A lot of people find it a little strange that I'm so interested in musical theatre. I'm not a performer by any means (the one time I auditioned for a solo in chorus in high school, the piano mercifully drowned me out so fully that no one could hear my voice cracking beneath it), and music has never been something I've been naturally inclined to do (I only let my mom force me to take piano lessons long enough so I could memorize one song to play as a kind of party trick. I once fooled my childhood friend's grandma into thinking I was a pro until she realized I'd just been playing "Fur Elise" over and over for an hour). While I do consider myself to be a playwright, at least part-time, musicals are always something I've found a little daunting to tackle myself.
So where does this passion come from?
The first major musical that I went to was The Phantom of the Opera. I was only about 8 or 9, growing up in Hawaii, which is a place that surprisingly has an abundance of local theatre. But professional tours like Phantom were a bit of a rarity, and I'd come to find out years later that whether or not I should go was a subject of debate between my parents because they didn't know if I'd be mature enough to appreciate it. My dad ended up winning out, however, and he prepped me in the months before the show by playing the cassette in the car all the time, and I even read and memorized most of the lyrics from a piano/vocal score we always had sitting out on our keyboard.
Before I knew it, I was wearing a velvet dress (yes, children wear the occasional velvet dress in Hawaii -- reserved for going to the theatre and taking awkward family portraits for Christmas cards) and making my way to the Blaisdell Concert Hall with my dad.
The truth of the matter is that I don't remember a ton about the actual performance. Part of it might be because the music was so burned into my brain that I couldn't help being a little self-conscious as lyrics scrolled across my mind while the actors sang them. Mostly, though, it was because within the first twenty minutes of the show, I remembered that the Phantom kills some people and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of impending dread as I was convinced that I was going to witness someone die on stage. In fact, I was so preoccupied with fear throughout the performance that it wasn't until I saw the movie somewhat recently that I even realized how the story ends. So I guess in some ways my mom was right about me not being quite ready.
Well, sort of.
There is one other moment that I remember clearly, and it came when Christine began to sing my favorite song of the entire show: "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." It was a tune I insisted my dad blast in the car and that I poured over the lyrics to, trying to decode its meaning. Even in my state of utter dread, I still found myself getting lost in the song, having my breath taken away by the sheer drama of it -- the way the music swelled, the places where the actress found little pockets of contemplative quiet, the longing of the words that seemed to plead with the world for all the things they didn't have. It was and will always be a magical moment for me.
Since then, I've been hooked. I had a much more successful experience a year later seeing a tour of Les Miserables, which had me transfixed throughout in spite of the high body count. And after I moved away from Hawaii, I had even more opportunities to see shows, including my first Broadway show The Lion King and a particularly captivating production of My Fair Lady that still sticks out in my memory.
I also developed a very particular feeling as I watched these musicals that seemed to serve as a litmus test for gauging if I was really feeling a show. When I really loved a song, I was overwhelmed by a sudden attachment for it, a giddy kind of feeling where I'd be hanging on every word that was being sung. I felt the same excitement and restlessness that I used to get when I used to play basketball -- when I'd be sitting on the bench watching the game and really longing to get in there and take part. When I felt that for a song, I would secretly wish that it would never end, and it was the most thrilling thing I could imagine. Watching a young lover feeling compelled by being "On the Street Where You Live." Feeling the heartbreak of an unrequited love in "On My Own." These were the larger than life ideas that pulled me into musical theatre in its entirety.
Almost five years ago, I was having a rather rough year at college, and I stumbled across Joe Iconis' "The Answer" and I felt that same anxious, all-consuming feeling. Only it was a little different from what I felt with any of the musical songs before. Those other songs were so potent in their storytelling and emotion -- they invoked a kind of feeling that I aspired to. But "The Answer" startled me in how much I saw myself in the song, how I identified the specificity of it, the frustration of it, the utterly poetically painful parts of it. It was real and a bit of a mirror for me. Not only something inspiring, but reassuring too.
I still feel it. Look at any of the writers I've mentioned on this blog and their music has made me feel, at one point or another, the kind of magical giddiness and devastatingly self-reflective emotions I've both aspired to and have lived. And as a writer, I hope in both this blog and any of my projects to capture the things that I chase in these songs: to put the movement of song and rhythm of the human condition into words, whether it's an extra spacing between a line or a particularly scrutinized sentence. It's what keeps me going, and it's what I want so much to share and discuss with anyone who will listen.