Together, Together, Together Everyone!

When I was younger, I was a complete High School Musical (written by Peter Barsocchini, composed by David Lawrence) fanatic. I’m talking about a major obsession. I would convince my sister she was Sharpay and I was Gabriella, and I’m pretty sure we would even act out the whole musical (using stuffed animals for the rest of the characters). For at least a year I believe I watched High School Musical (1, 2, and 3) at least once a day. My mom even one day had enough of it that she took the DVD from me and my younger sister, and hid it from us (you’ve probably never seen so many tears before). My obsession wasn’t only with the music, the dancing, or the cute characters, but also with the love story and idealization of what high school and growing up would be like for me. Talk about cultural identity, right? Well, turns out this wasn’t quite as unique of an experience as I had thought it was at the time. Every single one of my classmates in elementary school went through a similar obsession (maybe not as deep, but knew the music at the very least). When the time came that my high school decided to put on High School Musical (my freshman year), you bet it was record breaking for the number of auditions, first time performers, and selling out so quickly we had to add foldable chairs in the auditorium. So, what is it about High School Musical that makes it so enticing to my generation? Well, after rewatching it with a more critical eye, and actively searching for the “why”, I believe I have some ideas…

Kenny Ortega is the brilliant director and choreographer of High School Musical. Ortega really knew what he was doing in terms of both and I know that because of how each musical number is choreographed to convey a particular message. There aren’t a whole lot of musical numbers in HSM, but that means that they each had to be powerful enough to convey the message Ortega wanted, and to also be catchy enough for the audience (which they definitely were). Aside from choreography, can we talk about the costumes for a moment? I mean watching this back puts us right back in the deep end of 2000s style. Costume designer, Tom McKinley, knew how to style each actor and actress in HSM to help consumers identify with an individual character that not only acts, but also looked like them at the time. So not only do we have amazing choreography, an enticing plot, and catchy music, but costumes that connected everyday people to these characters. 

To begin, let’s look at the classic opener: “The Start of Something New”. This song is sung by the two love interests and leads of the movie, Gabriella (played by Vanessa Hudgens) and Troy (played by Zac Efron). Gabriella is your typical shy bookworm and Troy is the classic “coach’s son” who is the star basketball player. The thing they both have in common (other than good looks)? They have a secret passion for singing! 

“The Start of Something New” really is true to its title, because it sets the plot for the whole musical that taking a chance with something new will reap positive outcomes. Now, the choreography of this is brilliant, because Ortega chose for both characters to begin singing stiffly and transition into becoming more fluid and fun after they both get into the music. The instrumentation and actual volume also follows this as it begins soft then gets much louder and upbeat. There is a curiosity that Troy has about Gabriella, and this is the beginning of his “existential crisis”. This song also captures every heterosexual female’s desire to have a man that falls in love at first sight. Which was a tactic not used lightly in the writing of the film, because there needs to of course be some kind of romantic hook in a Disney movie after all. 

Next, we have the iconic “Get’cha Head in the Game” song. Now this one is a doozy. This song is representative of the “struggle” between Troy realizing how much he loves music while having been all about basketball his whole life. Back to the choreography, the dancing of the other basketball boys is almost cult-like. They surround Troy and dance with the basketballs causing him to have a melodramatic breakdown of questioning why he enjoys something that is typically more feminine (**cough cough** toxic masculinity **cough cough**). There’s a moment in this song where the spotlight is on Troy and it is almost like the boys are circling him not only physically, but mentally with their ideas that he should only care about basketball. The whole song is him questioning why his head isn’t in the game. Again, amazing choreography decisions and choices by the actor himself to display such deep personal confliction (even if it does feel childish at times). 

Another thing that the whole production team and actors/actresses did well was portray the same songs but give them very different meanings. For example, Sharpay (played by Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (played by Lucas Grabeel) sing “What I’ve Been Looking For”, and so do Gabriella and Troy. However, when Sharpay and Ryan sing it, it is playful, light, and has a “young” vibe to it. You know they are siblings, and it feels like they are singing this song together as siblings. While on the other hand, Gabriella and Troy sing this song and it becomes slow, relaxed, and a very intentional love song. Which is also telling of the two duo’s personalities, portraying the Evan’s as more out there and extroverted, and Gabriella and Troy as love-birds who like to sing secretively. 

