This is the story of how I fell in love with musicals. It’s a long story, but I think it’s a good one.
It must have been around 1988. Reading Rainbow was my favorite television show and remained so throughout my years in elementary school. It was my incentive to behave myself — if we were good, we got to stay up to watch the show in the evening. I feel like this didn’t happen too often, but it’s possible my memory of this is skewed. Either way, it felt like such a treat when I did get to watch the evening broadcast of Reading Rainbow. (I know he hears it from everyone, but I need LeVar Burton to know the profound impact he had on my life.)
Anyway, 1988…there was an episode of Reading Rainbow that featured some of the cast of Cats putting on their makeup and performing songs from the musical. This would have been my first exposure to anything of the sort and it mesmerized me. I thought Grizabella the Glamour Cat was the prettiest and then she sang “Memory” and I was done.
When I was in first grade my town’s high school put on a production of The Sound of Music. There were auditions for the elementary aged students, but I was too young to realize an audition was happening (we all sang for them) and I had terrible stage fright anyway. I think this was lucky in a way, because I got to be in the audience. The students got to see the dress rehearsal during the day at school and then my mom and granny took me back for the evening performance. I begged to go because I heard there was going to be a wedding and back then, weddings were all I cared about.
Granny bought me the cassette soundtrack to The Sound of Music and I wore that tape smooth out. She had a VHS copy of the movie at her house and I think I watched it every time I was down there for a year. To this day, I can recite that movie verbatim.
My exposure to musicals was limited for the next few years, to what my school would perform, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and whatever I might catch on TV. Then I remember watching a figure skating competition and I cannot recall who the pair was, but they both wore masks and skated a routine to “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. This was the first musical I loved.
The film version of Evita was released when I was in about 5th grade and one night I was lying awake in my bed, my parents in the next room watching the 10pm news or something and I heard the commercial come on and the voice of Madonna singing “You Must Love Me” creeping around the corner. I was out of bed like a shot and in the living room, standing in front of the TV, in awe. My parents quickly shooed me back to bed, but how could a girl go to sleep…my mind raced. I had no idea who this Evita was — why would Argentina be crying for her?
Finally, when I was in 9th or 10th grade, I got wind that the national tour of Phantom was going to be in Dallas. I am sure I begged to go. Somehow, it happened — Mom and I got to go. Our seats were at the top on the very back row, but I had carried in a pair of my dad’s binoculars and I was able to enjoy the show from far away. That first time I saw it — it was like I could hardly breathe.
Things continued like this for a few years and I have to say how thankful I am for the people in my life who humored me, specifically my dad who paid for every ticket to every show I went to back then, and to my mom and granny — one (or both) of them was always with me and they sat through plenty of uncomfortable numbers. I don’t know if they realized just how special it made me feel to be there, in a concert hall in the big city, surrounded by people all dressed up to go to the theater…for me it was like something out of a dream.
My senior year of high school I joined the color guard and learned how to march with the band and twirl a flag around. I was shocked and thrilled to find the show that year would be made up of music from Phantom of the Opera — not only that, but one of our flag routines required a Phantom and guess who got to do it? I papier-mâchéd half of a hockey mask, my mom made the cape, and I twirled a red chain flag round and round.
That is me in a full body unitard. Yes, I still own it.
As a kid, I always dreamed of being in a show. I’ve told myself that this is the year that I will go audition for some kind of local theater, but someone may have to drag me. We will see what happens with that.
As you can see, I’ve liked musicals for a really long time. I know they aren’t for everyone, but I love the drama and the laughter and the soaring numbers and the love stories and, and…all of it.
So, I am counting down my favorite songs from musicals for you. My rules are a little crazy as to what qualifies as a musical, but I’ll save those for tomorrow. For the rest of this week I’ll be sharing my favorites and the top of the list will be posted a week from now, next Monday.
Do you love musicals? Have a favorite song from a musical? Have you ever worn a unitard? (that is an experience, y’all)