Like thousands of other people, I recently saw Hamilton on Disney +. Late last year, I had been planning to take a long weekend to visit my niece in Chicago to see it in the theater there. Unfortunately, I’m a procrastinator, and I didn’t get the job done. Now I can’t. But thanks to Disney +, I was able to see it here in Grass Lake, with my niece in Chicago and my sister in Grand Rapids. We had comfortable seats, didn’t have to stand in line for the restroom, had the advantage of subtitles, and were able to comment throughout the show (via text messages) without disturbing anyone and without anyone shushing us. It was great!
Musicals seem to be a controversial medium. People either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I love ‘em! My mom was a big fan of musicals and she had numerous albums of Broadway cast recordings; My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, and The Sounds of Music (with Mary Martin, not Julie Andrews) to name a few. We also had the movie soundtrack album of Oliver! I saw the movie with my mom. It was not just my first musical, but probably also my first movie in a theater. It came out in 1968 so I was only four years old. My mom was pretty protective, so in retrospect it’s a bit surprising that she would take her preschooler to see a show featuring child trafficking, misogyny, physical abuse, thievery, and murder. I only remember bits and pieces, but I still love the song You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.
When I was in elementary school a friend’s family used to attend musical theater put on by the Chelsea High School drama department. That was not our school district and so it was a big treat of an outing for me. I don’t know how I was lucky enough to be the person my friend selected as her guest on numerous occasions, but I am forever grateful to her and her family. I’m not sure exactly how many times they took me along, but I specifically remember seeing Hello Dolly and Carousel. I remember the excitement of putting on ‘good’ clothes, finding our seats in the dimly lit auditorium (something our school didn’t have) and feeling the thrum of the timpani in my chest as the orchestra played the opening chords of the overture.
In the 80s, both Mom and I enjoyed theatre productions of the big shows of the time including Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. She also went with a group of friends to Toronto to see Cats which was all the rage. When asked about it later she admitted it wasn’t one of her favorites and she had even fallen asleep. “Too many cats,” she had said, which quickly became a saying in our family when expressing displeasure or a lack of enthusiasm. Thirty years later, using this phrase during a family conversation still elicits fond laughter.
I enjoyed the Broadway productions that I’ve seen in New York City immensely, and consider myself fortunate to have attended four of them. Trips and theatre tickets are not cheap, and I have not had the means to go to ‘the show’ as often as I would have liked. I’ve seen some community productions that were excellent and I’ve got nothing against filmed productions. When my son was young and money was tight, most of my musical experiences were delivered by Disney on VHS. We were fans of The Lion King, Pocohontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Mulan. And when we tired of watching these movies over and over, we went to the library and rented Disney Sing-Along Songs. Are you familiar with these? They are a series of 30 minute song collections from a variety of Disney shows and movies. The lyrics are played along the bottom of the screen and singing along is required. Sometime we still enjoy a variation of that activity, taking turns asking Alexa to play Disney songs, digging deep into our memories to try and play a better more memorable one than the one before. This is a great quarantine game.
This week as I was compiling a list of my favorite shows, I was surprised by how many I’ve seen. I can’t possibly mention them all, but here’s a quick review of a few notable selections.
Les Miserables – I’ve seen it on stage a couple times and I also own the movie. Hugh Jackman has a tough time with some of the higher notes, but Eddie Redmayne is a treasure. A favorite sing along for my son and me.
Jesus Christ Superstar – My brother had the double album and I used to be able to sing every part. Forty years after it first hit the stage, John Legend’s live performance on NBC did NOT disappoint. (Now available on DVD.)
Rock of Ages – MOH and I saw this in NYC. Great show. The movie with Tom Cruise was a disaster.
Jekyll and Hyde – I don’t know whether it was the location (Marquis Theatre in NYC), the company (MOH), or the sensual musical performances by Constantine Maroulis and Debra Cox, but I loved this show. Critics did not agree and the show ended its run early, but I bought the Broadway sound recording and my devotion is unwavering.
Evita – I have only seen the movie version. The music is wonderful and I can’t imagine anybody other than Antonio Banderas in the role of Che. Not everybody loves Madonna (I do) but you can’t deny that this part was made for her.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Yes, I was one of the crazies that attended midnight cinema showings of this cult film. I have not seen the stage show, (and can’t imagine anyone but Tim Curry in the lead), but I have seen live audience participation, wishing I was brave enough to hop up and join them. I own the VHS, and may or may not have performed in a living room production in years past. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten much of the ad lib dialog over the years.
Mama Mia – The music of Abba is beyond reproach. The premise of the story and the acting in the movie was ridiculous. Meryl Streep, I’ve loved you in many things, but not this. Soooo embarrassing. Stop yourself and sit down.
Kinky Boots – I saw this one in NYC with two of my besties. It was absolutely fabulous! I heard that the production we saw was not as great as the original cast, but our lead character was played by Brendon Urie from Panic! At the Disco. Fabulous! His part in this show was the impetus of the trip. Did I say fabulous yet? Fabulous!