The Magic Of Musicals

Music has always had a powerful impact on me. From my earliest memories of happy times, there is always music involved. Whether I am listening to a song on the radio, singing along with a song or dancing along with a song, I am in my happy place. Put it all together in a musical play and magic really happens!

Monsters and MarigoldsMy own personal “Broadway revival” of magic and happiness hit me hard last week when I watched the Broadway version of James Corden’s Carpool Karoake. Leading up to him hosting the Tony Awards, he rode around New York City singing Broadway tunes with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski, all who are currently in Broadway productions. I had a blast singing along with them while I watched the short video. So much delight and emotion are evoked when I hear a song from a musical. This is unquestionable due to how musical numbers are written—they are intentionally filled with emotion and can be very sappy (a good thing in my mind). Broadway tunes, more than any other kind of song, tug at my heart and immediately bring tears to my eyes.

Watching the Tony’s last night, I was sobbing with happiness while watching the singing and dancing. I particularly loved watching the talented little kids from The School of Rock sing and dance and play music. Viewing the performances last night brought me back to my childhood and the joy I felt for musicals.

Growing up in Roosevelt NJ, we were surrounded with musicians and music. So it is not surprising that we performed musicals plays. My earliest memory is being in the musical Monsters and Marigolds, written and directed by Margaret List Schlinski. Just thinking about it brings back the title song that I spontaneously started to sing it to my husband Andy a few minutes ago. Most of the lyrics were still intact in my memory after 40+ years.

Many MoonsMargaret List Schlinski organized and ran The Children’s Theatre Workshop out of the Roosevelt Public School gym that had a wonderful stage. She and a talented group of adults from my hometown introduced us to the magic and wonder of musical productions. We also did non-musical plays including Many Moons by James Thurber and a series of short plays called Patchwork. Fortunately, I kept all of my programs in a scrapbook that is falling apart but still keeps my memories alive.

The most memorable musical production for me was Madeline, A Barnyard Musical, about a chicken who laid square eggs. The story was by Edward Schlinski and each character’s name was silly and wonderful. I was Curdle the Cow and there was Roquefort the Rat, Anagafafasta Afgan, Mrs Glenda Quackson and Dirty Harry Esquire, Junior the Third to name a few. My friend Nathalie’s dad, Laurie Altman, wrote the music and amazing lyrics. He devised it so that each character had an associated song, giving each of us a chance to sing a solo. I remember my song well:

“Hey diddle diddle, what’s the big riddle, so little is made much too soon, too soon.

When I was young, my hero unsung, was the dish that ran away with the spoon, the spoon.

But when I was a calf, what made me laugh, was the cow that jumped over the moon, the moon.”

Oh, so much fun and such warm and loving memories of acting and singing and dancing with my childhood friends.

My scrapbook memoriesMy fascination with musical productions has stayed with me throughout my life. As a young girl, besides being in the Children’s Theatre Workshop shows, I loved watching and singing along with classic movie musicals like West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound Of Music. Peri and I sang and danced around the living room her grandparents’ house to any number of original cast albums, most notably Oklahoma.

In high school there was one main musical production each year that I acted in for several years. My freshman show was Take Me Along, a lesser know musical that continued to stoke my love of musical theater. And then I was in Carnival that had a wonderful picnic scene where I was dancing with my partner who I had a crush on. I even kissed him at the end of the scene on opening night—very memorable for a 14 year-old girl. During two summers of High school I continued my joy with musicals at Theatre-By-The Lake that performed in the Peddie School Playhouse. I was in Pippin and Bye Bye Birdie where I met my first boyfriend.

High school and Summer MusicalsWhen I was in The King and I at Hightstown High, a bunch of us went together to New York City to see Yul Brynner in a reprise of his role as the King in the Broadway production. I remember so well how our King, who was played by Brett, shaved his head to play the role—just as Yul had—and wore a shirt that said “Yul is Cool.” We waited outside the stage entrance to see Yul when he exited the theater. The whole evening was so magical to me and I absolutely fell in love with seeing live musicals. Thus began a period of my life in the 70s when I saw as many musicals as possible on Broadway with my mom.

I saw the original productions of Grease, A Chorus Line, Pippin with Ben Vareen, Annie, The Wiz, and the Revival of Candide. In the 80s I saw Dream Girls, Cats, Sunday In The Park With George, Les Miserables, and Into The Woods. Fortunately the ticket price, though not cheap, was still relatively affordable back then. Now, it is almost cost-prohibitive to see a musical on Broadway.

Over the past few decades other than the very recent revivals of The King and I and Hair (one of my all-time favorite shows), I haven’t seen many musicals. But there are two original productions that are standouts for me: Rent and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that coincidentally had Jesse Tyler Ferguson in one of his earliest theater performances.  Last night’s Tony Awards reinvigorated my love of all musicals and I am looking forward to getting back to Broadway to experience some singing and dancing magic!

XOXO Rachel

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