My wife and daughter went to the first rehearsal for the fall play at her new school recently. They both had a great time, which is no surprise. The director is the head of a dance school Carol and Elizabeth attended, so they have a long and happy history. A number of the kids and adults have been in shows with Elizabeth before, so both sides have the comfort of familiarity. And Carol gets to hang around another musical.
I don’t know if love is a strong enough word to describe my wife’s feelings about musicals. I suspect her version of The Rapture includes being lifted into heaven as a choir of angels in period costume sings the finale of “Hello, Dolly.”
Whether by transmission or accident, Elizabeth shares her mother’s love for the musical stage. She did her first show in elementary school and never looked back. She has done everything from chorus to second leads. Carol attends many rehearsals, learns songs and dances so she can rehearse Elizabeth privately, and attends nearly every performance as volunteer or audience member. It’s an incredible mother-daughter experience that I watch from the sidelines, because I don’t want to interfere with their unique symbiosis and because musicals and I – well, it’s complicated.
Musicals have always lurked in the background of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother singing songs from “Kismet.” As a child, I didn’t understand how she could sing “Stranger in Paradise” so beautifully during the day and cry so bitterly at night when she thought her children were asleep. She may have been a stranger, but she certainly was not in paradise. However, the look on her face and the sound of her voice when she sang were testaments to the recuperative powers of music.
The first song I learned on my own was “The Ugly Duckling” from “Hans Christian Andersen.” The first movie I saw in a theater was “South Pacific.” The first woman I fell in love with on the big screen was France Nguyen, who played the young love interest, Liat. Years later, I met Ms. Nguyen at a charity event where she looked more beautiful than she did in the movie.
“You’re France Nguyen,” I chatted.
“Yes, I am. Excuse me,” she flirted back as she was called away to the other side of the room by someone I could not see but was apparently just over my left shoulder.
My musical taste changed along with America’s during the British Invasion. In college I became the music director of the student radio station and therefore An Expert. I fancied myself, wrongly and pompously, on the cutting edge of rock music. I would enlighten girls at parties about Eric Clapton’s musical odyssey. “No, first it was The Yardbirds, then Cream, and then Blind Faith. Do you see?” I would say just before they saw a friend calling them to the other side of the room from over my left shoulder. I had an apartment on the loneliest block in Ann Arbor, at the corner of A Little Knowledge and A Lot of Ego.
I was still in that phase when I met Carol. Early on she invited me to dinner at her apartment, and I took a peek at her record collection when she was out of the room: “Liza With A ‘Z’,” “Funny Girl,” “My Name Is Barbra,” “Je m’appelle Barbara,” and “Color Me Barbra.” There may have been a John Denver in there, or I might have fantasized it during a brief episode of hysterical blindness. The problem was, I already knew she was The One. What could I do? I was hopelessly in love with a woman who loved show tunes. I tried to put a brave face on it. When she returned, I said, gamely, “I see you like Streisand.” It was the first time I ever saw a Jewish person genuflect.
In the ensuing years, I made peace with our different taste. My performing career began with musical comedy in dinner theater because that was what was available. I dropped the “musical” and concentrated on the “comedy,” but I’m glad for everything those shows taught me about performing.
Elizabeth and Carol’s involvement these last few years has made me appreciate the form in ways far beyond its entertainment value. The mother-daughter bonding has been extraordinary and beautiful. They both have a lot of fun doing it, and let’s face it: what are we here for if we can’t have some fun? Developmentally, it is great for Elizabeth. Dancing and stage movement help her coordination and strength. Learning lines has built her reading skills and learning to say them clearly has done wonders for her speech. Doing something she loves is the best motivation she could have for maximizing her abilities.
The point, beyond showing that inclusion is a good thing for special needs and typically developing alike, is that seemingly peripheral programs in schools have powerful and far-reaching educational impacts that can’t be reproduced in a traditional classroom. I understand that our schools are under great financial pressure, but when we are trying to figure out what we can afford, I hope we are not too quick to call some things “extras.”
And for the moment, for the Scarborough High School production of “Little Shop Of Horrors” – wait for it – Color Me Grateful.
Portland-area resident Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.