Midwesterners, especially those from small towns, have a special fondness for musical theater. I’ve never exactly understood why, but I definitely took that trait to heart. There really is something magical about a musical, the old-school type especially. There are quirky characters, always at least one that you can identify with, a sitcom-like plot structure, and in the end, everyone is in love and happy. Oh, and the best part, which I failed to mention, is the spontaneously bursting into song of course. (Who doesn’t do that?)
I can’t remember a time when musicals weren’t a part of my life. My father was a high school teacher for 17 years and then became a principal. Every year we attended the student productions of musicals and plays. Sometimes in the summer, my grandma would take me to see the summer musical at the Palace Theater, which was a community production, and of course when I was in high school I both performed in the musicals and helped construct the sets. I don’t think I even saw a professional production until my senior year of high school. Oddly the professional ones have always seemed to lack some of the magic, maybe because the actors weren’t people I knew.
As cheesy and unrealistic as musicals are, I’ve always loved the world they exist in. Things always happen for a reason and even the oddest character gets to fall in love. In part, it isn’t entirely unreal. I did grow up in a family where people would randomly burst into song, and every once in a while life does feel like a storybook come alive. There is a comfort in believing in happy endings.
Yesterday I was so lonely and heartbroken and not all that thrilled at the thought of spending my Saturday night at a high school musical. I wanted to be with my friends, somewhere where I’m comfortable and at home. Instead, I was attending a high school musical with my parents as I had done so many times as a child. I felt pathetic and defeated all at once. I kept thinking, so this is all there is to do on a Saturday night around here………
When the curtain lifted and the kids broke into song it wasn’t long before I was fully engaged in the show. During intermission I overheard parents and friends discussing the performances and going on about how certain members of the cast would surely be famous someday. The second act resolved all conflicts comically, everyone fell in love and of course, there was a standing ovation. While standing around afterward and talking to parents and kids (some of whom I babysat as infants and yet are heading off to college soon) I felt something new. As a child I watched these plays in awe, it all seemed so real, and I wanted to be one of those pretty girls on stage. As a teenager, I was on stage and I remember the exhilarating feeling of the audience’s reactions to your acting, their laughter and applause. Now I felt something new. The great love and pride pouring out of the parents of these kids. The belief that they could really take the world by storm. Now, of course, the odds aren’t in their favor, hundreds of small-town stars end up cocktail waitresses waiting for the big break that never comes, but right now, tonight everyone knows they’ll make it big. The warmth of that love is remarkable and in truth, if I could spend every Friday night this way I’d be a happy woman. Love is infinitely portable, a mom can be a mom anywhere on earth, even here. These lyrics from the musical seem quite appropriate:
Why, Oh why, Oh why, Oh–
Why did I ever leave Ohio?
Why did I wander to find what lies yonder
When life was so cozy at home?
Now, I don’t regret leaving here even the tiniest bit. I think anyone from a small town benefits from knowing there is a bigger world out there. I doubt I’ll even stay here, but I can’t imagine a better place to be while I find myself and start my life anew.