Surprising though it may sound, there are many reasons to write a musical about a notorious white, male philosopher who went insane at age forty-four.
1. A relevant life.
Though Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) lived in the second half of the nineteenth century, he wrestled with the very same societal prejudices that continue to harm people around the world today, every day – including anti-Semitism, Christian imperialism, and xenophobic nationalism.
For Nietzsche, moreover, these prejudices were not simply academic. They confronted him in the words and actions of people he loved: his sister. His mother. His surrogate father, the composer Richard Wagner. Nietzsche was appalled.
Much of his writing, especially the later works, was driven by his intense need to excavate the sources of such prejudices – to unmask the hatred, anger, and bitterness that animate them – and to do so in such a way that alternative paths appear.
He urged readers to create new values that affirm life, and, in the words of Nietzsche’s alter-ego, the fictional Zarathustra, “remain faithful to the earth.”
Now, today, we need Nietzsche’s insights more than ever.
2. A dancing life.
Throughout his writing, from his first book to his last, Nietzsche uses the image of dancing to describe the practice and the fruit of resisting hatred and affirming life.
As Nietzsche describes, he wanted to write books that would teach people to dance – that is, teach people how to cultivate a vibrant, sensory joy that overflows in a capacity to love life — all of it.
A model for this kind of dance, as he sees it, was present in the tragedies of ancient Greece, where the chorus danced and sang at key moments in the drama. According to Nietzsche, this dancing and singing evoked in the spectators a sense of their own visceral connection with the elemental rhythms of nature. Spectators were able to witness the failure or death of a hero and nevertheless, leave the theater suffused with joy and love for the ongoing generativity of Life.
What better way to advance Nietzsche’s message of affirmation than through musical theater — Greek tragedy’s singing-dancing-acting, modern-day heir?
3. An unfinished life.
Days before his mental break, Nietzsche was planning his next work – his complete revaluation of values. He never had a chance to finish it. For the next forty-six years, in a great irony of history, Nietzsche’s sister controlled his legacy, misrepresenting him and his work as sympathetic to the very anti-Semitic, imperialist, nationalist values he rejected. His story needs to be told.
What better way to reassert the truth of Nietzsche’s perspective than by providing an opportunity to experience the tragedy of his brief life as a reason to continue the work he began – and love life even more? Singing and dancing all the way!
Effecting this kind of transformation is exactly what musical theater can do.