Broadway Critics Have a Problem With Teen Musicals. How Do We Solve It?
Ask just about anyone who keeps up with Broadway, and most people will agree that it’s having a bit of a teen musical Moment.
Broadway musicals for and about teenagers are a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scheme of things. 2006’s Spring Awakening was arguably the turning point, at least in terms of offering a musical that covered hot-button teen angst topics (albeit in 19th-century garb) to a catchy, rock-hued soundtrack that could sit comfortably among the non-showtune offerings on the average disaffected high schooler’s 2nd gen iPod Nano. It was also a gamechanger in terms of how musicals responded to social media hype: actor Andy Mientus, who made his professional debut in the show’s First National Tour, first came to the attention of producers as the creator of a popular Spring Awakening fanpage on Facebook, and the touring production’s “Totally Trucked” vlog series on YouTube feel like a natural precursor to Broadway.com’s popular vlogs.
Several people on Twitter and other theatre kid-dominated social media platforms have responded to these offensive, misguided reviews of The Lightning Thief by demanding that major publications employ younger theatre critics who will give teen musicals a fair chance. I think that this is part of the solution, but I also think it’s imperative that we urge the existing older critics to stop looking down on shows written for teenagers simply because they’re for teenagers, and instead to cast aside their adult perspectives and ask themselves: “is this the kind of show my teen self would have wanted, even needed, to see?”
It’s vital to foster an environment where all kinds of musicals can flourish to the highest artistic standard possible, be they campy teen movie-esque romps, jukebox musicals, avant-garde electropop operas, or, yes, Dear Evan Hansen. And if critics are genuinely worried that encouraging the rise of teen musicals will cause them to take over Broadway entirely , leaving nothing for overly serious adults to enjoy, then all I can do is point out once again that before very recently it was the teenagers who had nothing just for them on the musical theatre stage. So, maybe, said critics just need to count their blessings and find another fantasy.
The bare bones of this article were first published as a Twitter thread in the regrettably early hours of October 17th, 2019.