By Melanie Rodriguez, Senior, Editor-in-chief
It is my pleasure to welcome you all back to an exciting new school year as editor-in-chief of the Phoenix Flyer. Despite an unconventional start to this academic year, with Hurricane Irma’s passing through Florida and the Caribbean, the newsletter’s writers are prepared to bring you the latest scoop on all things iPrep. This month’s topics range from cultural identity to music reviews to political happenings. Happy Reading!
As September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I found it fitting to share my experience of my recent trip to New York City where I had the opportunity to see the musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812. Both of these musicals are part of a new generation of emerging Broadway shows that are exposing critical topics, such as suicide, that are often overlooked by society. Despite taking place in completely different time periods, both of these musicals share the common theme of societal pressures on an individual and how society influences an individual’s actions.
The Great Comet of 1812, created by Dave Malloy and directed by Rachel Chavkin, was inspired by a segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Composed of an extremely unique cast, having earned the Actors’ Equity Award for Diversity for their non-traditional and inclusive casting, The Great Comet has established itself as a groundbreaking, innovative, and immersive Broadway production exemplified by their remarkable 12 Tony Award nominations for the 2017 season.
Despite being set in early nineteenth century Russia, The Great Comet discusses issues that are currently relevant. The plot follows Natasha, a nineteen-year-old hopeless romantic, who is engaged to Andrey, a serious soldier off at war. While on a visit to Moscow, Natasha becomes infatuated with Anatole and decides to end her relationship with Andrey. This brief “affair” causes great backlash from Natasha’s family; instead of helping her with the issue she is facing, they choose to scold her. Not having any support during this time causes Natasha to feel lost, so she attempts suicide by poisoning herself with arsenic.
This instance highlights the importance of individuals having a support system during difficult moments in life and how sometimes those closest to a person can have the strongest influence on a person’s decisions. Additionally, it demonstrates how oftentimes people are quick to judge despite not knowing how the person is feeling or what they are thinking. If not anything else, I believe The Great Comet showcases the importance of supporting and guiding your loved ones even when they make mistakes. The Great Comet, in its exhilarating, uplifting, and haunting entirety, is a great reminder of the power of unconditional love and how greatly it is needed.
Set in the modern day, Dear Evan Hansen, starring Tony Award Winner Ben Platt, tells a similar story. Written by Steve Levenson with a musical score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen, winner of this year’s Tony Award for Best Musical, follows the compelling story of a seventeen-year-old high school senior (Evan Hansen) with a social anxiety disorder who becomes immersed in the tumult following a classmate’s suicide (Connor Murphy), which unexpectedly leads to revelations about himself.
The musical sees Evan involve himself in a mess that did not concern him in the first place in order to feel like he belongs somewhere. By becoming a symbol of hope for the Murphy family, Evan finally begins to feel that he is useful and appreciated; however, the insight given by each character show that Evan is not the only person feeling alone—those revelations show that everyone may feel isolated or outcast for different reasons.
Lyrics such as “No one deserves to disappear” and “You will be found” serve as reassurance that despite what society and life happenings may make people feel like at times, everyone serves a purpose in their life. This tear-jerking yet inspiring story that causes the audience to join the orchestra in a symphony of sniffles every night, serves as a much-needed reminder that as important as it is to help those we love, it is equally important to seek help for ourselves from those we trust.
I have the privilege to say I was fortunate enough to experience the emotion and lessons of these shows, and I can only hope others will have the opportunity to be exposed to this media as well. I am honestly very proud of the change in direction Broadway is undergoing right now, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.
However, the issues still remain: why is mental health still considered a stigma in society, and how can that be changed? Hopefully, with enough exposure, whether it be through the arts or education, and extensive open conversation, we will make more advancements in the acceptance and aid of mental health issues.