Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Since humanity could think, we’ve been creating. Art is as old as society itself, from cave paintings with berries and clay to oral tales passed down through generations. Now, as the modern world advances, so does art. Charcoal evolves into digital tablets, movies skip out on practical effects in favor of CGI, and theater expands from two people talking on a stage to a spectacular display of ingenuity and love for the craft. 

The origins of theater as a space and community can be traced to ancient Greece, where the first plays were performed in front of an audience. There, playwrights birthed tragedy and comedy, three-act structures, and the power of community. It was known then as the common man’s artform because of its accessibility. Anyone, regardless of financial status, could perform in these communal events. 

Recently, however, theater’s transformed from an accessible form of art to something of a luxury good. Tickets on Broadway have skyrocketed, and productions are now expected to be Tony-levels of extravagance. If not, they’re underfunded, under-marketed, and die out of relevancy before opening weekend is over. Volunteering thespians with only a small auditorium and an even smaller budget pour all their energy into a short-lived run of a musical that their local theater’s barely will make a profit on. High school and middle school kids must have perfect pitch and stellar props, taking the fun out of creation and performance.

Everything that is made must have a monetary advantage or else it’s not worth doing. Art is no longer seen as something for everyone’s enjoyment and even a necessity for a society to thrive and connect to one another. Rather, theater in particular is now seen as child’s play and only worth watching if it’s groundbreaking and expensive. Actors can barely afford to live, much less shuck out hundreds of dollars to buy tickets to their own shows. Those who can drop that kind of money for a matinee is small and buy them for the spectacle of it, not the art. 

In the everchanging zeitgeist, many people believe these skyrocketing prices are justified. The work is disregarded because it’s not a necessity and seen as something luxurious instead of a way to connect with each other. Expectations for quality are also higher than ever.

But in a world that is more polarized than ever, only art can bridge the gap. Art allows people from different backgrounds to see stories from all around the world. Theater breeds community, creativity, and connection. It allows empathy to cultivate.

So, how does this change? Broadway’s prices won’t drop overnight, especially when those who can afford it will keep buying them, justifying those kinds of prices. But starting small—supporting community theaters, having bigger art budgets in schools—can have a great impact. Watch local shows, donate to nonprofit art companies, when possible, and even volunteer if you’re interested. Staying active in a community can allow art to thrive and show that theater is and always will be accessible.

It’s a modern trend to take a kid’s show or movie and mature it in a remake for its now-adult audience. Whether or not this is a success depends on the medium and the heart behind each project, but many original fans tend to stray away from most remakes of their beloved nostalgia-tripping shows.

Scooby Doo is not immune to this, having been adapted and revamped and parodied for decades now, and it seems like every iteration hits the same beats in order to tell a story that’s ‘never been done before.’ However, one diamond shines among the coals: a particular one-act play hidden in a nerdy corner of the internet, and its new holiday-themed musical sequel that refreshingly expands upon the mystery parody genre.

The Solve-It-Squad Returns, made by comedy trio Tin Can Bros in 2017, follows a kid detective team twenty years after their falling out when a familiar face from their past resurfaces and forces them to work together again. Conflicts arise, sandwiches are made, and in true Scooby Doo fashion, traps are set all to catch this not-so-new bad guy causing mayhem. After solving this decades-long mystery—I highly recommend checking out the show for yourself for the excellently executed twist at the end—they decide to stay together and reignite the Solve-It-Squad. This one-act play was well-received and has grown a deserved internet cult following in the coming years, even getting an off-Broadway production in 2018.

With three script reads of potential animated episodes made over COVID, the Bros returned in 2022 stronger than ever with a musical sequel: How The Grunch Cribbed Christmas. Yes, that’s the actual title. Acting as a fake charity livestream with diegetic nondenominational bangers, The Grunch keeps the spirit of its crime-solving roots and adapts a holly jolly tone to it. Be warned: there is plenty of mature themes and jokes in both, so if you’re young enough to still be watching Scooby-Doo, skip this one.

With absentee parents, quick changes up the wazoo, and a mysterious Grinch-esque monster running amuck that the Solve-It-Squad must unmask, there is something to satisfy diehard fans excited to see their beloved characters on stage again—and singing this time, no less—while granting enough context and novelty not to isolate anyone uninitiated to the Tin Can Bros universe. 

