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7 Show Titles That Would Lose Their Meaning Without Punctuation

Some food for thought on National Punctuation Day.

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Happy National Punctuation Day to one and all! Yes, it really is a holiday, and TheaterMania decided to give the occasion its proper due with an ode to Broadway's most effectively punctuated show titles. The list could go on for miles, but take a look at seven of our favorites below. We promise, you'll never take your commas or exclamation points for granted again.


1. Something Rotten!

The company of Broadway's Something Rotten! at the St. James Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Following in the footsteps of its classic forebears like Oklahoma! and Oliver! and Mamma Mia!, Something Rotten! knows nothing puts a sharp button on the end of a title like an exclamation point. It can turn any mundane noun into a bubbling pot of enthusiasm. The philosophy has proved so successful on Broadway, even our Presidential hopefuls are jumping on the "exclam" bandwagon.


2. Hello, Dolly!

Carol Channing as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway.

Not only does this Jerry Herman favorite get some gusto from its exclamatory title, but it wins the respect of the punctuation savvy with its conscientious grammar. Every English nerd worth his or her salt knows a direct address like "hello" must be followed by a comma — especially when that direct address is plastered all over marquees and expensive theater merchandise. Broadway may be a jungle, but we're not animals. Thanks, Jerry, for keeping it real.


3. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the classic film adaptation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Half the battle of winning audience favor is setting up appropriate expectations. If Edward Albee's first audiences had come to the theater expecting to actually find out who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, they would have been sorely disappointed — perhaps even disappointed enough to lose the play its 1963 Tony Award. It just goes to show, when you need to indicate dramatic ambiguity, a question mark will never do you wrong.


4. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Reeve Carney as the title character in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — or, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.
(© Jacob Cohl)

Punctuation was so important to this musical, that in the middle of its Broadway run, it actually dropped the colon, becoming simply Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. From our Hello, Dolly! lesson, we can assume this is not a direct address to Spider-Man, requesting that he physically turn off the dark. All we can glean from the punctuation change is that the dramatic pause between the two clauses was too much of a burden for the title to bear.


5. Beautiful — The Carole King Musical

Jessie Mueller, Anika Larson, Jarrod Spector, and Jake Epstein in the original cast of Beautiful — The Carole King Musical.
(© Joan Marcus)

Contrary to its superhero predecessor, Broadway's Carole King biomusical Beautiful went the untraveled route of the em dash — a punctuation that's both aesthetically pleasing and grammatically effective. Well-played, Carole…well-played.


6. [title of show]

Heidi Blickenstaff (top left), Jeff Bowen (bottom left), Susan Blackwell (top right), and Hunter Bell (top left) in [title of show].
(© Carol Rosegg)

You only have to look so far as the first bracket to pin this little-show-that-could as the Broadway rebel that it is. A success story of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, [title of show]'s impertinent lowercasing embodies the spirit of the four-person production's fervent cult following. I guess you don't always need an exclamation point to animate your audience.


7. If/Then

Idina Menzel and the 2014 cast of If/Then at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

The original title of Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade was The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. Needless to say, we'd like to thank the slash for its many years of service. Without it, Idina Menzel's name may not have fit on the marquee.

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