Ironically, for a man that loves theatre, I am not a huge fan of the Broadway Channel on Sirius XM.  Part of it is that I cannot stand most contemporary musicals (it’s only selections from musicals featured on the Broadway Channel) and so I cringe whenever I hear the vapid, pop-culture noise that makes up the score of many of today’s musical theatre offerings.  I find myself quickly switching channels to talk radio or a ball game whenever something dumb like the score of Next to Normal comes on. I do find myself, however, listening to any of the wonderful offerings of Frank Loesser, Lerner and Loewe, Kander and Ebb, the Gershwins, Sondheim, and so on. What, I wonder, has happened to our musical theatre heritage that we have gone from “Some enchanted evening/You may see a stranger” to “I’m alive, I’m alive, I am so alive”? I think a lot of it has to do with the cheapening and lack of intellectual rigor in American culture, brought about in no small part by lousy television writing and the desire to keep from thinking critically and for instant gratification.

One “modern” score I do like is that of  A Chorus Line (1975), which I think is memorable, poignant (without forcing poignancy on us), and, well, just fun. And of all the songs in A Chorus Line, my personal favorite is Nothing, the piece about the young woman who is ridiculed by her acting teacher and fellow students because she cannot embrace the absurdities generally inflicted upon young theatre students by (oftentimes) has-been theatre professors.  More importantly for a thinker like me, the song is—dare I say it?—conservative! Even if composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Edward Kleban had not a conservative bone in their bodies, they wrote a song that approaches life in a traditional manner, relying on forces outside of the protagonist to guide her and finding individual strength of character despite the pettiness and pseudo-intellect of those around her.  I shall explain further by reviewing the lyrics of Nothing.

The first part of Nothing introduces us to an aspiring actress named Morales who excitedly enrolls in Mr. Karp’s acting class at the High School of Performing Arts. Karp’s first lesson is improvisation: “Now you’re on a bobsled. It’s snowing out. And it’s cold. Okay, go!” Right away we see what I think is wrong with acting classes in general: spending too much time on silly, meaningless activities divorced from an actual script. Acting teachers conveniently forget that without a script we have no reason to act. More importantly, there is no general, universal reaction to being on a bobsled, so what exactly Karp was looking for escapes me. I truly believe that acting teachers force this kind of nonsense on students so they (the teachers) can sit back and laugh their heads off.

So, Morales tries to feel something but cannot: “Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul and I tried.  I tried.” But she feels nothing (“Nothing. I’m feeling nothing… except the feeling that this bullshit was absurd”). Can anyone blame her? The situation Karp put her in is devoid of context and history and, therefore, meaning. Sounds like much of contemporary art to me. It gets worse: the next week (after Morales is threatened with expulsion from the program) she has to “be a table, be a sportscar, ice cream cone.” These improvs are considered to be “more advanced” but they are, in reality, simply more ridiculous. This, too, is for me suggestive of our contemporary view that the more involved something is, the more complex intellectually it must be. Yeah… no. At any rate, Morales greets this challenge with the proper cynicism it deserves: “And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul to see how an ice cream felt. Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul and I tried to melt.” For her efforts, Morales is discouraged by a frustrated Karp and labeled “nothing” and “hopeless” by her obviously more enlightened peers.

Now comes the truly conservative part.

At this point, Morales has a few options: she can a) give in to the groupthink, b) depart the acting program a victim and resent everyone for the rest of her life, or c) find the strength to pursue her goals despite the world of madness around her. Morales chooses the latter, but she has the good sense to realize she cannot do it alone. She needs some assistance, and not of the flesh-and-blood type:


Went to church, praying ‘Santa Maria,

Send me guidance, send me guidance,’

On my knees.


Went to church, praying ‘Santa Maria,

Help me feel it, help me feel it,

Pretty please.’


And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul

Came up to the top of my head.

And the voice from down at the bottom of my soul,

Here is what it said.


‘This man is nothing!

This course is nothing!

If you want something,

Go find another class.


And when you find one

You’ll be an actress.’

And I assure you that’s what

Finally came to pass.


What impresses me most about Morales is not her recognition that there’s a lot of phony intellect out there, but that she relies on something bigger than herself to guide her. What’s more, it works!  Rather than succumb to the progressive mantras of “it’s not my fault,” “I’m a victim,” or “resistance is futile,” Morales forges ahead as an individual who is nonetheless humbled by her limitations as a human being and finds herself “on [her] knees.” She pays homage to an earlier time when religion was not dismissed as superstition and the individual did not dare to present him or herself as a God substitute. I cannot picture Morales being a member of Antifa or screeching at conservative lawmakers. Rather, I think she’d realize the ludicrousness of their position and pursue a more useful and sensible course of action, one that includes a God.

And God how we need more Moraleses in the world today!

Listen to the original Broadway version of Nothing here:

Photo by zopdeep