Hello, my name is Alison and I am a musical theater geek. You wouldn't know it from looking at me. I won't go so far as to say I am closeted, because I have recently come clean about this, and have even gone so far as to admit (and even brag) that I am writing a full-length Broadway musical. It will probably take me about ten years to finish it, but it will happen. In the meantime, I am happy to embrace and express my inner M.T.G., and to mourn the lost years where I buried this passion under layers of cool ass rock n' roll.
I spent most of my childhood and early adolescence performing in musicals and plays, and the absolute happiest moments of my life were play rehearsals. Even more than the performances, I loved being at rehearsal. It was a special, insulated place where my talents were recognized, my friends were all around me, and most of all -- I belonged. In the outside world, and at school, I was too smart, too Jewish, had a big butt, had divorced parents, was an only child, preferred listening to records to playing with other kids. But at play rehearsal I was part of an elite group of people who were working on something important, learning lines, singing, dancing, blocking scenes, all those cool fun things that I loved more than anything in the world. We would start after school, and work into the evening, when it would feel incredibly romantic and glamorous to be toiling so late into the night. In reality it was probably only six o'clock, but it sure felt exciting.
At some point, that all changed. It's sad to think about, but there were several factors that turned me away from musical theater. I honestly saw theater as my career path, my calling, and my lot in life. But then the musical theater director left our high school, and I discovered smoking pot and punk rock. I continued to act in plays and even went to NYU theater school for my freshman year of college, but at some point I decided that theater was clearly for the uncool, self-absorbed actorly types, and I just wanted to play in rock bands. My attitude won the fight, and that was that -- I switched majors, started a band and never looked back.
But during those lovely years when I was all-singing-all-dancing-all-the-time, I had the good fortune of seeing some original musicals on Broadway during their initial runs. Godspell, Annie, The Wiz, and best of all -- A Chorus Line. I had never experienced anything like it. Even at ten years old, A Chorus Line spoke to my soul. I probably didn't understand most of the dirty jokes, and some of the more sophisticated ideas may have floated right over my head, but I sure got what that play was about. It was about loving everything about performing, and never being able to let go of it.
The current production of A Chorus Line playing here in San Francisco is about to open on Broadway, and it brings back all the passion and beauty and pathos of the original, without modernizing a single word. For those uninitiated, A Chorus Line takes place at the audition for a Broadway show. The actors stand in a line and answer questions about themselves asked by a director who sits in front of the stage. Their personal revelations turn into universal truths, and ultimately fantastic songs. Sure, the cultural references are outdated, and the musical arrangement is '70s cheeseball Broadway (written by Marvin Hamlisch, for chrissakes!), but somehow the show has remained an absolute marvel, a true masterpiece of its kind. And oh, those songs. The second Sheila started singing "At the Ballet," I had to nudge my mom (my date for the evening) for a tissue so I could bawl my eyes out. My favorite song, sung by the character I always wanted to play but never got the chance, Diana Morales, is called "Nothing." For anyone who has ever been to acting school, this song hits the nail right on the self-indulgent head. Diana describes her first week at the High School for the Performing Arts, where her acting teacher is trying to get the students to work with sense memory. Diana cannot connect, and feels frustrated and unworthy:
"Okay... we're going to do improvisations.
Now, you're on a bobsled. It's snowing out.
And it's cold...Okay...GO!"
Ev'ry day for a week we would try to
Feel the motion, feel the motion
Down the hill.
Ev'ry day for a week we would try to
Hear the wind rush, hear the wind rush,
Feel the chill.
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see what I had inside.
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried, I tried.
And everybody's goin' "Whooooosh, whooooosh ...
I feel the snow... I feel the cold... I feel the air."
And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says,
"Okay, Morales. What did you feel?"
And I said..."Nothing,
I'm feeling nothing,"
And he says "Nothing could get a girl transferred."
They all felt something,
But I felt nothing
Except the feeling
That this bullshit was absurd!
Well, this cast is worthy, and they handle the material with great flair and exuberance. The current choreographer played the part of Connie in the original Broadway cast, which brings a nice continuity to the affair.
I have seen so many musicals over the past ten or twenty years, and most of them suck, I must say. In this age of hackneyed shows wrung from the greatest hits of ABBA or Queen, there is nothing that compares to an original piece of work, a story spun from the hearts and souls of the people who created it, with songs that were written to propel the emotional highs into the stratosphere, and convey the essence of the characters' inner lives. That doesn't seem too much to ask from a show. At least it's what I'm going to try to do with my musical, if I ever get it done. Although I have continued performing in bands (and some theater) all these years and have never stopped working as an artist, I am continually awed by beauty of this magnitude -- voices singing together, feet dancing together, people expressing in song what they cannot say in words. So I shall sing to the rafters: I am a musical theater geek, and proud of it.