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Beauty School Dropout

Is there a phrase in the English language more immediately divisive than “musical theatre”? Beloved or despised, the artform’s onslaught of glamorous blockbusters rakes in millions of dollars per year, yet admitting a love for musicals in polite conversation can provoke a stifled giggle, prolonged eye-roll, or misguided analysis of one’s sexuality. As a holder of an MA in musical theatre, strangers, and indeed some friends, normally presume my final exams consisted entirely of perfecting my “jazz hands” technique, for which I immediately received a diploma covered in glitter.

It wasn’t always this way. Long before Spider-Man and Disney infiltrated Broadway, musicals were the great American export and the cinematic vehicle of choice for any recording artist or pretty face looking for their big break in tinseltown. In what we now refer to as the “golden age” of showbusiness, stars were expected to do everything—sing, dance, act—you name it, they would do it, or face obscurity and irrelevance. These days we have more realistic expectations of popular entertainers. Sure, you’ll occasionally see the Beyoncé-esque polymath, but, by and large, the average 2016 pop star rarely strays from their determined aesthetic. Carly Rae Jepsen, however, isn’t just a pop star—she’s a Broadway nerd.

When live network television musicals were recently resurrected, NBC trundled out lifeless, atmosphere-empty, and often downright surreal productions of The Sound Of Music and Peter Pan. But earlier this year when FOX, already a purveyor of primetime pep in recent years thanks to the Glee franchise, decided to stage their own live television musical with Grease, it was clear that some lessons had been learned from NBC’s experiments in the form—this wouldn’t necessarily generate the desire to hate-watch in its audience. Throw in the director of the hottest show on Broadway (Thomas Kail, currently receiving interminable praise for his work o...