‘Sing Out, Louise’ and Other Broadway Parental Advice

May and June are the months we celebrate parents, honoring them with holidays where we express gratitude for their sage advice and life lessons that put us on the right life track.

As art imitates life, the Broadway stage offers many moms and dads, or otherwise parental types, offering life lessons, encouragement and guidance.

We’re sure you remember the choice wisdom doled out by parents, or lessons shared by grandparents and other relatives. Here is some of the best advice and learned counsel offered through song from Broadway:

Shrek – Embrace your freakdom
The hero of this fractured fairy tale, borne from a book and a very popular animated movie, is a big, green ogre. When storybook characters, such as Peter Pan, Snow White, Three Blind Mice, Pinocchio and Gingerbread Man (Gingy), are kicked to the swamp because they are different, they rally against Lord Farquaad, who wants a cookie-cutter kingdom. The song “Freak Flag” inspires puppet Pinocchio, who longs to be a real boy, to embrace what he is.

“It’s time to stop the hiding
It’s time to stand up tall
Say hey world, I’m different, and here I am splinters and all
Let your freak flag wave
Let your freak flag fly.”

Wicked – Friends are everything
The strongest message in this musical of the backstory of Wicked Witch of the West and Good Witch Glinda is that good friendships matter. It is a case of opposites attract when it comes to Elphaba and Glinda and they quickly realize there’s a lot to learn from their differences. It is rocky start for the roomies — Glinda is shallow and Elphba is self-conscious and defensive, but over time and having joined forces to solve problems, they form a friendship that grows to loyal and lasting. They cite that evolution in the song “For Good”:

“Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine
By being my friend … Because I knew you
I have been changed
For good.”

The Sound of Music – Pursue your dreams
In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved musical, Mother Abbess imparts parental guidance to Novice Maria who is torn with continuing her religious studies or returning to the Von Trapp household and sharing her romantic feelings for the Captain. Mother Abbess sings the show’s signature anthem, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which calls for Maria – all of us, actually – to embrace every challenge and opportunity God puts in front of you. It empowers with optimism and encouragement in its lyrics:

“Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
‘Till you find your dream.”

Into the Woods – Children pay attention
Leave it to composer Stephen Sondheim to serve up a veritable buffet of life lessons from this gem of a fairytale mashup. The intricate plot explores growing up, being better together, nice is different than good, among other nuggets of wisdom. The musical concludes with the song “Children Will Listen,” with the blatant message that the way a parent acts (or doesn’t) or what a parent says (or doesn’t) has a lasting effect on how children see the world.

“Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn.”

It’s not that parents don’t know this, but sometimes it helps to be reminded.

Dear Evan Hansen – Accept yourself
This show about an awkward teen with social anxiety who feels invisible. When he becomes enmeshed in a classmate’s suicide due to a misunderstanding and untruth, he finds himself the center of attention. At first, he liked his new-found stature among classmates and family, but then he is overwhelmed with his big lie and he harm it is inflicting. This leads him to accept his imperfections and confess the untruth. In the show’s finale song, “You’ll Be Found,” occurring a year later in the show timeline, he sings about accepting himself and finally being comfortable in his own skin, his strength and his purpose:

“Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found
So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found.”

JUST ANNOUNCED – Dear Evan Hansen returns to The Straz, Feb. 2-6, 2022!

Hamilton – Take your shot
This inspirational blockbuster, which tells the story of the “less famous” Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s climb to power, is chockfull of lessons from its first note. The first song does more than foreshadow the hero’s journey – it flat out tells you of his ascension from nothing to something to how he dies. In song No. 2, “My Shot” lays out Hamilton’s allegiance to the Revolution while detailing his ambitions and how he’ll achieve them by “not throwing away his shot.” Hamilton’s message resonates with audience members as a call to take full advantage of opportunities that present themselves or to create your opportunities to seize. Other takeaways from this phenom show are belief in yourself, sacrifice leads to greatness, take responsibility for your own education and brilliance is rooted in being humble, though that last one is hard to swallow at times due to Ham’s frequently visible arrogance.

Annie Get Your Gun – You can’t get a man with a gun
Ok, we admit it, this one is kind of a joke, but it is the sentiment that prompted the whole “lessons borne from Broadway” idea. Written by Irving Berlin, the show is the fictionalized version of sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s relationship with fellow shooter Frank Butler in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. At the start, Annie is decidedly a tomboy, naïve and smitten with Butler. She quickly learns her shooting prowess will not seal the deal for long-term love which prompts her lament in the song “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun”:

“When I’m with a pistol
I sparkle like a crystal
Yes, I shine like the morning sun
But I lose all my luster
When with a Bronco Buster
Oh you can’t get a man with a gun.”

In the course of the show, love blossoms in the workplace and they marry. In real life, the timeline is a bit sketchy — Annie and Frank do marry, but it may have been years before they join Buffalo Bill’s traveling show. That’s showbiz.

Gypsy: A Musical Fable – A mother of a stage mother
This is the mother of all musicals about the mother of all stage mothers. The Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne Broadway show is about the tumultous mother- daughter relationship of Mama Rose and daughters June and Louise. Mama Rose – played by some of Broadway’s most fierce actresses, Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone — is known as overprotective, tenacious and unrelenting in her efforts to turn her daughters into vaudeville stars to live vicariously through them. In the song “If Momma Was Married,” the sisters speculate how their lives would change if Rose would marry her neglected beau.

“If Momma was married there wouldn’t be any more
‘Let me entertain you, let me make you smile’… Momma, we’ll buy you the rice
If only this once
You wouldn’t think twice
It could be so nice.”

Mama Rose’s push for stardom drives June away. With the act waning, Louise is encouraged to do a strip tease at a burlesque show and her mother doesn’t deter her, instead offering advice to just drop a shoulder strap: “Make ’em beg for more, and then don’t give it to them!” Louise gains confidence on stage, transforming into world-famous stripper “Gypsy Rose Lee,” eventually not needing her smothering mother any longer.

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