Broadway never shied away from harsher topics. It explored issues like murder and infidelity, love triangles, high school bullies. You can even see actors of color playing the all-white Founding Fathers. Mental issues are among them.
There are several shows, highlighting this scourge of modern society. We’ve picked 5 plays dealing with mental health issues on Broadway, and their consequences.
Anyone Can Whistle (1964)
A satiric look on how insane the sane are actually are, that only Stephen Sondheim can provide. This is a story about a bankrupt town, its corrupt administration, and the miracle that the Mayoress tries to draw tourists. Instead, she brings over the inmates of “The Cookie Jar”, its doctor, and Nurse Fay Apple.
Next to Normal (2008)
Bipolar disorder is a common and serious problem. Brian Yorkey’s production gives a look at Diana Goodman’s struggles in her day to day duties, as well as the impact it has on her family – like her daughter’s – Natalie. The action escalates slowly – Diana takes shock therapy, and Natalie acts out. However, it all ends well.
Man of La Mancha (1965)
Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ iconic boo, this play brings the delusional knight – Don Quixote. His issues were (and still are) subject to many studies to both literature and psychology. His delusions of being a noble knight, fighting the windmills. The sane perspective is provided by Dr. Sanson Carrasco, Antonia’s fiancé, which leads us to ask ourselves – are the sane the truly normal?
Jagged Little Pill (2019)
Not everything is what it seems to be. MJ is not healing with natural remedies, Steve has a weird addiction, Frankie’s about to deliver a surprise, and Nick’s admitted to Harvard, but’s about to break down. Again, things quickly get out of hand with some teenage drama that brings memories of old trauma, and problems on all levels, that get even more complicated. Again, the show ends on a positive notion.
Bonus: Assassins (2004)
I guess Sondheim has a thing about characters with mental issues.
The show is a large historical run over several (attempted) murderers on famous presidents and their assassins. We meet the likes of Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, Lee Harvey Oswald, and John Wilkes Booth, as well as presidential “counterparts” like Gerald Ford, James Garfield, and James Blaine.
All of the Assassins are gathered together. That is where their issues are showcased. They are angry, aimless (but with good aim), anxious, and paranoid – these are the Assassins.
Dear Evan Hansen (2016)
One of the current super hits, and the most popular story of mental issues on Broadway, this is the story of Evan Hansen – a high school kid that suffers from social anxiety. One of his letters to himself is bound in the pocket of Connor Murphy, just after he committed suicide. What follows is a quick rise for Evan – he becomes like a new son to the Murphy family and becomes the boyfriend of Zoe Murphy. Then follows the downfall – the Murphys discover his lies, Zoe breaks up with him, and his friends abandon him. Yet, everything comes to place when he reconciles with his mother (their difficult relation is one of the main topics of the show). He manages to mend fences with his friends and Zoe, too. Who knows, maybe they even got back together?
Broadway was always on the front lines when it came to socially important topics – “Cabaret” being an excellent example from the past. Today, besides “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Jagged Little Pill”, we have “Hamilton” that some consider a blow against racism.
Mental issues are a common topic in art, and Broadway is not an exception. In fact, studies suggest that there is a direct correlation between them. We’re sure in one thing – that a good musical theater show will always be of help!