Broadway has had a long history of pushing cultural boundaries and influencing pop culture and media. From cultural and racial diversity to sex to disease to media, Broadway is almost always ahead of the time. That being said, let’s take a closer look at how Broadway has influenced our culture and media.
Embracing Cultural and Racial Diversity
Broadway shows have never been a stranger to embracing cultural and racial diversity. In 1926, “Sex” opened and received dismal reviews but audience raves. The entire cast was even arrested for indecency. Its writer, Mae West, eventually took her talent to Hollywood, but later had to back off of her controversial writing as film became more censored.
Rodgers and Hammerstein pointed out racism and stereotypes in musicals like “South Pacific” long before such subjects worked their way into film and rock music. “South Pacific” was considered daring to feature American soldiers struggling with interracial relationships and how they could ever be accepted by their families or society.
And today, “Avenue Q” makes fun of society’s current political correctness with the song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”
Bringing Sex to the Forefront
“Hair” refused to ignore the Vietnam War, pollution and race in the 1968 musical. They weren’t afraid to sing about sex and homosexuality and gave a voice to the flower child generation. Its infamous nude scene was met with protests, but ushered in a louder and more transparent look at society.
Broadway also manages to satirize our beliefs about being sexually open and permissive. The play “The Little Dog Laughed” looks at how popular Hollywood actors bolster their manly images with fake wives and children while hiding their homosexuality. It both makes fun of and dissects tabloid gossip and how Hollywood legalese forces actors to put on a persona that the public wants to see.
Discussing Controversial Diseases
The stage is no stranger to taboos and uncomfortable subjects that most movies and TV shows stray from. “Rent” recalls the horror of the early days of AIDS in the 1996 musical. It captures the epidemic of the ’80s during a time when it wasn’t acceptable to discuss, let alone show in popular media. “Rent” paved the way to open up the discussion on HIV and AIDS and also how society ostracized the homosexual community.
Meanwhile, 2011’s play “The Normal Heart” wove a horror story around AIDS as an unidentified disease with deadly consequences. The show sheds light on how the early ’80s called the disease a gay cancer and how it was an uphill battle.
Influencing TV and Film
It’s now common to see TV and films take the stage with works like “Angels in America,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” But, Broadway has influenced the big and small screens as well, as seen by shows and movies like “Glee” and “Chicago.” Taking music from the stage to different media outlets gives new audiences a better understanding of how Broadway weaves a narrative and gives a voice to different issues.
In “Chicago,” audiences can see how criminals become celebrities and how that is reflected in our current culture. “Glee” also uses music to give life to issues like teenage homosexuality, mixed-race and same-sex parental figures and teen pregnancy.
While Broadway didn’t create the voice for such issues, its music and stories have helped bring these issues to the forefront on big and small screens. If you want to see any of these shows, check out a site like Telecharge to find show times and buy tickets.