Should Musicals Be Based on Historical Events?

Morgan Smith, Reporter

There has been a recent trend in the theater world of new up-and-coming shows that are based on historical events. Questions arise from this trend such as: Are these shows informative? Do they make history easier to learn? Are the performances even fun for the audience?

Musicals and plays have the ability to transport audiences to any place in time, anywhere in the world. The actors, sets, and scenes onstage are able to better tell the stories of real and fictional characters than a teacher or textbook may be able to. Through music and dance, the shows are not only informative but entertaining for audiences to enjoy. 

Recent shows that are clearly historical include broadway’s Hamilton and Six. These two shows are able to include real historical figures and share their stories. Another show that is based on a historical event is Anastasia, but this follows more closely to the Disney adaptation

The show Hamilton hit the Richard Rogers Theater on August 6, 2015. Immediately, the show written and produced by actor Lin Manuel Miranda was a hit. The musical has been such a success because of the extraordinary use of rap and R&B music to accompany the actor’s hip-hop dance moves. 

Hamilton follows the life of the often-forgotten founding father Alexander Hamilton and his many accomplishments and acquaintances. Through various songs and dialogue, the audience learns about this historical figure who is oftentimes not touched on in a typical history class.

I remember being in a U.S. studies course in middle school and having a hard time understanding and remembering the content of the basic foundings of the country. It wasn’t until several years later that I became interested in the show Hamilton that I was able to better understand how our country came to be. 

In the case concerning Hamilton, I think that it not only is entertaining but extremely informative and easy to digest–as well as accurate.

Another musical that is modeled on historical figures and facts is Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow’s Six. Although the musical itself is a shorter production, it is jam-packed with the history of the six wives of King Henry VIII. 

The show introduces the six women and shares their stories and struggles with the audience in a rock concert sort of setting. The wives create a competitive atmosphere to determine whose life with Henry was the most traumatic, but in the end, all come together in agreement that all their stories should be better represented. 

Not only is the show humorous, but it is able to entertain the audience and provide facts about these women who aren’t often studied in classes. I feel as if watching the show I learned a lot about royal history, which is not often covered in any high school history class. The show itself was also entertaining with catchy songs and amazing dances as well as effects. 

Anastasia is a story of the runaway daughter of the Romanov family. The family held power over Russia for many years until every member was executed in their home. It was rumored and widely believed that Anastasia was able to escape and grow up, only she experienced amnesia and doesn’t remember her royal past. 

Fox Animation Studios and 20 Century Studios took this tragic story and turned it into a movie animation in the 90s, which became a hit. 

Later on, the script and songs were transformed into a Broadway show. The show is made to tell the story in a more entertaining manner but with an attempt to be more historically accurate than the animated movie. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this show and felt like the content came across fairly clearly and easily. The costuming and sets are to die for and the songs are beautiful. While the concept of a runaway Anastasia is based on a theory (even rumor), the historical quality of the show is brief and underdeveloped.

It still may be an opportunity, though, for viewers to learn more about the historical events. There are, of course, many shows that are based in historical settings such as Les Miserables, Chicago, and Newsies.

It may seem as if historical events are being transformed more often into musicals to tour worldwide, but is this a good thing? Certain aspects of events may be changed or left out entirely to create a better plot for audiences and be more entertaining. This is a bad thing because it is not fully sharing a story that deserves to have every aspect told. 

In my opinion, turning events into musicals may be something that is beneficial. I enjoy the fact that I am able to sit back and enjoy an incredible show while learning about some history that I may not have known previously.