Throughout my life, when people ask, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” I often reply: “I would perform in a Broadway musical.” This has always been a dream of mine with no connection to reality. I don’t sing or dance well. I just enjoy musical theater and imagine that the convergence of everything on stage — singing, dancing, costumes, sets, music, and company — would be a rush like nothing else. I want to stand center stage and awe people with the power of my voice. I would love to pour my heart and soul into a group performance with peers of the highest caliber and leave exhausted. Alas, this is not my path.
My musical theater career peaked in high school. By peaked, I mean they let me on stage in the background, and eventually, I didn’t totally embarrass myself. I grew up watching musicals on tv, and when an opportunity to participate in one presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
I had a false start as a freshmen. At the time of my arrival on the scene, the chosen production was Annie. I thought, “Perfect! So familiar! Singing kids! I can do this!” I practiced belting out “Tomorrow” between my other activities and school work. One of those other activities was cheerleading. I tend to give it all to my endeavors, and with cheer, I screamed from my depths, which resulted in losing my voice just before for auditions. Not one to be deterred, I showed up at my scheduled time and did my best to sing along with the accompanist. I could barely get the words out. My voice was gone. It was a bust, and I walked home in tears.
In the fall of my sophomore year, I dusted myself off and decided to try again. The chosen production was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Still a cheerleader, I was more careful about protecting my voice, and low and behold, I got cast in the chorus.
In staging this production, the Director decided that the chorus members would wear choir robes and stand together on risers upstage left while the main players did their thing. To open the show, all of the chorus members were at the back of the auditorium. As a gag, the Music Director went to fire up the orchestra, noticed we were not on stage, looked at her watch, and blew a whistle to call us in. At this point, we ran through the aisles flustered from being late, got onstage, and assembled at our spots shamefaced. What was not part of the plan was the ill timed klutziness of an overzealous drama wannabe.
On opening night, when the MD called us in, I made my way down the aisle and hopped on stage at the far end so I could make sure to cross the whole darn way in front of the audience. This era of theater audio consisted of stand up, corded mics positioned all around the performance space. As I ran across center stage for my one moment in the spotlight, I tripped over a mic wire and fell spread eagle on my stomach, sliding to a stop and pulling the whole mic stand down with me. The deafening crash reverberated around the room.
There was really nothing to do but get up and hustle to the risers. Another quick thinking cast member reoriented the the mic and did a “oh well” shrug. In retrospect, it sort of vibed with the disheveled, running late choir angle, but it also didn’t fool anyone. I stood side by side with my friend while we tried not to belly laugh at my ridiculousness. The giggles were so strong that we could barely sing. It was like trying to hold in a cough. My eyes teared as I lip synced the entire evening. While not my best moment, I made it through and did not cause any more disturbances for the remainder of the show’s run.
When it came to my junior year, I figured that I had nowhere to go but up. The play was announced: West Side Story. This was big. Not only was it one of my favorite musicals, but the gang war/Romeo and Juliet story got everyone excited schoolwide. Even some of the jocks tried out for this show. I prepared my songs and had an upperclassmen help me practice dancing in my basement. I went in ready, and I got cast as a Shark girl named Halaria. I did not have any lines, but I had a name and was overjoyed to be part of the company. I even got to wear a dress of my mother’s from the 1950s as my costume. And while I stumbled climbing down some makeshift scaffolding in heels one night, it happened once the lights were dimmed, and no major embarrassment was suffered.
When it came to my senior year, the production was The Music Man, which I liked well enough. However, I felt like I was as far up the high school drama ladder as my ability allowed. For my and everyone else’s safety, I was ready to be off stage, cheering from the sidelines for the truly talented drama kids. They crushed it!
I still enjoy musicals and have seen many over the years, relishing the performances of friends and family in community theater and seeing professional productions in Seattle. Those two worlds collided when my amazingly talented cousin was in a touring production of Love Never Dies and invited me to see the show at the Paramount. Afterwards, he asked if I wanted to go backstage, and I almost exploded. He showed me around, looking at costumes and sets and explaining how the magic works. He brought me onstage, and I took a moment to glimpse out at the empty theater, pretending just for a moment to be a Broadway performer. It still gives me chills, and I am so grateful he generously shared that space and experience with me. It was a dream come true, just in a different way than I originally imaged. Life like theater is funny that way.