Friday, March 29, 2019

Face the Musicals

My dad was a big theater dude. He moved out to California from Virginia to become an actor in 1950. He had a beautiful singing voice and was in numerous plays and musicals for much of his life. It never turned into a career as far as being able to live off it, but it remained his passion until the day he left.  When I was growing up, my dad had the Broadway versions of the most popular musicals of the 60's and 70's on constant rotation at his house, all on vinyl. All musicals all the time. I've seen a quite a few, but there are many more that I have never seen, despite knowing the entire soundtrack by heart. It's funny how these memories get so solidified in our subconscious. Dad has been gone for over 9 years, but there will never be a time when these musical soundtracks do not remind me of him, and the lines from these songs pop into my mind ALL the time. 

Since my dad died, I've been pretty successful at dodging the musicals. How can I explain how touching these songs are, and how quickly I'm 8 years old again in my father's living room, dancing around to them? I can't. I actually had the idea for this blog post almost 5 years ago, and I stopped writing it, so that shows you guys the power of avoidance. 

A Chorus Line is one of my favorite shows of all time, I've seen it twice (and the crappy movie), and know every line of every song. At The Ballet kills me, KILLS ME, every time I hear it, and I am realizing there are so many reasons why it does and the lyrics that go along with it.

"Mother always said I'd be very attractive, when I grew up, when I grew up. 'Different" she said, with a special something and a very very personal flair. And though I was 8 or 9, though I was 8 or 9, though I was 8 or 9...I hated her. Now 'different' is nice, but it sure isn't pretty, pretty is what it's about. I never met anyone who was 'different', who couldn't figure that out? So beautiful, I'd never live to see. But it was clear, if not to her, well then to me."

Uggggg. Well, shit...this is a true story. When I really WAS 8 or 9, Charlie's Angels was super popular and we would play it at school all the time. I always got stuck playing Kate Jackson, who was the smart, plain one. I always wanted to be Jaclyn Smith, who was just totally gorgeous. Once I was talking to my dad about this and he said, "Well, when you grow up, you'll be cute, but you'll never be beautiful." I remember just accepting this as a fact. Not making excuses, but my dad was a full blown active alcoholic at that time, and he was never flat out mean, but he would say stupid shit sometimes. Years later after he got sober, I talked to him about this exchange. He was beyond mortified and he cried. He said, "I don't remember saying that, but I believe you. And I'm so sorry, and you ARE beautiful!" He felt so awful, and I totally forgave him and knew very well how he felt about me, but I am glad I talked about it before he died. Is this one of the reasons I remain fairly vain and self-conscious??  Perhaps...

"I don't know that they were for or against, really, except each other. I mean, I was born to save their marriage but when my father came to pick my mother up at the hospital he said 'well, I thought this was going to help, but I guess it's not."

The jury is still out as far as I'm concerned, and half the jury is dead. My mother has told me that I was very much planned, and intended to be a celebration of the fact that my dad had stopped drinking (unsuccessfully, as it turned out). I have also heard tell that I was an "ooops" baby. My sister is almost 9 years older than me and my brother is almost 6 years older. That's a big gap. My parents started their divorce when I was 3.  Was I supposed to fix it? I'll never truly know, and my parents had no business being together anyway, so things turned out the way they should have. At the end of the day, I'm glad I'm here!

"Up a steep and very narrow stairway, to the voice like a metronome. Up a steep and very narrow stairway, it wasn't paradise, it wasn't paradise, it wasn't paradise, but it was home."

I love dance, I always have. I record So You Think You Can Dance every year, and every year it confounds my husband. When I was a little person, I took ballet lessons and I loved it so very much, but I missed a lot of lessons and ended up kind of giving up on it. I regret that. However, although my mom and I didn't get along very well when I was growing up, one of the things we would do together was go to the ballet. One night we had really good seats, I don't remember why. I think it was a last minute upgrade thing. It was the American Ballet Theater's rendition of Giselle. The loudspeaker came on and said there had been a change and the lead would be played by...Mikhail Baryshnikov. HOLY CRAP.  That was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life, EASY. Every time that man jumped in the air, the entire theater gasped. And he made NO sound when he landed. NONE. I think I was around 15 then.

