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The Most Atrocious Musicals I Have Ever Participated In

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SPU chapter.

I’ll admit it, I used to be a theater kid (and by used to, I mean up until about a year ago when I moved to Seattle for college). My theater days date back to the fifth grade with my debut role as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Since then I have been a part of 18 other shows, 10 of which have been musicals. Coming from a small town, with limited resources, funding, and if I’m being honest, talent, not all of these musicals have exactly been worthy of acclaim… For this article I have decided to relive the trauma of the top three most atrocious musicals I have ever been a part of, and the reasons they made me question my very existence.

Coming in at number three we have The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This was the spring musical at my highschool during my freshman year, and the show that almost made me quit theater entirely. I, alongside the rest of the chorus, played a window. A stained glass window. There were 15 of us, and our job was to stand at the back of the stage in a line, and sing latin choral music in brightly colored, hooded, translucent robes. We looked like cult members during pride month. I know what you’re thinking, this is definitely embarrassing, but doesn’t seem all that difficult or traumatic. However, we had to stand so still for such excruciatingly long periods of time that over the course of all of the rehearsals and shows, three different people fainted, and seven of us had to walk off the stage at times because we were about to pass out. Somehow it never crossed the director’s mind to say, “Oh, maybe this is a bad idea and probably not very fun for the borderline children I have growing very pale at the back of the stage there.” 

The windows were only one of the many contributors to this show making my list. Pagosa Springs High School is predominantly white (and when I say predominantly, I mean predominantly), meaning selecting Hunchback of Notre Dame for the spring musical was a very poor choice casting wise. Esmerelda was played by a very white individual. Was she a talented singer and dancer? Sure. Should she have been playing a Romani woman? Absolutely not. It wasn’t just Esmerelda either, virtually every person playing a gyspy, should not have been. It still baffles me that hardly anyone saw it as even remotely problematic. 

Hunchback also only has one leading/supporting female role, and about a dozen male roles. If you’ve ever been a part of musical theater in highschool, you’ll know male cast members, specifically ones with the ability to carry a role, are a rarity. So while you have 40 girls gunning for a singular role, you have the only 10 boys who auditioned plopped into leading or sometimes multiple roles to have the characters mediocrely fulfilled. 

Beyond all this, the director herself was just not an enjoyable person to be around. This was the first (and last) highschool show she directed, and it was obvious she had no idea how to work with teenagers. She was harsh, unkind, and distant. She spoke poorly of members of the cast to other members of the cast, consistently made it obvious she would rather be anywhere but here, and didn’t even speak to half of the cast. In the end she didn’t even show up to our performances, which I think we were all a bit relieved about, though it did mean almost everything from lighting to curtains were being operated by highschoolers unsupervised. 

When it came time for us to perform in front of an audience, the final product was three hours of a white washed ensemble, an unremarkable and almost painful to watch cast, and 15 depressed stained glass windows fighting for their lives as a backdrop for it all. The decent vocals and impressive custom work of our temporary costume designer, dragged this production up from the absolute worst musical to just making the top three (performance quality wise, ethically wise might be a different story). 

Standing strong in the number two spot is Elf the Musical: Junior. From the title, it’s fair to assume that we all know this is going to be a trainwreck. I’m sure you’re familiar with Will Ferrell’s Christmas classic Elf. Now imagine that with impromptu song and dance numbers, and a cast that is contractually obligated to all be under the age of 18. Literally. Despite this being a community theater production, only children were allowed to participate because it was a “junior” musical. 

Only one person auditioned to play Buddy the elf: a lanky 18 year old with a nasally voice that brought me physical pain when it strained for anything close to a high note. He shall remain nameless for the purpose of his dignity. Dressed in a neon green t-shirt under a cheap satin dress jacket with golden tassels on the shoulders and matching red satin pants, Buddy unathletically pranced around the stage dodging young children who didn’t know what they were doing, and an assortment of equally as clueless tweens and teens.

