Where Art, Culture and Politics Intersect: The Theater

Theater has always been something of a social commentary, with its finger always on the pulse of current events. That’s nothing new. But over the past decade or so, with the socio-political climate around us becoming more and more tumultuous, the world of theater – both plays and musicals – have begun a shift in consciousness, resulting in some truly fascinating and engaging historical and political shows.

Photo Credit: Vinicius Vilela


Of course, the main one that comes to the forefront of our minds is Hamilton, that larger-than-life phenomenon created by the ever-charming, beloved-the-world-over force of nature that is Lin Manuel Miranda. While the subject matter is of course fascinating (Alexander Hamilton was an engaging and quirky figure, as the history books can attest) the true reason for Hamilton’s incredible success is the original cast. Diverse, overflowing with heart, and amazingly talented, the cast, led by Leslie Odom, Jr, Daveed Diggs and Miranda among many others, has captivated the hearts, and more importantly, the brains, of folks the world over. It is truly a cultural touchstone at this point (and if it’s any indication, Hamilton is now one of the first musicals to be getting its own upcoming movie theater release, such is the demand for it).

Hamilton has undoubtedly paved the way for many other musicals and plays that challenge worldviews and make socio-political commentaries. Musicals like The Color Purple (based on the novel by Alice Walker, later adapted to the screen by Steven Spielberg), and the Lion King may not, at first blush, seem like political art, but at their heart, they are commentaries on class, political hierarchies and dynasties, and familial violence.

Many of the current Broadway and West End theater shows can be traced back to socio-political commentary. Waitress deals with domestic violence and poverty; Mean Girls explores social hierarchies; To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the novel by Harper Lee, is inherently political, dealing with the subjects of segregation, lynching, false accusations, ableism and more in Jim Crow Alabama; even Aladdin, based on the Disney movie of the same title, is an exploration into class warfare and poverty.

Art reflects our time, as always. Through the decades, we’ve enjoyed countless literature, music, movies and theater that reflect the times we live in, the struggles we face, the prejudices we encounter, and the hope we have in the face of all of it all.  Luckily, these days we recognize the importance of embracing art to tell our truths, and we don’t shy away from artistic expression in the world of politics, with more and more celebrities and public figures speaking truth to power and being candid about the causes they choose to support, the candidates they follow and the prejudices they face. As art begins to imitate life, the expression of such becomes more and more important.

There’s never been a better time to crack open a book or head to the theater for our teachable moments. Entertainment and education can be bedfellows, and happy ones at that.

Best of all, going to the theater has never been more affordable or accessible, with broadway tickets available to all who wish to enjoy the theater and all it has to offer. A whole new world, indeed.

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