Soooo....that is one song, from one show. My word. The rest of them aren't that deep, I assure you. 

I never saw Pippin. The plot, from what I can remember was pretty confusing and it had to do with Charlemagne? But man, my father wore this album OUT. Ben Vereen was in his prime, and him singing "Magic To Do" still makes me teary. "Corner of the Sky" is still one of my favorites to sing along to.

"Cats fit on the windowsill, children fit in the snow. Why do I feel I don't fit in anywhere I go? Rivers belong where they can ramble, eagles belong where they can fly. I've got to be where my spirit can run free, gotta find my corner of the sky."

MAN. It's so hard to articulate. My siblings will understand. I have all these songs on my playlist and when I shuffle "songs" in my car, I need to be careful that I don't weep my makeup off, depending on where I'm going.

Ohhh,West Side Story! Easily my favorite by a large margin. If it's on, I will drop everything and watch. It was so brilliantly done, and I know the line of EVERY song in that one. They could have, oh I don't know, found an ACTUAL Hispanic woman to play Maria instead of darkening Natalie Wood, but that was a long time ago. The choreography of that show is impeccable. Gang activity with dancing? I'm there for it. And seriously, has anyone since Rita Moreno been able to dance like that? It was like she didn't have a spine, she was a boneless Puerto Rican lady in that movie. 

"I like the isle of Manhattan. Smoke on your pipe and put that in!" 

The romance in that film does me in as well. The performance and the lyrics of Somewhere always touch me and always make me cry when I watch it.

"There's a place for us. A time and a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air, wait for us somewhere. There's a time for us. Someday there'll be a time for us.Time together with time to spare, time to learn, time to care."

It's just so damn wistful and hopeful, and they pretty much know it isn't going to happen. It's one of those songs that also makes me really grateful for my life and the way things have turned out for me and my family. 

I never saw The Fantasticks, and honestly have no clue what it's about. I don't even know how often dad played this album, although I definitely recognize the album cover. It was older, in the 60's before I was around. But what I do remember and love about this show is the memory of my dad singing "Try to Remember" in his house. I downloaded Jerry Orbach's version recently and my dad had a better voice, so I was a little disappointed. 

"Try to remember when life was so tender that no one wept, except the willow. Try to remember when life was so tender that dreams were kept beside your pillow. Try to remember when life was so tender that love was an ember about to billow. Try to remember and if you remember, then follow, follow, follow, follow..."

When I got older, my dad and I would actually head out and see musicals. We saw Cats...good costumes, some good songs? Altogether weird. We also saw Les Mis and Phantom, which were amazing. You can always spot a theater dork by whether or not they abbreviate the names of the shows. I miss going to plays and musicals with my dad, but I am so thankful they were a part of my youth.

Since he died, I haven't seen any. Mike and I were in Disneyland without our kids in early February 2010. We went to see the live Aladdin show just for fun, and it was super entertaining and well done, and yet I was weeping the whole time and I had no idea why. Probably because it had been such a long time since I'd been to something like that, and because it reminded me of him. On the way out of town to head home, we stopped by to see my dad in Altadena. He looked good, but as we left I was crying again...I think I knew it was the last time I would see him, and it was. He passed about 2-3 weeks later. 

I've got to get back into indulging in these things I love. I haven't seen Wicked, or Hamilton. I tell myself that it's because you now have to be independently wealthy to see musicals now, but that's only part of the reason. They remind me of my dad and the fact that I can't see them with him anymore, although I know it would make him happy if I did. I never acted, I didn't ever try. I never truly danced and stuck to it, which is too bad because I really did love it. I can't sing, that is just an objective fact. I still do it, but only when alone and when the music is so loud I can't hear myself. But this old art is in my veins, and it will remain there. I am so thankful to my dad and my mom for exposing me to these things! For my kids, it's all music. This weekend I am taking Stephen to SF to see Victor Wooten, a famous jazz bassist. This will be the 3rd show I have seen with him, and I've probably been to 5 or so with Maddie. I'm glad they'll have those memories, and I hope they hold them close when I'm gone. 

Time to Face The Musicals.