This weekend marks the end of an era in my family. We are all gathering in Minnesota to watch the youngest member of our family in the final musical performance of his school career.
Musicals have always been a huge part of my family's life. We were raised to love musical theater and saw many touring productions that came through Detroit. While our mother can be credited for passing down her singing and acting talent that she used when she was growing up, our father gave us our passion for musicals. He never acted in his life, but he has known and loved musicals since he was a kid, and that love has not waned.
Viewing Musical Theater
The earliest musical I can remember loving was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Other musicals that I was aware of, like Oklahoma! and The Music Man and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were from thirty or forty years earlier, and Joseph seemed like a new-fangled kind of musical (even though it actually was born in the 1970s). My parents bought the CD that had Donny Osmond as Joseph, and the four of us learned it all. We would stage performances in our living room, blast the CD, and sing along with songs like "Jacob and Sons," "Go Go Go Joseph," and "Song of the King."
To our complete surprise, our parents surprised the three oldest children - myself and my sister and older brother - with tickets to see Osmond as Joseph at the Masonic Temple Theater. It was my first professional musical, and it was colorful and beautiful and awesome. We got to dress up in our fancy church clothes, we got to be in Detroit after dark, and we got to stay up late!
Other highlights of my musical theater upbringing include traveling to Toronto to see their long-running production of The Phantom of the Opera, going into hostile territory to see Beauty and the Beast (and by "hostile territory," I meant "MSU campus"), and seeing my favorite musical of all time - Les Miserables - from the second row, watching the spit spew from the actors' mouths.
Our love didn't just stop at live musical theater. Lately we've made sure to see many of the movie adaptations, too. One of my favorite movies of all time is Mary Poppins. My sister saw Hairspray in the theater an uncountable amount of times (6? 7? More?). My dad saw Les Miserables just as many times. We already have plans to see Into the Woods once we're all together at Christmas.
Speaking of Into the Woods...
Being in Musical Theater
We did a lot of little musicals in grade school - most of which featured a big blue songbook named Psalty. It gave us plenty of experience in acting and singing - and for me, experience in losing out on roles. I remember one year when I was stuck with a chorus role while my brother and sister had main speaking parts. I was pretty bummed.
However, the following year we did The Pied Piper, which was probably the most ambitious grade school musical we ever did. It was during my brother's 8th grade year, and he was the one who donned the tights of the Pied Piper. We had a fancy backdrop, props, costumes, and spotlights! Better yet, I got a speaking role and a solo. My first solo! "A rat! A rat! I saw a horrid rat!"
My brother continued the acting in high school, where he was in the chorus of 42nd Street his freshman year, followed by the role of the butler Franz in The Sound of Music his junior year. I also enjoyed high school musicals (no, not that one - well, yes, that one, but not right now), being in the Whoverville chorus (and the NYC Star-To-Be) in Annie my sophomore year, followed by the chorus in Annie Get Your Gun my senior year. When I was a senior, my sister was a sophomore, and she was tapped to play Dolly Tate a week before the premiere because the original Dolly got in a car accident and was out of commission for a few weeks. She did an amazing job.
In the fall of 2003, I was a freshman in college and my older brother was a senior. He was the director of the fall musical, Into the Woods, which I'd never heard of but quickly grew to love. I auditioned, and was chosen from the directorial staff (there were five people in that committee!) to play three minor roles: Cindrella's mother, the Giantess, and Little Red Riding Hood's Granny. While the production had its challenges, I had an absolute ball. The entire production was student-run, and it was really cool to see my brother in a role of authority. I learned a lot about productions from those months.
As our college was putting on the production, my alma mater was doing the same musical a week after us, and my sister was chosen to be Cinderella! Their production was far different from ours, since they had a lot more adults chipping in with costumes and sets and props. But the overall ideas of the musical was still the same. My sister also did theater in college, performing in Bye Bye Birdie before trying her own hand at directing the winter play her senior year and acting in Children's Theater.
But the musical bug had been successfully passed to our little brother. He acted productions like Guys and Dolls in high school and She Loves Me in college. When they decided to do Singin' in the Rain his sophomore year, he was set on being Cosmo Brown...and he was!
Ten years after my older brother directed Into the Woods, the college decided to do it again...and my little brother was the director this time around. While I wasn't able to be there in person, I heard they did a great job.
Finally, we come to this year. The college is doing The Music Man, and my brother is one of the scene-stealers as he is in the barbershop quartet. My parents and siblings will all be there to look back at our past musical productions with fondness and close this era in our acting careers.