Calculus a Musical? Really!

Dreaming of Differentials

A wet-dream encountering the inventor of Calculus (who incidentally probably died a virgin) is not exactly the high point of the week for any teen-age girl, especially when she previously considered Calculus a cure for insomnia. However, the full house at 18th and Union found Calculus the Musical, hysterically amusing as well as educational

The play opens with Ada, our teenage-heroin struggling with her Calculus homework, but when she dozes off, one of the most influential mathematicians and scientists in the world, Sir Isaac Newton appears, and the hilarity begins. So does enlightenment, as the two entertain us with a brief history of Newton’s contributions to mathematics and physics. Included were some of Newton’s touchy professional subjects, as well: his inability to publish so that Gottfried Leibniz shares credit for the invention of Calculus. Also was his notoriously controversial rivalry with fellow scientist Robert Hooke, who criticized his work.

Described by Albert Einstein as “the smartest man who ever lived” not only was Newton the inventor of Calculus, which he and Leibniz invented independently, but he also developed the theory of gravity, the laws of motion, which became the basis of physics, as well as breakthroughs in the field of optics. Not only was his contribution to science profound, so was his influence on the philosophers of the Enlightenment.

All this information is imparted to the audience seamlessly through witty dialogue and musical parodies that span genres from Daft pun to Eminem, Lady Gaga, and Meghan Traino, and of course my favorite, a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Modern Major General.

The two actors, Sadie Bowman, , who also co-authored the play and Ricky Coates, turned in tour-de-force performances, playing many different characters using only simple quick costume changes, to differentiate their characters. The lyrics were witty and the H.S. Math teacher, Marc Gutman, who co-authored the script, said it helped his students learn the complexities of Calculus.

In the full house were a number of families with teen-age girls, a few math teachers, a UW math student and people like me who had very little understanding of math or of physics but who enjoyed the witty dialogue, the music and the outstanding performances.

Calculus the Musical
is the first show of 18th and Union’s second season. If the rest of the season is anything like this show, it is going to be a dynamite season, although last season is a hard act to follow. Check it out

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