Monday, October 27, 2008

Andrew Lloyd Webber? I don't even know 'er!

The first musical I remember seeing is West Side Story, when, in eighth or ninth grade, Mrs. Smith showed us the movie so that we might compare and contrast it with Romeo and Juliet.*

But the first musical I committed fully to memory, without even having seen it, was The Phantom of the Opera. Something about the tortured genius must have resonated with my teenage angst.

This all came flooding back to me when I, for some reason, downloaded an album called "The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber." It has 30 songs from a bunch of ALW musicals -- Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, etc. -- recreated by some random people who came together to make a record. I like most of the songs, but there are some that I just can't take. For some reason "Starlight Express" makes me physically gag, and the way the woman, who is totally not Madonna, sings "What's new, Buenos Aires?!" makes me laugh hysterically.

But the Phantom songs take me back to a simpler time...a time when I could listen to the same original cast recording over and over (and subject my parents to it over and over on the way to a family visit in Akron, OH) and really live through the music to create a production in my head. A time when I could sit on the floor of my friend Natalie's living room with her and her mom and her sisters and Jon and Jason and sing along to the soundtrack at the top of our lungs. A time when I could make up stories in my head about what the plot would be like from the point of view of the guy who worked at the box office, or one of the Opera Populaire's audience members, or, like, what if you were one of Raoul's friends, and he told you he was going to try to trap this psycho musical genius in a mask (the Opera Ghost who signs his mysterious letters "O. G.") who had this stalkerish crush on his girlfriend as a result of some weird mentor/mentee relationship. ("You're going to whatnow? Dude.")

Talk about suspension of disbelief.

But, you know, to me, that's what makes the world of The Musical so special. It's like this alternate universe where it's totally acceptable to break out in song as you explain how you're going to get the bad guy or win the girl or, I don't know, run errands and go get lunch. Ah, but that's the difference, isn't it? Entertainment is entertainment -- to me -- exactly because it's not about doing laundry** and buying stamps and getting your oil changed; rather, it's about the extraordinary events -- so extraordinary that they cannot be experienced in spoken word but must be lived through song.

While a traditional play might move me to think or to cry or to laugh, musical theatre, for me, adds a layer of imagination that just plain drama doesn't have. It's like seeing the world in a different way and embracing the most absurd possibilities -- gang members who dance? a disfigured opera ghost? puppets that swear and have sex? -- as just that: possibilities.

The point -- and I do believe there is one in here somewhere -- is not that I long for my life to be like a musical (I gave up on that 12 years ago), but that I am thankful to all those who create musical theatre for us because they can lead our minds and hearts to wonder.

And wonder is a resource in short supply these days.

* You know, even though I've derided crappy internet essays you can buy online, I really think I must have gotten my "Compare and contrast Officer Krupke with [Establishment Character from Romeo & Juliet]" essay outline almost directly from the very-analog Cliffs Notes. Hence, I cannot remember which character I had to compare and contrast to Officer Krupke. Everybody else got, like, "Compare and contrast Juliet and Maria," or "Compare and contrast Romeo and Tony," or "Compare and contrast Riff and Mercutio," or whatever. How the hell did I get Officer Krupke? But I did.

** Unless it's Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, in which case it is awesome.


Anonymous said...

The Best of ALW brings back many memories of long 7 hour drives to Ohio. Non-stop.. Can sing every word of that compilation. *sigh* The simple hum of a few bars often bring giggles and eye rolls from my Mother and sister... Its one of those crazy childhood nightmares.

Meana said...

Musical theatre, music in general and for me, books all inspire that kind of imagination and possibility.

K.T. said...

You were assigned Officer Krupke because your teacher saw the inner genious that would love the challenge. And, I'm sure he/she was excited to read whatever you'd come up with!