Robert Lopez is my favorite musical composer. Behind both Do You Want To Build a Snowman and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, he’s one of only a dozen people to have won all four of the major annual American media awards (i.e. Grammy, Emmy, Oscar, and Tony) – this usually takes the majority of someone’s lifetime and career, but it took Lopez only a decade!
Where am I going with all of this? Well, today I’d like to share my favorite lyrics in all of musical theatre. It’s a pretty tall claim, but because of the verse’s placement in the musical and its masterful delivery of information, I have no reservations. It’s clear, it’s concise, and it’s powerful – everything that this blog entry is quickly becoming the antithesis of. So, before I repeat myself again, here’s What Do You Do With a B.A. In English – the very first thing you hear in a production of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s Avenue Q:
What do you do with a B.A. in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge
have earned me this useless degree.
I can’t pay the bills yet,
‘cause I have no skills yet.
The world is a big scary place –
But somehow I can’t shake
the feeling I might make
a difference to the human race!
The “song” is under a minute long, and that’s exactly what makes it so brilliant. Less than sixty seconds into the production, we already know the fears, goals, age, personality, and profession (or lack thereof) of our protagonist, Princeton – to top it off, we even know the purpose of the musical and the questions that we’re being asked to consider. As any middling scriptwriter, screenwriter, author, or creative artist of any sort could tell you, this is no easy feat. The information we’re being given is substantial, and although it’s blatantly expositional, it doesn’t feel cumbersome or boring (in my humble opinion). In addition, the music that accompanies the lyrics is quite charming. I highly recommend that you go give it a listen; it’ll take less than three minutes of your time, and there’s a good chance that the Youtube advertisement will be longer than the song itself, by a decent margin.
The gestus of a play is a small action, phrase, object that reveals the main purpose of the production (or of a specific character). My acting teacher loooves “gestus moments,” as he terms them. This is because, to him, they’re the moments that theatrical productions are built around. They’re small actions or words that keep people thinking even after they leave the theatre.
For the theatre geeks reading this I have two examples. In the 1995 film version of The Fantasticks, as the Narrator is driving away and singing Try to Remember, there’s a quick camera cut to the rearview mirror of his truck, that focuses for a good seven seconds or so on Louisa’s necklace – where he's hung it next to a dozen other necklaces. Oh, the implications! Example number two is from Oliver! – while the film version has Fagin and the Artful Dodger walk off into the sunset together, many stage productions end with Fagin completely alone. However, in my school’s recent production, Fagin ends the show with a final look back into London as he’s leaving the city. There, he sees Dodger, and he waves. Is it farewell? Are they (as TSwift would put it) ever getting back together? Is Fagin going to continue his cyclical establishment of child pickpocketing in the next city over? In this way, in forging our own interpretation of the script, the gestus is the director’s most powerful tool.
For everyone else, I’m sorry for going full-geek there (I lied, I’m actually not sorry at all). The point is that the gestus of a play can be really awesome if used well. So how does this all tie back in to Lopez and Marx’s salaciously sassy spectacular? Well, although What Do You Do With a B.A. In English is a little long to be considered the gestus of Avenue Q, the two are closely related. However, because I went way over the usual blog word count when originally typing this entry up in Pages, I've separated it into two parts; in part two, I'll tie all of these crazy random theatre things I've seen talking about together and connect them all neatly to Tufts. So – stay posted! Pun intended.