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.

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.

Do you love zombie movies, but wish there was more romance? Well, then Zombie Prom is the musical for you! Taking place in the radioactive 50s, this zom-com has everything, from a forbidden love story, science fiction undertones, and thrilling plot twists.

High school sweethearts Toffee and Jonny are torn apart after their secret relationship is exposed by their parents, who don’t want their lovely straight-and-narrow daughter involved with a reckless bad boy. Distraught after their break up, Jonny drives his motorcycle into a nuclear plant outside of town, and returns to school weeks later glowing green and wanting to win Toffee’s heart back. He has a newfound determination to graduate, and to take Toffee to prom as a declaration of his undying love.

Although she’s unsure whether this revived relationship will work, Toffee’s friends urge her to try it if she loves him, even if he’s more green than guy. That, and the aptly named principal Mrs. Strict has created a rule just for Jonny to complicate their plans: no zombies at school! All the while, a local reporter digs into Jonny’s undead past that is sure to bring to life a long dead secret.

This musical is perfect for lovers of 50’s rock and romcom lovers with a taste for horror. If you’re interested, be sure to come and see Zombie Prom live! Columbia Children’s Theatre and Freeway Music have partnered up to give you a performance to die for. Be sure to keep an eye out for more details the closer the date becomes!

With the release of Lin Manuel Miranda’s first film as director, this eccentric take on Jonathon Larson’s autobiographical musical Tick Tick Boom, there has come a revival of interest in his Larson’s other successful musical, Rent.

The film follows Jonathon Larson, a musical writer in the 80’s struggling to get his science-fiction musical to take off while working at a diner. Top that off with his girlfriend Susan—a fictional take on his previous real-life girlfriend—wishing to move away for a job and wanting him to follow, and his strained relationship with his best friend Michael as he climbs the ranks in an advertising company. Although his workshop of Superbia, the musical he spent 8 years working on, didn’t go anywhere past that, Larson’s agent gave him vital advice to any artist: write about what you know.

His next musical was Tick Tick Boom, followed by Rent, which exploded into popularity, tackling issues such as homophobia, artistic gentrification, the AIDs pandemic, and grief accompanied by the healing power of love. Unfortunately, Larson didn’t get to see his own success, as he passed away from an aortic aneurysm the same day Rent opened on Broadway, at the young age of 35. However, his influence on theater has stretched decades into the future. 

Lin Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican native, saw Rent at age seventeen, and was so inspired by the beauty of the rock musical that he dedicated his career to Broadway. He would change the game forever with his hit musical Hamilton. After this he would direct a movie for his debut musical In The Heights.

Miranda’s career expanded past Broadway, as he wrote the music for hit Disney films such as Encanto and Moana, which opened the door for more diverse animated movies in the future. His most recent project was an adaptation of Tick Tick Boom, a love letter and homage to the man who encouraged him to pursue his dream. 

Past Lin Manuel Miranda, Rent was so radical for its time—tackling topics nobody dared to speak about while also being one of the first rock-ballad musicals—that it was revolutionary in both style and message. It showed other writers that they, too, could discuss new or ‘controversial’ topics in a nontraditional form. Broadway was always about pushing boundaries, talking about things nobody wanted to hear in a palatable and stylized way.

Without Jonathon Larson’s few musicals to open the path, Broadway wouldn’t be as profound and popular as it is now, touching the hearts of everyone and making marginalized people feel seen and heard. 

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