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Dancing Through Life; All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Musicals


A few times each year I guest post for Shannon. I have to be honest,the musical series was a tough draw for me. Since the distribution of this blog has expanded, I should explain.

I wasn’t a theatre guy growing up. What I loved was Shannon. If Shannon was one of the girls that’s really into horses it would be ranch work for me.

For more than a decade Shannon ran the theatre program at Pickerington Central. Any coach or director will tell you that you don’t remember games or performances. Instead you remember the arc of a season, but more than that you remember moments and above all you remember people. Most of the first shows I’ve ever seen were the labors of love, crafted by my wife and some kids we loved. The moments were an incredible blessing and thinking of theatre doesn’t necessarily bring me to Oklahoma or to a Secret Garden but instead brings me to Robby or Mike or Jeff or Jessica or Collin or Molly or Hayley. The plays were victories of watching kids become more than they were, and learning to build something bigger than themselves. They happened to be awesome plays, but the process mattered to us more than the outcome.

Before I move on, two quick notes that may be of help to young married folks:

-Whatever thing your spouse loves, take at least one step towards it. Your relationship will be better and you might find your world gets more full.

-Find a way to invest time and energy into some kids. You will be blessed and so will some people we don’t even know about yet.

But in quick summary-I’m no musical expert.

Now...Wicked.

Wicked brings us back to the land of Oz visited by Dorothy in the classic film “The Wizard of Oz”. The real story is revealed through a series of clever, sometimes brilliant twists, as we learn about the Wizard, the truth of the relationship between the “good” and “bad” witch, how the scarecrow and tin man came to be and how the whole world of Oz fits together.

The musicals I usually like are epic stories of courage, duty and redemption fought in front of the gritty backdrop of a changing world (think Les Miserables, Ragtime, Hamilton).

Wicked isn’t that. It’s a pretty “theater-ey” show, big ballads, bright lights, a sizable helping of dudes in weird pants dancing merrily. If you’re into musical stuff -big show stopping numbers and talented singers belting their faces off as they fly around on ropes you’ll love it. If not, you still might find it to be great. The steampunk aesthetic and strange world they live in don’t just make for a neat, green tinted set, they also work as an anesthetic. The world of the play is just “other” enough that it allows you to probe some hard truths about courage, friendship and purpose without hitting a point of pain.

Courage

The song “Defying Gravity” is a song by Elphaba, who we know from the original movie as the Wicked Witch of the West. In this song she casts off the limits placed on her by people who feel threatened by her power and commits to a new life of freedom. Again it’s all very strange as it’s sung by a green lady flying around the theater, but it speaks to an essential truth. We too often fear the strengths that make us unique. We flee from courage into the comfortable same-ness of being like everyone else. If you’re a Christ follower the Bible uses an analogy of the Church (big C, like all believers across time and geography) as part of one body, that we are part of God’s redemptive team to save and heal the world. Christian, you are part of the body on an eternal and divine rescue mission and whatever part you are you’ve got to go be that thing. Now.

If you’re not following Jesus right now, let’s meet here-you were made on purpose and for a purpose. Whatever gift or dream you have that makes you stay up and think late at night and makes your heart beat fast, go. The world needs something you have. Don’t stop at mere obedience and absolutely don’t be afraid. Come alive.

Friendship

For Good is a powerful song of friendship. Even if you’ve not seen the show you’ve probably heard this one as it had some crossover success on the pop charts. It’s a pretty song, but what elevates it is the honesty between the friends. The friends are bold and precise-”I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done that you blame me for, but I suppose there is blame to share” wouldn’t pass muster in a relationship counseling session, but it’s a loving step in the right direction. The lasting images-a stream diverting at a boulder, a lingering hand print are the honest and organic confession-I don’t know if you’ve made my life better but it’s fundamentally different and I’m glad we got to do it together. This song sits right at the corner of truth and love and it’s a great reminder that all relationships need both. And it’s a song hemmed in between two battles as a reminder that every adventure needs a friend, and that real friendship enables you to go fight for what matters.

Purpose

I can tell you after struggling at this for a few hours that Wicked is surprisingly hard to write about. This is partly because there’s just a LOT going on (the Wikipedia plot summary is like 21,000 words) but also because the premise of the story is that we have fundamentally misunderstood the Wizard of Oz. The whole story is told by continually opening the lens wider and wider until you see a story that’s fundamentally different than you thought.

This examination is illustrated by the song “The Unexamined Life.” The song has the handsome and delightfully stupid Fiyero inviting the duo of leading ladies into a simpler life, while also calling out the quote by the Philosopher Socrates about how “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is a light, pop tune (sung on Broadway by an actual New Kid) but the song’s cheerful tone conceals an underlying nihilism, he sings, “Nothing matters, and knowing nothing matters it’s just life.” Fiyero goes through a transformation and by the end of the play he models love and sacrifice. The play is fundamentally about Galinda and Elphaba, the two main witches, but I found Fiyero’s transformation to be powerful.

When we first came to Oz as an audience we were riding along with Dorothy and Toto. We saw a glimpse of a world we thought we understood, but there was al problem. This wasn’t a story about Dorothy showing up and then going home, there was something else going on in the first place. They were mere bits in a bigger story about justice, fairness, redemption and hope. (For real -there’s a lot going on; go see the play). We sometimes do that. We can pretend that our life is fundamentally about us, but that doesn’t make sense of our life because it’s simply untrue.

As a Christian we’re told we see “but imperfectly, as through a warped mirror” and that “this world is not our home.” We, like Fiyero can be dancing through an unexamined life looking for security and comfort which would make sense if it was “just life, nothing mattered and we were only waiting to become dust” as he sings. But what if? What if there were more? What if we were given the option to become what the bible calls co-laborers. What if the the fight to heal and save the world was something in which we could participate and were in fact the very purpose for which we were created.

When the story is about something different than you thought your assumptions and actions must change. Wicked reveals that there’s more to the story than we saw in the old movie, but it also gives us a chance to consider-what is my purpose?

I don't know where you are, but I'd urge you..move forward.

Courage-Explore your gifts and use them.

Friendship-Share honest love and encouragement with one friend.

Purpose-Ask: what am I living for right now?

Ryan