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The Lyric I and the American Musical | Essays | Sarah Ruhl

one hundred essays I don't have time to write*

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61. The Lyric I and the American Musical

Is the contemporary American musical a frenzied, Dionysian, cathartic event and if not why not? Is it because the “I”, the singing “I” at a rock concert (as opposed to a fictional character singing in a musical comedy) creates the emotional event? That is to say the singer who is actually singing the song at a rock concert (which is a Dionysian event, I think) appears to be singing his or her own life. Is the audience swept into a frenzy by the complete identification between singer and song? Or is the audience at a rock concert identified with sheer musicality beyond identification with the singer and the singer’s personae? Does the mimetic function in the American musical strictly prohibit a Dionysian event? We know someone is pretending to be a character who feels a certain way and so sings about it rather than being that character and having written the song themselves. If the Dionysian event goes beyond individual identity and into the mythic, then we all wrote the song or it doesn’t matter who wrote the song…
Does the American “rock musical” have potential to be the seething experiential thing that a rock concert is? Or does the mimetic principle make us slightly geeky in spite of or because of our best efforts?
In short, what does the mimetic function do to the capacity for experience?

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