Monday (Musical) Smiles
I grew up listening to Broadway musicals. It was not entirely my choice, however. My Mom, who loved music almost as much as I do, loved Broadway shows and her record collection (remember those) included most original cast recordings of her favorites. My Fair Lady. South Pacific. Oklahoma. I’d say her favorite was The King and I, at least in part because she had a crush on Yul Brynner. She would play her music during the day until Dad came home from work, then turn it off. Dad was a fan of quiet. Me? Being the lyric-sponge that I am, I still know virtually every word to every song that she played.
I suppose as a boy becomes a man, he has to break away from some of the things his parents love and for me, one of those was musical theater. I adopted jazz, which my Mom described aptly as everyone playing whatever they want, as my favorite musical genre, and, of course, I loved rock and roll. But I considered Broadway musicals as intellectually beneath me. In the early seventies, my wife, Muri, and I moved to Southern California and, drawn by the many opportunities to see live theater, we became avid theater-goers. But still, not musicals. Thinking back, it was very odd. I loved theater and I loved music. I love the standards of the Great American Songbook, many of which have their roots in Broadway Theater. But such is intellectual arrogance. For me, aging has been the antidote to intellectual arrogance. Age and, perhaps, Phantom of the Opera, which was the first musical I saw on my way back to Broadway. It remains one of my favorites, along with Sweeney Todd and just about anything by Stephen Sondheim.
Searching Goldstar Events for a Date Night event this week, Muri and I came upon Closer Than Ever at the International City Theater in Long Beach. A musical revue with words by Richard Maltby, Jr. and music by David Shiree, it contains no dialogue, and has been described as a bookless book musical. That sort of thing can certainly be hit or miss but it had great reviews. The reviews were right. The cast consisted of two men and two women (plus an on stage pianist and bass player). Each song was a small story about some aspect of growing older, in and out of love. The songs (all linked to the original cast album below) were funny and touching and sometimes slightly disturbing because they captured the not always perfect realities of life. She Loves Me Not featured the whole cast as four souls, each longing for someone who loves someone else. Dating Again was a hysterical number about starting to date again in middle age. Three Friends followed three of the cast members as inseparable high school friends struggling to stay connected through the years. There is a lament of a couple breaking up, her complaining that he was never There and him wondering where There was. It’s Never Easy/I’ve Been Here Before is a duet … a divorced mother cautioning her about-to-be married daughter to be careful. And The March of Time was a funny-scary number about noticing the years slipping by too fast.
Good theater, good music … and an interesting take on life. With the Love of My Life for company. It’s Monday … I’m smiling.