The Grunch uses its small, intimate stage to its advantage by making crowd participation an active plot device. It engages different audience members for funny scenes while carrying out jokes to satisfy callbacks later. Because the audience is canonically present in the story, the characters are allowed to roam around and between the chairs, blurring the line between audience and actor. 

The music, written by the talented Nick Gage, is fun and addictive to listen to, carrying a festive cheer throughout that is guaranteed to end up on your Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa playlist. It’s entirely in-universe as well, meaning plenty of holiday bells jingling and excellent staging by stage manager Tammy Babich.

This musical takes itself less seriously than its predecessor, having fewer emotionally driven scenes at moments it felt needed. Though it’s not a surprise, given its inspiration, they rely on the quirky, cartoonish humor most Scooby-Doo parodies tend to stray from to undermine what could’ve been powerful scenes if given breathing room. Coming off a play that held a better balance between the jokes and the serious scenes, this sequel is far more comedic, sometimes to its detriment. 

However, the humor makes up for what it lacks in quiet moments. The Grunch still allows their characters time to show their growth between the two installments which feels like genuine progress. They’re played as actual people rather than caricatures of characters from another show. With a sweet but silly message, engaging audience interactions, and near-perfect performances by their small cast—seven people in its entirety, an upgrade from the whopping six from the first—How The Grunch Cribbed Christmas has all you need to make it onto your holiday movie list for years to come.

In the era of remakes and revivals, love for the slasher genre has returned with a vengeance. But while movie tickets sell out, a new contender comes to steal the spotlight: musical theater.

The third installment of the popular Hatchetfield series, Nerdy Prudes Must Die (also known as NPMD) is the latest production by Starkid Productions, written by genius brothers Nick and Matt Lang. This musical theater powerhouse has done several parody and self-referential musicals in the past.

This horror-comedy follows a group of nerds who seek revenge on their bully Max with a prank that ends in a fatal three-story fall. Unfortunately for them, Max returns as a vengeful ghost hellbent on killing the so-called nerdy prudes he blames for his death. Thus ensues a race against time for the nerds to find a way to stop Max while the local cops close in on them.

Despite being a part of a longer storyline, Nerdy Prudes Must Die balances callbacks to its predecessors while standing well on its own. It takes well-loved tropes and successfully alters them while maintaining loyalty to the genre. Add in some eldritch deities, a cultish town secret, and a cop subplot, and NPMD becomes a melting pot of niches that come naturally to the eclectic story it tells.

The opening title, “High School is Killing Me,” directly ties into the idea of the teen’s struggle to survive high school, using violent language and choreography to perpetuate this notion. We’re also introduced to our three cliche-filled protagonists: sheltered and religious Grace Chastity, nervous nerd Pete Spankoffski, and rebellious party girl Stephanie Lauter.

Each character falls easily into a character type often found in slashers, but leans into them in a clever, self-aware way. Max shows a unique understanding bullies seldom have while also reiterating his status as a high school menace, as seen in “Literal Monster,” a song structured to show the nerds, the prey, being hunted by Max, the predator. 

Grace Chastity, the only true nerdy prude of the friend group, kickstarts the rest of the story. Her forbidden attraction to Max drives her to prank him and subsequently hide his body, as seen in the cleverly named songs “Bully the Bully” and “Bury the Bully.” She ropes the other nerds into keeping quiet about their accidental manslaughter, a reference to I Know What You Did Last Summer with a nerdy twist.

Despite it leaning on the humorous aspect of horror-comedy, NPMD easily hits several emotional beats, making you care for Max’s victims with little time on stage. While Pete and Stephanie’s budding relationship begins as a cute distraction from the sex-crazed felonies Grace has been committing, it grows into something far larger than the climax of the musical hinges upon; they’re given the choice to sacrifice what they love most in order to stop Max, and what they cherish most is each other. Fair warning, however: “Cool as I Think I Am (Reprise)” will make you bawl your eyes out.

Nerdy Prudes Must Die is a love letter to teen slashers, displaying the evolution the genre has had over the decades in musical form. It is available to watch in its entirety on YouTube.

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