UBC Graduate Research

The Integration of Mental Health into 21st-Century Broadway Musicals Janse van Rensburg, Suzette


Since 2000, the shows nominated for Best Musical at the Tony Awards have dealt with sexuality, drug abuse, death, mental health, identity, and many other serious topics. While most Broadway musicals are intended to entertain rather than educate viewers, a director cannot discount the fact that each show will reach a substantial number of individuals. Taking this opportunity to address serious subject matter allows for a non-confrontational method by which to inform audiences. The shows are not meant to be purely educational but rather a subtle mechanism to invoke change through intellectual theatre. The musicals that deal with complex social issues have the ability to create a discussion and initiate change. One such topic that has increasingly been incorporated into Broadway musicals in the last decade has been mental health. Although mentioned in several shows prior to the 21st century, the recent integration of this topic has been more direct and integral to the plot of musicals, including The Light in the Piazza and Next to Normal. The incorporation of mental illness into Broadway musicals of the 21st century could be a result of increased mental health awareness and the assurance of possible success owing to the achievement of musicals with controversial subject matter.

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