Musical theater is a devastatingly vulnerable form of performance. To be a theater kid in high school, you need to be simultaneously extraordinarily confident and helplessly insecure. You need to be both unsure of yourself enough to crave the highest form of validation and egotistical enough to think that anyone would want to watch you do anything. Theater kids, especially the musical ones, are some of the most obnoxious people on this planet. I say that with love, because I was one of them.
To watch a high school musical theater production is to endure two hours of torture with a 10-minute break in the middle that does nothing but make the second half even more painful because you had a taste of what it feels like to not be watching a musical. No matter how talented the performers are — and it’s usually only one or two of them, if any — the show will never be good. In the audience, you feel second-hand embarrassment and you’re bored. You can’t find the joy in the vulnerability because you’re too close. Thank God for the internet.
A few years ago, some musical theater nerds with way too much time on their hands distilled the brash, flailing insecurity of a high school musical theater performance into a single moment and repeated it over and over again in a three-to-five minute masterpiece: the musical theater compilation video.
These masters of their craft pick the moment of highest humiliation from a show and comb through high school musical productions from across the country that parents — blinded by love for their children — posted online. They then form them into a supercut of theatrical disaster. In a bygone era, we might have called them musical theater “fail” compilations. To me, they aren’t failures. They’re triumphs of the human spirit.
My favorite compilations include the attempts of provocation in “Don’t you want your girl hot” from “Rent,” the — often white — girls chiming “I know you do!” in “West Side Story” and, of course, the screech of “A gift from me to Elle” from “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
There are many more and although they’re not easy to find, I hunted down a 2017 Facebook page with enough to fill your lonely evenings. In all of them, the singers are giving their best performances possible and, in many, they’re terrible. The ensembles are either exhausted and unenthused or the most dedicated step-touchers you’ve ever seen. As a former musical theater kid, it’s cathartic. I’ve been there, and now I get to laugh at it and be thankful I’m not in any of them.