Now, finally we get to my most favorite song of the whole show: “Stick to the Status Quo”. Everyone pretty much knows this infamous song, and it’s not only because of the repetitive instrumentation or lyrics. Each group has one person who’s breaking this “status quo”, the baker, the hip hop dancer, and cellist all individually threaten the entire school’s normal way of functioning. This is exemplified by the repetition of the thunderous and aggressive “no no no no no no no stick to the status quo” lyric, and the keeping to the brainiacs, jocks, and skaters. These three people, and Troy and Gabriella deciding to veer away from their individual groups causes the whole school to have a crisis, and especially Sharpay who has always been the queen bee. 

We then see our two favorite supporting actors, Taylor (played by Monique Coleman) and Chad (played by Corbin Bleu), get their groups to break up Gabriella and Troy so that things can go back to “normal”. Leading to the intensely melodramatic scene of Gabriella singing “When There was Me and You”, which causes her to realize she should have just stayed as the person people expected her to be. Which is also a deep audience hook, because we want Gabriella to win, and are heartbroken that Troy could even think these things about their relationship. However, the two groups realize that they’ve made a mistake when Troy is completely off his game, and Gabriella isolates herself. They then bring the two back together, and become supportive of their friends which is a complete switch from the message conveyed in “Stick to the Status Quo”. 

This is the moment we start to see the individual group’s dynamics start to shift. They begin to accept that people have multiple different interests and values, and they don’t have to only keep to themselves. They even help each other, and Troy and Gabriella, to succeed by helping them get to the callback. This is the turning point for the school, and the way in which they start to form their new cultural identity of being diverse and accepting. 

This is especially seen through both “Breaking Free” and “We’re All in This Together”. “Breaking Free” is more about Gabriella and Troy crafting their new identities, but nonetheless Gabriella is able to find comfort in combating her shyness through leaning on Troy, and Troy is able to express himself and his interests regardless of his basketball status. The moment in this song that particularly stands out to me actually has little to do with the two leads and their actions/lyrics, but rather with the incorporation of both Troy’s dad and Gabriella’s mom. When they both walk in and are zoomed in on, this is the moment that they are finally truly accepted by not only their school but their families. Which is a complete 180 from the mentality expressed in “Stick to the Status Quo”. 

We then transition into the finale, “We’re All in This Together”. This song is probably the most well known song from HSM, even to those who probably have never seen HSM fully. Everyone knows the iconic dance moves and lyrics of this song. It is also a celebration of the fact that they’ve made it and accomplished everything together which also celebrates the development of their cultural identities to be accepting of each other’s similarities and differences. The lyrics “we’re not the same/we’re different in a good way/we make each other strong” are the epitome of the new identity they’ve all created, and especially the new sense of togetherness they’ve all adopted. The instrumentation is repetitive, upbeat, and cheerful in order to emphasize this final conclusion. 

Overall, there is a lot to appreciate artistically, emotionally, and aesthetically about High School Musical, but if there’s one thing I’ll leave you with it’s that there is a reason we are so connected to this musical (even now), and that is the way in which we as a society idolize togetherness, happiness, and diversity (even if it isn’t perfect). The music, emotions, choreography, costumes, and individual characters all work together to pull us in and keep us there, “together”. 

