connection · family · joy · theater

Hum a few bars?

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There’s a famous story in our nuclear family history:
My brother was maybe five years old. He swaggered into the
room. Feet planted, arms wide, he opened his lips and belted, “GOTTA
DANCE!… Gotta Dance, Gotta Dance, Got ta Daaance.”
This, friends, is a move from a song in Singin’ in the
Rain
. My family trades in musicals.
Broadway and movie musicals. On frequent rotation in our VCR were
Singin’
in the Rain
, Meet me in St. Louis, Calamity Jane, On The Town. Eventually,
there’d be
Chorus Line and Cabaret with their more “adult” themes; even Flying Down to Rio and Top Hat, from in the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers oeuvre. My mom, brother and I would trade lines like
currency, like code, and for us, they were.
All four of us together, with my dad, weren’t a family of
deep conversation. Instead, we’d throw these bones of reference to one another
as a note of connection and a wink. One commonly used phrase in our house was,
“What’s that from, again?” We were almost always speaking in movie lines, not just
musicals. Watching movies was what we were able to do together, to spend time
the 4 of us, without having to talk, but able to be in the same room at the
same task.
Unknown is what might have happened if we’d allowed my dad to
join in on the impromptu a cappela fun. We always cut him off, because he
couldn’t sing a bar; the trees weeped. But he could whistle, and play the harmonica,
and there’s even an old banjo lying around that apparently was his in his
younger days.
But, for the most part, it was me, mom and Ben. Trading
lines, lobbing tunes to one another, volleying them back, and joining in. So
much of my growing up, I see us, in and around the kitchen bursting into a
melody. Me, on the melody, actually, and Ben on the harmony. I never had quite
the ear for harmony, and he did; still does.
For my bat mitzvah party when I was 13, instead of the DJ
party most of my friends requested, I wanted to see a musical with my friends.
We lived a short drive from Manhattan, and many of my friends had never seen a
Broadway show.
We went to Phantom of the Opera. In a short party bus, about a dozen of us rode into
New York City
 with Nightmare Before Christmas playing on the thick, boxy t.v. screens, since it
was mid-October, right after my 13th birthday.
My mom and I’d created gift packages for my friends, little
heart shaped wicker boxes with a fake rose with a plastic water droplet on it;
a cassette tape of the soundtrack; and a mug with the Phantom mask on it that turned from black to white when you
filled the mug with something warm.
I was extraordinarily lucky to have been to some shows
already, my aunt, a stalwart New Yorker taking me to see Guys & Dolls and later, How to Succeed in Business
without Really Trying
starring the
inimitable Matthew Broderick (if you think him singing Twist & Shout in
Ferris Beuler was something… well, I assure you, this man has charisma. And talent.)
But the Phantom
theater was magnificent. There’s an enormous chandelier that crashes into the
stage during the middle of the play, and we were sitting right behind it, this
wide, gold, frail thing about to murder the ingénue. For a group of giddy,
hopped up tween girls, this was a pretty cool experience. Well, for me it was,
anyway 😉
Musicals are in my blood. I was raised on their fervor,
their simplicity, their saccharine lyrics. And I love them. I know they
can be cheesy and I know it “doesn’t make sense” that people bust into song all
the time. But, you see,
In my house, we did. 

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