Songs like SWEET CHARITY’S “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVh7MXmSwFo) or LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ “Somewhere That’s Green” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouLiQ7KhmYU) are beautiful and fun, but they make me uncomfortable.
These songs reveal the cute, little aspirations of lower-class people. The dancers in SWEET CHARITY want subservient jobs like hat-check girl, and Audrey in LITTLE SHOP wants a home with “Pine-Sol scented air” and “a fence of real chain link.”
There’s nothing wrong with these aspirations. But it seems like the songs’ writers and the shows’ directors — people of greater income, status and ambitions than the characters — are encouraging the audience to see these adult characters’ fondest dreams as almost childlike. And to me, that feels patronizing and condescending.
I don’t dispute the brilliant craftsmanship that went into these songs. And the songs’ creators present the characters and their dreams fondly, even lovingly, without any overt meanness.
But consider by contrast “If I Were a Rich Man” from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBHZFYpQ6nc).
In that song, a low-status person sings about having a higher status. Like “There’s Gotta Be Something Better” and “Somewhere That’s Green,” the song includes dreams that may seem cute to the audience (a house that has “a fine tin roof with real wooden floors below”). But as the character sings on, he imagines greater aspirations, such as being a man of great wisdom or at least having people consider him to be such a man.
That’s a dream that an audience can respect, not look down on.