups of coffee… but as we continue to navigate this pandemic, I challenge you to consider what Rent’s central question—what would it look like to measure your life in love?

Thank you for tagging along with me all semester. If you ever have a moment of renewed passion to revise one of your pieces, I encourage you to do so! Most importantly, I hope you don’t let this class end today. Press on discovering, friend.