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Robbie Dwight 10-19-10 Musical Theater Performance Satire Paper

When it comes to contemporary American comedy, satire is the king of all. Whether it's shows like The Office or late night segments called "Weekend Update with Seth Myers" to television comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, satire is one of the most prevalent comedic devices today. Musical theater is no exception to this, especially with the amount of satiric musicals, including Into the Woods, Urinetown, Avenue Q, Spamalot, and Assassins, just to name a few.

Before running off and discussing satirical musicals, one must establish a good working definition of satire. The word itself is actually derived from the Latin word satira, which is a later derivative of the word satura, which translates to poetic medley. I find this extremely important, specifically when it comes to the discussion of satire in musical theater, because it means the word itself

insinuates that satire is performed in a poetic manner in terms of speech rhyme and rhythm, making it the perfect comedic implement in musical theatre. Further, satire implements irony, exaggeration, and ridicule to point out human flaws or vices, specifically in terms of contemporary politics and/or issues. All of this information merely about the word satire helps me to draw the conclusion that a musical without satire is missing something.

To start off with, the song that were singing in class from Tomfoolery is not only hilarious, but has many great examples of satire. Specifically, one of my favorite lines from Be Prepared is a perfect example of satire, Be prepared! To hide that pack of cigarettes, / Don't make book if you cannot cover bets. / Keep those reefers hidden where you're sure / That they will not be found / And be careful not to smoke them / When the scoutmaster's around /For he only will insist that it be shared. Be prepared! Not only is this line in and of itself a commentary on rebellious youths smoking underage rebellion against the conformist ideals of the Boy Scouts of America, but also a commentary on the holier than thou mentality of a lot of authority figures. As demonstrated in the song, the satiric lyrics have more syncopation to them than the rest of the lyrics. Well-written satire, therefore, literally sounds better when put to music than when

mediocre satire is put to music.

One of the best examples of a satirical musical is Avenue Q. The title of the show itself is a satire on the naming of streets in New York City, specifically the neighborhood Alphabet City. The musical is littered with satire, with song titles like If You Were Gay, What Do You Do With a B.A. in English, and The Internet Is For Porn. The songs deal with contemporary issues from homosexuality, the value of a college degree in the 21st century, and the state of American society in terms of human interaction, respectively. Not only are the lyrics well written, the music itself adds to the satiric merit of each song. Satire in musical theater is also accompanied by well-written music, usually music that directly opposes the emotion of the song. For example, the music to If You Were Gay, a song about coming out, a very serious subject, if accompanied by upbeat, almost vaudeville-esque music that is up-tempo and bright. A lot of times, the music makes the lyrics funny. Even with serious and dramatic musicals, light moments of satire can actually improve dramatic moments, because it acts as a moment where the audience can breath and relax. Moral of the story, I feel that without moments of satire or light humor within a musical, the musical ultimately misses the mark and is not as enjoyable as it could be.