A is for the Arts: The beauty that is Broadway

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Erica Dougherty

The obsession began with a flying witch.

While most psychologists would classify an airborne sorceress as a product of an overactive imagination, I, along with 1,932 strangers, can confirm she exists. To find her, one must enter a realm outside of our reality, where witches defy the laws of gravity, animals are college professors, and a “green city” does not hold a LEED status.

We call this realm “Broadway.”

At eight years old, I saw my first Broadway show. Expecting a movie-like experience, I bounced impatiently in my seat, waiting for a television to emerge and entertain me. Instead of a silver screen, I was blessed with an emerald city, and I sat completely still as the world of the musical ‘Wicked’ glittered to life.  

The music was unlike anything I had heard on the radio. Flying monkeys sailed over the audience and the bedazzled actors danced through Oz in a way that even Judy Garland could not rival. I left the Gershwin Theatre that night convinced that I had seen real magic, and from then on, all I ever heard was the echo of the ensemble.

Five years later, “Wicked” entered my life again, this time through the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I sat anxiously in my seat, waiting for the first notes of the soundtrack to come, like the monkeys, soaring from the stage. However, as the show began, I found myself captivated by a new form of magic.

While the actors were every bit as sparkly, and the music was just as entrancing as in New York, I realized I was watching a completely different show. Instead of merely telling a story, ‘Wicked’ now captured the struggles of prejudice, the trials of friendship and the magnitude of harnessing the power within oneself.

That night, I finally understood “Wicked” not as the tale of a witch from Oz, but rather the story of life itself. The realization shocked me, and my obsession with musicals took full flight, like Elphaba at the end of Act I.

Over the next seven years, I immersed myself into every musical I could. I pored over soundtracks, followed fan accounts on Instagram, hunted down bootleg recordings on YouTube and begged for tickets each Christmas and birthday.

I fell deeply in love with musical theater, and, with every show, I learned more about life.

“Les Misérables” preached about the importance of faith and the unfairness of the world.

‘Aida’ demonstrated the difficulty of choosing between what is right, and what is easy.

‘Be More Chill’ taught me that the loudest voice in my head should always be my own.

‘Heathers’ showed me my decisions have consequences, and I should never change myself for anyone else’s benefit.

Through musicals, I have come to understand that art, in any form, is the one true teacher of life. Art tells the story of the human experience and does so in a way that appeals to each person individually. One person, for instance, may see a show like ‘Wicked’ and walk away thinking about racism, while the person next to them leaves pondering the significance of friendship.

Regardless of time, culture, artist or medium, the lessons in art persist. They shape us, force us to think, encourage us and shatter our preconceived notions about the impact that we have on the world.

Without art, we do not question. Without questions, we do not learn.

Although I may be further into Act I of my life, I often look back on that night in the Gershwin Theatre. ‘Wicked’ may have taught me to love musicals, but it also imparted to me the most important lesson that I will ever learn.

Art is the best teacher in the world. I can’t wait to learn how to defy gravity.

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