A Female Breadwinner??!! **GASP**

By Jasmine Jain

If you’re a musical theatre geek (like myself), surely the name Fanny Brice makes you light up. Fanny Brice is the leading lady in Jule Styne, Bob Merrill, and Isobel Lennart’s musical Funny Girl. The musical was first performed on Broadway in 1964, but the production I recently watched was filmed live on stage at Manchester’s Palace Theatre in 2018 under the direction of Robert Delamere and Michael Mayer. Ricky Milling edited the film, and did so beautifully through zoomed in and out panels of the actors. Funny Girl portrays the talented life of Fanny Brice (played by Sheridan Smith) with a side of love/heartbreak portrayed through her relationship with Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell). In this rendition, Smith fantastically portrays Fanny’s character through her facial expressions, choreography, and acting talents. The music also helps craft Fanny’s character a loud and pompous, yet solemn at the same time. Merill (lyricist) and Styne (composer) worked hand in hand to craft the emotional music of Funny Girl. Through the addition of instruments, varying tempos, and repetitive melodies, they tell the story of Fanny in the most emotional and exciting way. Whether through the “I am” songs “Don’t Rain On My Parade” or “I’m the Greatest Star” or the hysterical “Sadie Sadie”, Funny Girl will always remain a classic. I say this, because Funny Girl presents the gender barrier between men and women in a way that makes it easy to understand, providing comic relief while also highlighting its seriousness. This is an image from IMDb.
Smith's Brice is fully confident in her talents and abilities, and she continuously breaks out of the status quo. Today we would look at Brice performing and would probably say something like “slayyyyy,” “you go girl” or even “she’s an independent womannnnn.” But, it pretty much goes without saying that back then in the 1900s, this was definitely not the case. People celebrated Fanny’s success, but the moment she overshadowed Nick Arnstein, everyone started to shake their heads. Fanny was the only one to not notice until her mother pointed out that she basically had her hands around Nick’s neck due to her success. Funny Girl is important because it shows an anomaly to the glorification of the American idea of feminine behavior. Gender and sexuality play a very big, and sometimes lucrative role in musical theatre, and especially within shows performed on Broadway.
Photo by Taylor Hallick on
There is a common image of the “perfect American woman,” and Fanny Brice offered a contrast to show the hypocrisy of the time, and even though that may not have been seen when it originally had come out. The effect of watching Funny Girl is seen within society very much so nowadays. Fanny Brice was performing under the talented Florenz Ziegfeld. She provided comical relief, and the theatre profited greatly off her talents. However, Fanny was different from the other Follies women. Ziegfeld presented a distinct image of Americanism in his shows by choosing the most objectively beautiful performers; Fanny served as a contrast to this idea. Ziegfeld was astounded by her ability to be successful while also being herself, and again, in modern days we actively look for this, but back then there was a certain look that was preferred by directors and men in general. We even see this through Fanny’s relationship with Nick. She begins to fawn over him, and he’s looked at as this suave gentleman who could never want to be with someone like herself. However, he chooses to be with Fanny even though he could most likely have his pick of any girl, which is an interesting contrast to what is expected of men like him during that time. This is from IMDv.
Even though Nick seems like this amazing person at first, we start to see his personality as his relationship with Fanny begins to develop even more. Specifically, after Fanny agrees to go out with him, and the song “You Are Woman, I Am Man” is performed. The way that Sheridan Smith walks into the scene is hysterical. She walks in and is cracking all these jokes, and not acting as she’s “supposed to”. She presents herself as a strong woman because she refuses to just become enamored with his dreaminess, and demands that he not play with her emotions. During this time period, women were expected to plan their lives around men, and Fanny presents the opposite. Nick admits to being scared of Fanny which is also unusual, but eventually Fanny admits to not knowing when he will make “advances” which is when he goes right into the musical number. This song is intriguing to me, because Nick is trying to convince Fanny to participate in his “advances”, and we see her inner struggle between doing what she thinks she should do and what she wants to do in this situation. The lyrics that particularly stick out to me are as follows: 

“You are woman, I am man/ you are smaller, so I can be taller than”

These particular lyrics are interesting to me, because we see the gender stereotypes from the beginning where there is this idea that a man is greater and stronger and taller than a woman and he tries to feed this to Fanny (someone who doesn’t see the world this way), and thus begins her inner struggle of wanting him, but also not wanting him. This is from IMDb.
The next set of lyrics I find entertaining is when Fanny begins to sing the following: 

“Isn’t this the height of nonchalance/ Furnishing a bed in restaurants?/ Well, a bit of dinner never hurt/ But guess who is gonna be dessert?”

