Kinky Boots vs. Matilda: What happens when voicing opinions goes too far?

Billy Porter with his Tony Award.

Billy Porter with his Tony Award.

“And, the Tony goes to…”

Bernadette Peters gave an all-knowing grin as she held the open envelope. In what is supposed to be a celebration of Broadway theatre, there are still loaded bets, split teams, and angry fans.

This year, the grand title of Best Musical went to Kinky Boots, a wonderfully entertaining show penned by the masterminds Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper. At the other end of the ring lied Matilda the Musical, created by the brilliant Tim Minchin.

Adorned with Laurence Olivier Awards, Matilda trekked from London to Manhattan in order to rightfully gain acclaim on a new continent. What most West End theatre-goers (among others) predicted to be a sweep on their end became a very close competition. Even though four shows were recognized in the Best Musical category, the anticipated race was between Kinky Boots and Matilda.

But did everybody say “yeah!” when Kinky conquered? No.

It happens almost every year. Whether it’s been Billy Elliot vs. Next to Normal, Memphis vs. American Idiot, or Newsies vs. Once, theatre fans can and will find something to argue over when awards season strikes. In every nook and cranny of pop culture there is always bound to be some disagreement in a fandom and within the Broadway community it’s no different.

But for some reason, this year was more intense than usual.

While scrolling through the Matilda or Kinky Boots tags on Tumblr, it is certain you will come across some kind of hate. Comments like “How can a musical with lyrics like this even get to Broadway?” and “This plot is ridiculous!” are made from fans on both sides of the issue.

Maybe it’s due to the heightened power of social media and the new technology that’s become available to our generation. A theatre fan can plop right down with their iPad to watch the Tonys, and will be able to “live blog” their complete thoughts and opinions without a filter, and without even thinking about who they may offend upon pressing the publish button.

I was extremely surprised to see differences of opinion on social media turn into a series of personal attacks against both Kinky and Matilda lovers. What went from a few people bickering on my dashboard about the quality of the musicals became comments insulting the intelligence of those who enjoy them, along with physical appearances.

Yes, this may happen every year and it’s become accepted to get into the Tony Awards spirit by making predictions and picking sides, but is any of the bullying necessary?

Matilda may not have been overly victorious at the Tonys, walking away with just four wins, but that doesn’t mean that the show isn’t alive and well in New York. It’s still playing to sold out audiences and receiving praise from its critics and word of mouth hype. It has been an absolute success. Sure, it did not go big at the Tonys. But does that mean that its fans have to tear apart the musical playing just a few blocks away that did happen to pick up a few points?

For the Kinky Boots fans being sore winners, my question is just…why? As the lyric written by Lauper goes, “You change the world when you change your mind.” Don’t miss the point of the musical here, folks. Obviously no one is obligated to become a Matilda fan overnight, but you can change your mind in the way you view the opposing show and its equally passionate and energetic fans. I don’t think Lola (or Billy Porter himself) would be happy to know about how some of Kinky‘s fans treat others.

Of course, this does not go for every single admirer of these musicals. It’s far from that. There are so many fans out there that are respectful and simply happy to be a part of the theatre community.

For me, I love both shows equally. However, last year I was disappointed by how much Newsies lost to Once, so I can empathize. Although I did not take out my frustration online, I did see comments on message board threads and via Twitter. Ultimately, you’ll never know how a certain musical has affected someone’s life. To bash it to that person could, in turn, offend them personally.

The theatre community is supposed to be loving and safe, let’s keep it that way.

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