My life of late has been filled with watching musicals. Last week, I reviewed a new video production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma! I was considering showing this new production featuring Hugh Jackman to my music appreciation class. Instead, I opted to stay with the tried and true and showed Sondheim's Into the Woods. On Saturday evening, I headed over to Playhouse on the Square in Memphis to see their production of Hairspray. By the end of the week, you might have caught me humming "Agony" right after a rousing chorus of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."
I began to think about my fondness for the American musical and tried to understand why they have such a firm grip on my heart. As a child, I had very little knowledge of musicals -- or of theater at all, for that matter. My first experience with the theater was with a community production of Carousel in 1988. I was cast as a member of the chorus, but quickly moved into the role of rehearsal pianist. As a teenager of 16, I had no idea that the score was rather difficult; I just knew that I had found an exciting role that allowed me to be a crucial part of every scene. That was how the musical theater bug first bit me.
I would continue to work with this community theater throughout my high school and undergraduate years. What I was considering a summer pasttime turned out to be a valuable investment in my future. During those summer vacations, I became familiar with the scores to Gypsy, The Sound of Music, The Pajama Game, Oliver!, and Camelot. Every fall semester at Pepperdine University brought a full scale musical. These gave me opportunities to play the scores to Oklahoma!, The Fantasticks, She Loves Me, and Into the Woods. The Fantasticks became my first performing job as I played the show for three different companies in the Los Angeles area in the following years. Finally, a new door opened to me -- musical director of the Santa Monica Civic Light Opera's production of My Fair Lady. Even though I was underprepared for the position, the lessons I learned on the podium were invaluable and have not been forgotten.
Perhaps my love for musical theater is associated with my familiarity with it. I think there is something more at work though. When I am involved with a musical production -- whether as part of the directorial team or as support staff -- I am intimately involved with the development of the show and have an opportunity to influence the audience's experience. Few things are as powerful to a musician than aiding an audience in exploring a character's emotional journey through song.
I suppose that explains my love for the theater better than anything else. I relish the rush that comes from adding music to powerful lyrics and setting the imagination free to explore new realms of human experience and emotion.
How about you? How did your relationship with musical theater begin? Feel free to share the gist of your story in the comment section below.