Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Starstruck. Transported. Carried away. Enchanted.

I was very young, sitting with my mama and sister in a theater south of Chicago somewhere. My father was playing in the pit orchestra. The houselights went down, the curtain opened...and the first plaintive ethereal strands of the Carousel melody rose from the orchestra. It was my first Broadway musical, my first Broadway melody, and I have never forgotten this beginning to a life long love affair.

Show tunes were part of the cultural common core back then. We might hear 'To Dream the Impossible Dream" (Man of La Mancha, 1964) or "The Rain in Spain" (My Fair Lady, 1956, movie 1964) or "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Camelot, 1960) on the car radio en route to the grocery store. The Beatles were but part of the gossip at school; I first heard Petula Clark's iconic "Downtown" on a jukebox in Kalamazoo enroute to my aunt and uncle's wedding in Michigan.

But what Elsa is to little girls today, Julie Andrews was to little girls in the '60s. Our Girl Scout troop went to see "The Sound of Music" on the big screen in a packed Saturday afternoon matinee. We didn't know any history, but we could all sing Edelweiss and My Favorite Things in our bobbed Julie Andrews haircuts.
Even today, I would wager that most people have heard tunes like "Seventy Six Trombones"  or "Hello Dolly" even though folks who frequent the Broadway channel on xm are mere specks on the data map of popular music.  

Which is why I am always thrilled and encouraged when November comes around and it is time for Tarkio High School's fall musical production.  For an entire semester, the cast and production crew are immersed in the language of the best American theater can offer, tried and true and lasting songs and stories and melodies.  Here is music with melody and grace; dialogue with humor...and wit.  The musicals are the masterpieces of our popular art and have stood the test of time  to transcend the era for which they were written.  A cast of twenty or thirty can sing the same tunes that Irving Berlin or Richard Rodgers wrote...and perform them to a packed house, whether that crowd is at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City...or in the red padded seats at Tarkio High School. 
 Putting together a musical requires heart, hands, eyes, ears, and voice.  It stretches the imagination, exercises memory, and, at its best, makes goose bumps appear. Like a good book, the two and a half hours of song and dance and storytelling transports performer and audience alike to another world...at least until the house lights go up, but, perhaps, for days after.
If our schools don't promote and perform musical theater, a part of our heritage will be lost.  Who wants to live in a world without Nathan Detroit...or Nicely Nicely...or Marian the librarian....or Ado Annie?  These are characters as American as we are...with the enviable advantage that, when in the throes of a crisis they "they sing and they dance, which is so much more interesting than just whining about it,’’ in the immortal words of the Man in the Chair in another musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.

Is this a shameless plug for amateur theater?  You bet.  To join is to be part of our cultural fabric, woven into the seamless score of those past and present that can sing along....

Shhhhh...the lights are dimming...time for the second act.....wherever you are.....

Come on along and listen to

The lullaby of Broadway

The hip hooray and ballyhoo

The lullaby of Broadway

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