The term provocative can be used in many contexts. Be it sexually, politically, or culturally the general idea is to get people to think and reconsider their original stance on an issue.
Provocative themes are no strangers in the world of musicals. This form of entertainment has been igniting the minds of millions since its first inception. So we would like to present a list of our favorite provocative musicals.
1. Rocky Horror Picture Show
One does not have to look far to notice the provocativeness in this popular musical. First we have Brad and Janet who are in love, but have not been intimate. They plan to wed and copulate like respectable people are supposed to do. They find themselves stranded at the home of Dr. Frank N. Furter and the sexual repression both of them have been dealing breaks free.
At first the couple finds Frank N. Furter and his entourage a bit shocking. Yet, when they are forced to spend the night both of them are seduced by Frank N. Furter, subsequently being unfaithful to the other.
Meanwhile, Rocky is the specimen of sexual desire for many, according to Frankfurter, his creator. The transsexual from Transylvania made Rocky in his private lab to be, what he considers, the perfect specimen of a human being, one with whom Frank N. Furter lusts after.
The costumes alone scream sexuality since this groundbreaking musical was not shy in its highlighting of cross dressers, homosexuals, and group sex. It has become an all-time cult classic.
Released in 1975 this musical comedy horror was directed by Jim Sharman. Originally a stage production in 1973 it was meant to satire the science fiction B movies. Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick this movie, according to critic Roger Ebert, was “ignored by pretty much everyone, including the future fanatics who would eventually count the hundreds of time they’d seen it.”
This is the one movie we know of where there are frequent midnight screenings around the world, especially during Halloween. Movie goers dress up as characters in the film and recreate the scenes during the screening.
Some of these recreations were so well done people would come just to see them. Ones that stand out are the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and the Strand Theater in San Francisco.
Other forms of audience involvement include throwing toast, water, toilet paper, hot dogs, and rice at specific scenes in the film. Of course, a big thing is to dance along to the “Time Warp.”
This rock musical by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and music by Galt Mac Dermot, was a result of the hippie counterculture that took hold of the country and the world during the late 1960’s. With anti-war themes and sexual openness Hair was indeed very provocative.
The plot centers around a “tribe” of hippies who are active in political protesting. They live an artist lifestyle in New York and are opposed to the war in Vietnam. We have Claude, Berger, and Sheila. The trio finds that harmonizing their youthful existences with sexual revolutions and a desire to stop the war.
The parents in this musical are conservative in nature, everything opposite of what the “tribe” represents. Claude is considering dodging the draft like other friends have but this would be at the grave disappointment of his parents.
This musical premiered in 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and had a run directly following that one at the Cheetah nightclub until January of 1968. In April of that same year Hair opened on Broadway and ran for nearly two thousand shows. Following that the show was syndicated all over the country and to Europe for coinciding shows.
Since 1968 Hair is continually staged all over the world. Numerous recordings of different casts performing, as well as the original Broadway production, have been released. Several songs from Hair have made it to the Billboard Top 10 list, including “Age of Aquarius.” A full length feature film was produced and finally released at the end of the 70’s.
Also, this musical is parodied many times in pop culture, one time including the closing sequence to 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Set Rogen, and the rest of the cast dance in a hippie like manner singing “Age of Aquarius.” Time magazine published this line, “Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.”
Yep. Provocative. Keep an eye on their website for more news and updates for Hair.
While this musical is set in an era of the United States where good girls kept their virtue and bad girls experimented, it explores the roles of both ultimately challenging that the bad girl is not as valuable a person. While looking at that theme in the world of 2016 it doesn’t seem so provocative, upon its release in 1971, it was applauded for highlighting societal concerns like peer pressure, gang violence, and teen pregnancy.
One of the most provocative themes within Grease is sexual exploration. When listening to lyrics of songs like “There are Worse Things I Can Do” and “Greased Lightning!” it is unmistakable that even though small children are drawn to this musical, the themes are sexually explicit.
The premiere performance of Grease was held in the original Kingston Mines blues nightclub in Chicago. This building is no longer there and now the site is a parking garage. Originally having characters that were obviously from Chicago, as time went by their personalities were evolved to be more nonspecific.
After closing their doors in 1980, the original run of Grease on Broadway was the longest running musical at the time with nearly thirty-five hundred performances. The run on the West End of London was highly successful and who can deny the impact the feature film had on pop culture.
The film is as iconic as The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music. These are musicals that children grow up adoring, and dancing to, and singing along. Still, in the case of Grease, the themes are not as easily detected by children, thankfully, as they are adults.
The original Broadway production won two Drama Desk Awards and a Theatre World Award. That same production was nominated for seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Performances by Leading Actor, Featured Actor, and Featured Actress, Best Choreography, and Best Costume Design. Unfortunately, it did not win in any of the categories.
4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Another rock musical on our list of provocative stories is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. If you have not seen it yet beware, there are spoilers ahead. It centers around Hedwig, an east German band singer who is genderqueer. Hedwig chooses to become a woman so she can wed and American man and then leave East Germany. The operation is unsuccessful and Hedwig is left with an “angry inch” in the groin area.
This musical tackles the themes of sexuality, gender identity, and homosexuality. We have to say that is pretty provocative. It opened Off-Broadway in 1998 and was given an Obie Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award that year.
It would make its way around the country performed by different casts and then be premiered in London in the year 2000. Yet, it wasn’t until 2014 that Hedwig and the Angry Inch was given a shot on Broadway.
Opening at the Belasco Theatre in April that year this provocative musical would take home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. This production would close on September 13, 2015. It is set to be staged at the Golden Gate Theatre in October of this year in San Francisco.
Hedwig is based on a prostitute/babysitter of German descent that was employed by John Cameron Mitchell’s family when he was a boy. Originally Hedwig was meant to be a supporting character but was too good to be held back. The writers also came to the conclusion that the performances would be fostered by band showings in clubs opposed to the setting of a theater. They wanted to “preserve the rock energy.”
In the beginning Hedwig’s first performances featured songs by Fleetwood Mac, Television, Wreck less Eric, Yoko Ono, Cher, David Bowie, Mott the Hoopla, and the Velvet Underground. The only difference is they would change the lyrics to tell Hedwig’s story.
Besides winning the Best Revival Tony in 2014, Neil Patrick Harris won for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Lena Hall won for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and Kevin Adams won for Best Lighting Design of a Musical. Neil Patrick Harris also won the Drama Desk Award for his role that year and the entire production was named the Drama Desk Outstanding Revival of a Musical.
Reproductions have been staged all over the world including the UK, Italy, Canada, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Brazil, Turkey, the United States, Thailand, the Czech Republic, and in Mexico. This proves that the provocative topics addressed are of interest to the global community.
Mitchell is quoted as saying the lead character is not trans but genderqueer. “She’s more than a woman or a man,” Mitchell has said, “She’s a gender of one and that is accidentally so beautiful.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch will be having another national tour starting in October this year! Check it out over here.