Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What Theatre Means to Me

Finally saw Hamilton - 9 months after buying tickets...
My first experience with the theatre was watching "Jesus Christ Superstar" in Seventh grade. I remember sitting in class completely mesmerized by what was on the screen.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I was hooked from the very first chords of the overture. Within the same lesson, we were taught about the various pieces that made up a show as well as all about the mysterious thing known as Broadway.  At that point, Broadway was just a word to me. For a good period of time, I assumed every live show that was performed - even the ones occurring at the community theatres in my home state of Maryland - were "On Broadway."  There was so much to learn and I was just starting out!

In Eighth grade, our music teacher's production of choice for us to see was "West Side Story."  "West Side Story" remains a good show, but it will never hold the same place in my heart that "Jesus Christ Superstar" does.  It was also decided, around this same time, that we would be doing a Broadway Musical Review.  This was music to my musical-loving ears!  I was so excited by the idea, that I - the shy girl that barely spoke to anyone outside of family and close friends - would try out for the part of Sandy in the "Grease" numbers.  Why I chose to start at the top instead of in the chorus like most people, I'll never know...

Art installation outside of the National Theatre
To this day, I'm convinced that my lovely music teacher - who remains a saint among men! - took pity on me because I, my tone-deafness and lack of any sort of rhythm were all cast as Sandy and were slated to sing "Summer Lovin'" to my middle-school crush, who had been cast as Danny.  As my ridiculously bad luck would have it, my crush broke his leg and I was forced to sing to someone who was decidedly not my crush.  It's been 20 years, and I'm still not entirely sure how the evening of the show went down.  I'm fairly certain that I've blocked it from taking root in my memory to protect my fragile ego.  Though, I can almost guarantee it was a disaster, it still didn't dull the sparkle of musical theatre for me.  It did, however make me realize that being a theatre fan was much less overwhelming for a wallflower than being a theatre star.

This decision has served me well over the years as I've grown and learned more about the arts community.  A few years after what I now call "The Tragedy of Danny and Sandy," and after learning what "On Broadway" really meant, I finally got my chance to see my very first Broadway show - "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Majestic.  Thankfully I have parents that love theatre too, and loved me enough to fund my ridiculously expensive habit for a few years there.  From the moment the lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing, I felt a prickle of electricity.  I swear the lights got brighter, the costumes more opulent and the music more beautiful.  The sheer spectacle of that show was really something to behold, especially from the third row.  We sat so close that I nearly jumped out of my seat when I felt the heat of the torch that was lit in front of me.  I'm not sure I blinked for the entire two and half hours.  It was a night I hope I never forget.

As I got older, trips to the theatre became more and more frequent - which is never a bad thing.  I'm lucky enough to live in Maryland which has a thriving arts community and close enough to New York that day trips are easily made. In this time, I've seen good theatre and bad theatre.  What I've learned is that bad theatre is never truly bad - there's always something there to thrill or excite.  But when it's good, there's absolutely nothing like that prickle of electricity you feel in the audience. You, the cast and the crew are all on a journey together, and you all are experiencing something that no one will ever experience in the exact same way again.  That's the true power of theatre.  How can anyone possibly think that movies and television could ever measure up?

Broadway Con was so inspiring!
In the last few years, I've been privileged to be a part of some ridiculously amazing nights at the theatre.  And they've all taught me, thrilled me, or broke me in some way, and I'm truly thankful that I had a chance to see them all.  "Jesus Christ Superstar" on a stage with Ted Neely in the role that made him famous, reminded me why I fell in love with this medium in the first place.  "Rent" on Broadway (3 times!) moved me so, that I cried each time - even when I knew what was coming.  Taking in "The Producers" on Broadway, 19 days after September 11, 2001, gave us in the audience permission to laugh again.  "Les Miserables" made me realize that everyone is wrong about how great this show is.  David Tennant in "Richard II" made me fall in love with Shakespeare and blew me away with his breathtaking performance.  "Falsettos" made me cry more than I ever have at any piece of theatre - and yet made me love every single thing about it (especially that truly perfect cast!)  "Come From Away" gave me all the feels and made my heart happy.  "Hamilton" excited me with the sense that I was witnessing something completely new and completely different, and it made me feel that I was part of something bigger. 

Those feelings, especially the feeling of being a part of something, is what theatre provides me and millions of others.  Theatre stands for acceptance and Love.  There's no judgement, just creativity and purpose.  And each and every time I've stepped into a theatre, or a benefit or even just a concert of a theatre-performer, I've felt these feelings, especially now.  In today's political climate, the theatre community holds steadfastly to their ideals and is providing a voice and way to act up for change - whether through performance or advocacy. And it's a beautiful thing to watch and to be one small part of it.  

So then after all of this, what does theatre actually mean to me?  I suppose it means the feeling of a warm hug, a creative mind, a happy heart with just a little prickle of electricity thrown in for good measure.  And in the words of Gershwin, "...Who could ask for anything more?..." 

Falsettos closing curtain call - Amazing!

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