Driving down the highway on a rainy day in March, I sing-along—complete with gestures and choreography—to the original Rent Broadway cast soundtrack. This is just one example of what I find myself doing often: enjoying any of a variety of musicals.
I don’t sing well. And I’m not being humble. I know I’m partly tone-deaf and have the range of that only some witty comment could convey. My hands tend to be more coordinated than my feet, which is my excuse for lacking all ability to dance. I just love to sing in the company of my home or car and find an exciting, indescribable vibe from watching a live show. I don’t even mind if I can only get my hands on a movie version or just a soundtrack.
There’s something about a great musical, where the characters have no other way to express their feelings and find the only way they can communicate is through the power of a soaring musical rifts and some well-crafted lyrics. Musicals come in all forms: live shows, movies, soundtracks, Internet broadcasts, and even television. People bursting into song, alone or in a group, are not that strange in my world.
Though I am new to the world of the musical, green on the Great White Way, I do have some clear favorites: Annie, my first play I ever acted in; Rent; The Phantom of the Opera; Wicked, based on the characters’ of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz; Reefer Madness the musical movie; Singin’ in the Rain, a classic; Spring Awakening, an awesome, blasting show; and television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer… to name a few.
Joss Whedon’s excellent shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spin-off Angel, along with Firefly and his other works, are insightful views into human nature. In his Buffy episode “Once More, With Feeling” (6-7), Whedon and his crew constructed and composed over 40 minutes of music, lyrics, and choreography. The show achieves all this while still carrying the story along and continuing the different character arcs. And it was all within an episode of your everyday television for Joss Whedon.
“Once More, With Feeling” may be set in the fantastical world of Sunnydale, but there are many awesome musicals set in the “real” real world.
One of my personal favorites is Rent, about a group of 20-something friends, living and dying in New York City within one year—from Christmas Eve 1989 to Christmas day of 1990. The musical, a world-wide hit that has been running on Broadway, finishing after 12 long years in 2008, is about the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and 90s and the lives of those infected and affected. All with rock, R&B, gospel, and pop music and story-carrying lyrics that move and let the audience laugh and feel along with the characters that reflect real people to connect with. Rent is what the world would be if every emotional moment resulted in a song.
“I’ll never be a theatre person!” Joanne, Rent.
I would have said this very phrase if I’d known it, about five years ago, during the summer of 2003. As I didn’t know this line, I said something to the effect of “I can’t sing or act.” Well, those raw facts may be true, but it didn’t stop me from taking an unseen leap into the world of live theatre via a high school play my junior year, Annie.
I could say that’s how it all started, a high school production, but I slowly realized that that is wrong. I was interested in musicals long before high school, before I knew what a musical was and that singing in the movie wasn’t typical. Apparently, I grew up with musicals, in the form of movies that my Mom would pop in the VHS player. From what I remember, the list includes the following: The Music Man, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Singin’ in the Rain, and The King and I. If you played any of these classic movie musicals, I would be able to join in without even thinking about it.