February 5th, 2007

Eric Downtown


I love musicals. I love the music. If I had to choose between watching a musical, or listening to a musical, I would likely choose the latter - though sometimes watching a great musical is what leads you to the music. Many people aren't aware that many songs they've heard covered by other artists are from a musical. Well, at least that's how it used to be. The stock answer I get when I ask someone if they enjoy musicals is something along the lines of, "No, people don't just break out into song & dance in real life." Well I'm here to tell you some people do - I do! Probably more often than I should.

My father used to take us kids to the Dallas Summer Music Hall, where we watched on stage the likes of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Brigadoon, Show Boat, and Fiddler on the Roof. Later in life he took us to Ragtime and even Ruddigore. Oh the music and the dancing and the costumes! But all is not well for someone who has a passion for these things. About the only person I can talk to when I get excited about a musical is my father. And we do - and I love him for it. But outside of family...its tough.

I seek these people out. I want to share my love of the musical with someone, and have them be just as excited as I am about it. I want to hear their stories too! And nothing will kill a friendship with a gay man like asking him, "Do you like musicals?" Yes, because that's so very stereotypical, I have to wait an appropriate amount of time. And I'll tell you something else about that - most of them don't! How very disappointing when you can't even rely on stereotypes to further your own agenda.

I grew up watching all the Motion Pictures adapted from the musicals during their heyday. Name it. I've seen it. Everytime we travelled to another city, we'd try to catch a musical put on by a local company. I think we saw The Music Man in Corpus Christi. When kids in my 3rd grade class were bringing 'KISS' to music class, I was bringing my Mikado and Mary Poppins cassettes. What a nerd! What did I know? The only thing playing in the house were scores, classical, musicals & opera. 24x7! What a rich environment to grow up in.

The CD box set of Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Carousel, and The King and I got me through my European tour. Nothing brings back fonder memories than "The Lonely Goatherd" or "March of the Siamese Children." And who can't burst out in accompaniment when you hear, "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" or "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top?" Of course, this too had its drawbacks. I was at the Base Exchange in Germany and found Mary Poppins. I was quite excited. Can anyone say, "The Life I Lead?" Here's where it gets complicated. I snatched it up, but my wallet was back in my room. I asked my buddy, "Will you pick this up with your checkout and I'll pay you back when we get to my room?" He looked at me, he looked at the disc. He looked at me, "Aw hell no! Here's $10. You get it yourself. I don't want anyone to see me with that!" *le sigh*

Today, I have almost no Gilbert & Sullivan (though I personally consider that opera and I'll save my love for opera for another post) and I don't really care for Sondheim. And there's a lot I don't have...yet. Still, out of all my music, my musicals are probably my most oft-listened to albums over a lifetime of music. Mostly, I enjoy the Original Cast Recordings. There are times I'll prefer an Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - such as with The Pajama Game or the rare instance where I'll require both (Chicago). And to date, there's only one in which I greatly prefer a revival cast, that being the much maligned Annie Get Your Gun with Tom Wopat and Bernadette Peters. Trust me when I tell you I thought I was going to be sick when I heard they were doing it...that is, until I actually heard it. Wow. Wow indeed.

What is it about these jewels which make them so precious to me? I don't know. The magic, I suppose. My favorite Xena: Warrior Princess episode? The musical. My favorite Buffy: Vampire Slayer episode? The musical. Those were so well done I shiver to think of them now! I don't suppose musicals are considered 'high art' like opera (still, very close ties) perhaps due to the risqué lyrics which are often found in musicals. My father explained that they were often the vehicles for bringing issues to light in a public forum, and outside of most of Rogers & Hammerstein's works, that appears to be true. Even today, what with Avenue Q timely social issues are discussed.

RHPS is of course fun, and Grease. But I eagerly await my 1965 Original Cast Recording of Man of La Mancha! My father had that on vinyl and we listened to it ceaselessly. I can't wait. There are so many more. My Fair Lady being in the Top 5. But if I had to choose. Had to, mind you - and I was only allowed one for the rest of my life, well, that's easy - Leonard Bernstein's Candide. But perhaps that's because I feel I'm living in 'the best of all possible worlds!'