This was the first show that I took on the role of dance captain. Mind you I was 15 at the time and had absolutely no dance background, but I could clap to the beat so they said, “You know what you should do? Be in charge of everyone knowing the choreography in every scene.” Foolish me for agreeing, and then being assigned dance captain for every school and community musical theater production for the next four years. We had an assistant director who came up with most of the choreography, and honestly it was subpar but about as good as we were gonna get given the music we had to work with. Unfortunately, this assistant/choreographer would sometimes get into the worst moods and take it out on the cast. Imagine sitting down a group of 7-17 year olds after opening night and telling them that their execution of “Sparkle-jolly-twinkle-jingly” was the worst we had ever performed. Yes, that was the real name of one of the numbers, and yes, it was as awful as it sounds. 

I honestly don’t think Curtains Up Pagosa’s production of Elf the Musical: Junior had any redeeming qualities. Even my parents had a hard time finding good things to say about this show. All things considered, it was a fairly fun show to be a part of. Some of my friends did it with me, and it was definitely memorable. But am I astonished that people came to see the show, and do I hate myself everytime I consider the fact that people witnessed me on that stage? Absolutely. Even now, four years later, waves of insecurity threaten to drown me when I think about it too much. 

And last but not least, the absolute most embarrassing, traumatic, atrocious, fever dream of a musical that I have ever had the honor, no, the blessing of being a part of: Nutcracker the Musical. Everything about this was just wrong. The words Nutcracker and Musical should never have been allowed to exist within a title together. Whoever’s idea this was deserves to serve time in a federal prison. 

It is common knowledge that The Nutcracker is supposed to be a ballet: meaning instrumental, meaning no talking, meaning beautiful pointe ballet dancing with people who are classically trained. Our production incorporated none of those wonderful things. The lyrics were an absolute abomination. The fact that there even were lyrics was less than ideal, but they weren’t even good lyrics. In fact they were very, very poorly written lyrics that were meant to be sung to the exact same melody as the original ballet music that was playing underneath. Every. Single. Beat. Had a lyric that accompanied it. It had the vibes of an originally French movie being so poorly dubbed into English that it was both painful and distracting. 

It wasn’t just the lyrics. The scenes in between were just objectively dreadful writing. I would never have thought that adding words to something could have made it more obscure and harder to follow. It was truly a marvel. I played Martha, Clara’s cousin who had some sort of vendetta against her and sang a whole song about it.

The gorgeous ballet costumes were replaced with random, cheap, articles of clothing that refused to adhere to a singular time period or theme. Someone was in Lucy’s dropwaist dress leftover from A Charlie Brown Christmas, there were people in ball gowns, someone in a prom dress, Godfather Drosselmeyer brought back the matching satin red suit used by Buddy in Elf, and I was in a skin tight gray morphsuit with a headband that had mouse ears and a DIY looking black tail with a bright white elastic strap around my waist at one point (I was also a lead rat, yay me). 

For a few of the dances, Curtains up Pagosa partnered with the local dance academy, and so there were a few passable dance numbers that deserved a bit of praise. However, any value they added to this musical was absolutely annihilated by the rest of the dancing. At one point, during a fight scene nonetheless, half of the cast was flossing on stage. Flossing. As in swishing our hips back and forth opposite and between our arms. As in that cringy thing middle schoolers were doing a few years back. I will never forgive myself for not speaking up. Not to mention, during one of the shows, completely unprompted, the old man playing Godfather Drosselmeyer slid into a semi-erotic split and began slithering around the stage. I still have nightmares.

I actually told people not to come to the performances. It was an absolute abomination of anything that could ever be considered art. There’s a video of the show somewhere, and I hope that one day it burns in hell. If I was embarrassed to be in the previous two, this one was utterly crippling. Whenever moments of it pop up in my memory, I have a visceral reaction of shame, distress, and wonder whether it was just a figment of my imagination. 
In all honesty, I could probably name at least two more musicals that could have made this countdown, and I can only think of one musical I’ve been in that was actually of extraordinary quality (when my icon and hero Becca directed Mary Poppins). But for all the trauma of my theatrical past, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Performance arts still hold a special place in my heart, and always will. And if anything, my experiences make for an interesting story. My heart goes out to anyone out there still involved in musical theater. May your directors be kind and fair and your costumes be cohesive.

I am currently a junior at Seattle Pacific University pursuing a double major in Sociology and Social Justice. I grew up in rural Colorado, but have found my home here on the west coast. This is my third year as a member of Her Campus, and my first year taking on a leadership role within the SPU chapter. I have also devoted my time to SPU's independent, student run newspaper creating social media content.