Close your eyes … no, wait, if you close your eyes, you won’t be able to read this post! Pretend your eyes are closed. I’m going to give you a line from the lyrics of a well-known musical. See if you instantly hum the melody.
“Good morning, good morning! We’ve talked the whole night through!”
What’s the next phrase? Let’s try another one.
“The hills are alive with the ….”
Did you get that one? I didn’t give you much to go on, but I’m betting you did.
What is it about musicals that grabs our spirit and won’t let go? In my childhood home, we watched Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as often as they came on television (that was pre-video days!). I fell in love with Elvis Presley as he sang, “Love me tender; love me true.” I sang along with Rodgers and Hammerstein songs from records on my phonograph.
Was it the music? The lyrics? The actors and actresses? Or maybe the dances!
Who wouldn’t want to dance with Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen to “The Best Things Happen while You’re Dancing” in White Christmas? And when the King of Siam dances with Anna in The King and I, who doesn’t want to find a partner and say, “Shall we dance?” I dreamed of being in a musical myself someday.
Well, that’s as far as it got … a dream. I didn’t have the courage or the time.
Then, we had children … who grew up watching Mary Poppins and to whom I sang, “Someone to care for, to be there for, I have you two! Someone to do for, muddle through for, I have you two!” (In case you don’t know, this is from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.) These daughters went on to make their dreams a reality. Between having roles at local theaters, performing as a vocal group with their cousins, and creating their own drama troupe, they sang, danced, and lived the dream.
Those were some amazing years. I can still hear their young voices singing through the musicals, including newer ones. “We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong!” from Grease melted into “Open the gates and seize the day!” from Newsies. Choreography for the dance numbers in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance still fills my memories.
And yet, some of my fondest memories involving musicals come from … laughter!
Every time my maternal grandmother watched Whoopi Goldberg wiggle in the “Hail Holy Queen” number in Sister Act, she almost fell on the floor with her guffaws. It makes me laugh just remembering her. I would go upstairs to the apartment built onto my parents’ house just to watch the VHS with her, though I watched her and not the movie.
When she passed on her love of Singing in the Rain to our daughters, we bought the video. I thought sure it would wear out from the number of times we rewound it to watch “Make ‘Em Laugh.” And we’re not talking once each time, we’re talking three or four times with each viewing! Donald O’Connor made ‘em laugh!
During the girls’ performing years, the laughter continued. Anyone who’s seen Pirates of Penzance can testify to its hilarity. However, add to that the fact that our drama troupe lacked male actors. Enter our middle daughter’s ability to pull off male roles, and you come up with a great Frederic, the young pirate who turns 21 and realizes a whole world awaits him … with females. As the only girl in the cast who could hit the highest soprano notes, our eldest daughter played the role of Mabel … the love interest of Frederic … played by her sister! And the laughs came through many … interesting situations.
Then, they began having roles in musicals at other theaters, including two of the brides in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The show itself brings much laughter in its silliness, but with one teen daughter starring as the “bride” opposite a man who had daughters her age and the other teen daughter starring opposite another teen with whom she swore, “If he dares try to really kiss me (vs. a stage kiss), I’ll deck him right on stage!” … well, you can imagine the results.
And one of the later musicals saw our oldest starring as one of the two stepsisters in Cinderella, a role she hadn’t considered but fully embraced. (Right, in photo) Audience members were heard to say the two of them made the show. Stage actors are taught to hold the next lines for the audience’s laughter to die down. Well, if they’d done that, the show may have been four hours long!
So, yes, musicals play a huge part in my memories, but the laughter … it truly makes the heart glad!
What musicals ring out in your memories? Did you have a favorite? Were you ever in one? Please consider sharing your musical memories with us.