Sunday, January 9, 2011

but if by chance you are here for the night, then all i need is an hour or two to tell the tale of a dreamer like you

I was, of course, genetically predisposed towards musical theatre. My grandpa Don, who I unfortunately knew only as a very young child, did community theatre and musical revues for most of his adult life. I have heard on several occasions a hilarious story about him getting a speeding ticket without his license on him, having to be picked up by his teenage son, wearing makeup. In 1960something. I would be told often in my high school career that various family members wished he had seen me in shows; I wish I'd known him well enough to be able to say the same.

As is so often the case, musical theatre was not love at first sight. My mother showed me her favorite musical as a child, My Fair Lady, sometime in my youth - I remember finding it boring and falling asleep sometime shortly after Eliza leaves Higgins. I remember sitting through Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, waiting and waiting for them to stop freakin singing and TALK. I wanted it to be more like the first musical I saw, Beauty and the Beast, with pretty costumes and a plot I could follow.

...But that lasted until the end of act 1. I can honestly say that the song "Go, Go, Joseph," arguably one of the WORST songs in musical theatre, may have changed my life. I LOVED the number. Loooooved it. And it was hook line and sinker for me for act two. By the time we were leaving the theatre I was begging for the cast recording. Original Canadian cast featuring ex-hearthrob Donny Osmond, natch. I owned it on both CD and tape.

I saw the show at least once more during its sit-down run in Toronto. My best friend in Canada and I would spend HOURS playing the tape and taking turns being the Narrator. Memorizing the colors of the coat. I think I knew every lyric by age 7 or 8.

But though musical theatre had crawled into my veins, the gene (disease?) laid dormant for a while, beneath my first love, figure skating (though as I type this I'm remembering wanting to do a short program to "Any Dream Will Do" so... there you have it, the damage was done).

Sometime thereafter, of course, I moved to California and I've already detailed the end of my career as a figure skater. Indirectly because of - you guessed it - musical theatre. Middle school was my first foray into the world of show choir, and thereby the first staged musical I ever did. Which, ironically, I hated a lot of. I still have unpleasant memories of that production of Cinderella. But it was definitely game over - gone were the summers of horseback riding camp, or art camp, or CTY, or whatever else I was doing any given summer, replaced by theatre camp everywhere. I was by age 14 already an encyclopedia of theatre summer programs in the Bay Area, and a snobby one at that.

Sophomore year I became one of "those" theatre kids. You know. The girl that everyone reeeeeeally, really hates because she sees nothing wrong with goofing around with friends at lunch and proposing we all start singing "La Vie Boheme" on the tables... had I been as generally apathetic towards authority then as I am now I shudder to think how much further THAT misadventure would have progressed. Suffice it to say that if you wanted to know anything about just any musical ever, I was your girl.

That was the year Rent entered my life. It found me at an important time, actually. Not that I was particularly in the demographic to be relating to it, but it was one of the first shows I saw that sat with me for DAYS after the production. It was the first piece of live theatre I cried during. And I wasn't, at the time, easily moved by movies/theatre/anything not my life. Rent showed me that this thing I enjoyed so much could also be important. Could also really have something to say. Could really tell me something about humanity the same way plays could. It was the first time I began to understand the musical theatre dictum that music spoke where words simply weren't enough. It would later that year be the first Broadway show I ever saw, and several years later, the first Broadway ticket I purchased out of pocket. To date the only thing on Broadway specifically I have seen more than twice.

By junior year, I was sitting in my annual certificate consultation when my teacher asked if I had considered theatre as something I seriously wanted to do - I hadn't, really, but it was clear to me by that point there was nothing else I was even halfway as happy doing and I sure as hell had no idea what else I wanted to do. It was in that split second moment that, with no prior consideration, I said yes, it was. And knew that I was right.

I have complained BITTERLY about musical theatre. I have seen some musicals that were horrifying and that would have done better to be plays. I began learning senior year of high school but came to college and really realized that I find plays as magical and as endlessly fascinating. But in my daydreams, I win my Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical, so there you have it.

What makes me think of all this is that In the Heights closes tomorrow. Which is a show I've told myself I was going to see again dozens of times, but now won't get the chance for. In the category of shows that found me at the right time, this one may almost win. It's a tossup for "shows seen freshman year" whether I cried harder watching "What I Did for Love" and realizing that it was my life, or watching 19 year old Nina grapple with the same questions that 18 year old Siobhan was at EXACTLY that time - who am I now and where the fuck do I go from here and what do I tell all these people who expected me to be an instant star and all I am is scared and lost? (Hey wait... that sounds an awful lot like a recurrent theme in this blog for 21 year old Siobhan, doesn't it?) The show was beautiful, it was a little painful, it was splashy and musical, and it was universal. And it, again, had something to say. It reminded me, after a year away from musical theatre and coming to feel that commercialism and art had to necessarily be separate, that a commercial musical - as in, something not written by Odets or Tennessee Williams or Chekhov - could have something important to teach us about ourselves.

I wish that I could get down to the Richard Rogers tomorrow, but winter is NOT the ideal time to be playing lotto, especially not closing day. I feel similarly dissatisfied as I did seeing Rent in its closing week, but not its closing performance.

I said, and I still say, that not getting into CAP at NYU was the best thing that ever happened to me. I am a miles better actress - and probably singer - now than I would have been had my training actually been in musical theatre. I learned to look at a song as an actress first and, as every teacher I've had since says, a fuckton more people can sing and be chorus girls than can act and be leading ladies. Okay, they don't say that and the word fuckton is usually missing, but that's the idea. And I do now ALSO cherish a dear aspiration towards winning a Tony for Best Actress in a Play, so you know, there's that too. But. I miss musical theatre - I haven't been in a musical since December of 2009, and it's been even longer since I was in an actual published musical. I've long since grown out of being the girl with exclusively musicals on her ipod, but I do miss it. The putting it all together. Remembering how much better music can tell the story sometimes. So come on, musical theatre gods, throw me a bone here - I may have strayed, but I think I'm coming back to the fold.

...Too much exposition?

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