Nightly Bloodlust Overflows: Anatomizing the Morbid Musical for the Contemporary American Stage
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Simulated spectacles of grotesque, disturbing, and/or violent acts on stage have been enticing audiences to the theatre for centuries. Cognitive science’s answer to such a phenomenon is known as morbid curiosity, which is an exploration into the attraction of negative stimuli that leans heavily towards the macabre. A recent surge in popularity of all things morbid has materialized in the form of podcasts, true crime documentaries, film, and most intriguingly, musical theatre. The premieres of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979) and Little Shop of Horrors (1982) marked the beginning of a new subgenre of musical theatre, the morbid musical. The new millennium has seen the resurgence of the subgenre in productions of Carrie (2012), Heathers (2014), and American Psycho (2016). In the decades between the two waves listed above, I assert that horror film cycles and a handful of non-musical theatre productions expressed the popularity of morbid entertainments.For the purposes of this paper, a morbid musical will be defined as a production of musical theatre that features disturbing and violent subject matter that is juxtaposed with satire. This paper will explore the morbid musical as a contemporary subgenre within the American musical theatre canon, as well as theorize how such productions attract and fascinate audiences. In order to achieve this, I will be employing scholarship on morbid curiosity, horror studies, and violence in both theatre and film.