When I was 8 years old, my family moved from Rhode Island to PA. We still had family up in New England, and travelled there 3-4 times a year to celebrate holidays and for an annual summer vacation. As a way to break up the tedium of the road (which never really bothered me- I was ensconced in the back seat with my stack of “Babysitter’s Club” books), my parents popped in a cassette tape of “Phantom of the Opera.”
I was immediately hooked! The dark story of love and obsession, a man too scarred to live in the light of day and the supposed supernatural powers he possessed, a hilarious diva and a delicate protégée. It was like a Disney movie on crack, with every line sung. I memorized it and sang along to the whole show, secretly hoping I wouldn’t have nightmares later.
My parents saw my love of the musical, and continued my “education” with recordings of “Les Miserables” (Who DIDN’T want to grow up and sing “On My Own”? Anyone? Exactly) and “Miss Saigon.” I was enchanted by the stories and by the amazing voices of Lea Salonga, Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford.
I can’t say exactly when I KNEW that I wanted to be onstage. I remember sitting on the tile floor of our elementary school cafeteria as some high school students put on a preview of “Into the Woods,” and was an eager participant in fifth grade chorus.
Sitting in a darkened auditorium watching a community theater production of “The King and I,” I was particularly inspired by a high school student with a lovely face and voice as clear as a bell.
“I’m going to be just like her,” I vowed to myself.
I did every show that I possibly could, including some obscure community theater, just to get experience. I took the chorus parts, and the parts with only a couple of lines. I got to explore the spectrum of roles, from Lady Capulet to a convicted murderer. I was the whore and the nun, the chipper factory worker and the old crone.
Finally, senior year my persistence paid off and I got to wear the ruby slippers.
Last Friday, we were lined up backstage at the revue, getting ready to perform the opening number, when one of the current high school students came up to me.
“I wasn’t sure who you were when we started rehearsals. But I want to tell you… ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was the first musical that my parents took me to at the high school. I sat in the audience and was so amazed, and told myself that I wanted to be just like Dorothy.”
I was speechless.
I remembered how much fun that show had been, but I assumed that almost 10 years later, any glory that the production may have had was locked in my memories. Surely the rosy glow that I project over the whole experience was just a result of the personal nature of it, my brief moment to shine.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that I would inspire someone the same way that young actress in “The King and I” had inspired me.
It made me feel both amazing, and… well, old.
This morning, I found out that the young woman who is following her dream was recognized with an award for Outstanding Actress in a Play, out of the performers from 19 area schools.
And? I’m sure that a young girl sitting in the audience of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” was inspired to start pursuing her own talents.