This is when Fanny begins to crack jokes (as she typically does), and calls out male misogyny in a satirical way while also showing us the inner conflict she has between staying true to herself or being the woman she’s expected to be in this time period(submissive to men and what they want). I find it interesting that Fanny goes from singing this kind of a song and dives straight into “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, which is often noted as her “I am” song and also her expression of strength. Not only is this a shocking series of songs, but right after “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Fanny goes into singing her song “Sadie, Sadie” which also is very different from the vibe of her “I am strong” song. I always find “Sadie, Sadie” to be the first point we see a huge change in Fanny’s character as she begins to fall deeper into the expectations of women at the time. She even calls herself “Ziegfeld's married lady” which allows for her new "characteristic" to be that she is married (the opposite of what she was known for, which was breaking the status quo). This is from IMDb.
Overall, I believe that the director (Robert Delamere and Michael Mayer) did a brilliant job with the way the performance was done to emphasize the gender stereotypes that eventually were soaked up by Fanny unintentionally. After discussing these songs and Fanny’s slow, but progressive, change to becoming more of the typical woman for Nick I also want to point out that Fanny was also still true to herself. I say this because Fanny knew how successful and talented she was throughout the entire show, and never once gave up performing. She also was the “breadwinner” between her and Nick which is what caused a lot of strife between the two of them. To be frank, I believe that the way Nick acted out towards Fanny helping him was immature, ungrateful, and narcissistic. However, this is also me responding to his behaviors as a 19 year old, “woke”, female in the modern world. Back then, Nick’s reaction to a woman being on top was not unusual, but still disappointing. It was normal for a man to feel upset and have his superiority feel diminished at the success of a female counterpart. This was exemplified in Funny Girl and in the modern world it feels like this amazing production can be viewed as a satire about the “old-fashioned” societal norms. This Gif was found on Giphy.
The character Fanny Brice created by the musical authors (Merill and Styne) was mostly successful in presenting her as a strong, confident anomaly of a woman that struggles with her place as a woman in society. I also believe that through the way that the song list is set up the story makes her inner struggle between performing and being a good wife/mom even clearer. I also believe that the costumes (made by Victoria Toni) were successful in communicating the struggles that Fanny went through as we saw her dressed glamorously towards the end, but in the beginning of the show we saw her wearing more normal clothing that wouldn’t be identified as fashionable or glamorous. The music and the costumes worked hand in hand to present us with Fanny: the strong, yet troubled woman trying to find her way through a career with a difficult stereotype expected of her. Sheridan Smith also provided the audience with a version of Fanny that was paired with the expectations set by both musical authors and costume designers. Through her facial expressions, increase in confidence while performing, and increased maturity she was able to present us with a Fanny that was strong but also sensitive to what was expected of women. This is from IMDb. This is from IMDb.
To wrap up this long-winded assessment of gender and sexuality in Funny Girl (2018), I believe that people watching this today should be looking at this with eyes wide open as to how Fanny broke out of the gender stereotypes of the time, but also not take everything too seriously in terms of what was expected of her. I say this because it is easy for us to become wrapped up in our anger over the way men treated women in the early 1900s, but we shouldn’t look at this production as something to be angry about or “shun” the musical out of spite. Rather, we should view it as something that was terrible, but be proud that Fanny was brave enough to keep her confidence on the up-trend (for the most part), and we should look at it as an example of exactly what we don’t want our society to revert back towards. In absolutely no way am I saying that the way women were treated by men and others within society was right by any means. I really want to emphasize that this is still a struggle for modern women (gender equality), and we have made progressive strides but should continue to learn from the past (by watching shows like this) in order to correct our present times. Gender and sexuality is usually something that is touched on in almost every famous musical, and this is because it is something that is important to be aware of, and also to use it as a tool for learning and understanding what we as a society need to do in order to continue in the fight towards equality within the workplace, and life in general. This is from Giphy.