I often wonder whether my offspring will inherit my loves, my passions, my obsessions. When my eldest was a baby we would load the iPod with Beatles albums and play them while he slept. Who knew it would take the Beat Bugs to secure his love, and Star Lord’s Walkman to take him deeper. We take them camping several times a year, and thus we have forest-dwelling rascals who scamper over mountains and dive into lakes. We take them to every bookstore we pass, always buying a book or two. We visit libraries, we read daily, and now there are five of us bookworms squirreling ourselves away in fantasy worlds.
But how to share my love of Broadway musicals? My friend and I have been obsessed with London’s West End, and Broadway since we went to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when we were 11. The original cast starred our pre-teen heartthrob Jason Donovan, who far surpasses the performance given by Donny Osmond, and yes, I will fight you on this. Jason had played Scott Robinson in Neighbors, an Australian soap opera beloved by all in the UK, and had some minor success among the pre-teen crowd as a pop singer. The soundtrack to this show was actually the first album I ever owned on CD, and for weeks leading up to our London trip, we listened to the songs and devoured the lyrics that came in the CD booklet. We belted out show tunes all the way down to London, on a coach trip with our mothers and 44 strangers as our audience. It was spectacular.
While I make few sojourns to Broadway these days, my friend lives a mere train ride from the West End in London, and since the quarantine lifted has resumed her frequent visits. We frequently banter back and forth about what is new on our side of the pond and recommend things we have seen or heard. Together we have traveled to see Lea Salonga in Miss Saigon, waiting outside the theater after the performance to meet her. We saw the second London cast of Wicked while our new husbands wandered around London waiting for us to finish. When the current situation is more under wraps we are planning a belated New York City trip to add something new to our repertoire.
Her ten-year-old recently expressed disdain for musicals, exclaiming, “oh great, another song” during their first viewing of Camila Cabello’s Cinderella. I recall us wondering about that while waiting for Wicked to start all those years (and five babies) ago, what she would do if her future child couldn’t hold a note or didn’t like musicals. As a side note, this was a pressing concern for my friend, as she is herself an exceptionally gifted singer.
While I haven’t spent as much time in the theater over the past decade as I would like, I have been trying to make sure that all of my children are amenable to a foot-stomping, roof-raising, musical when the time comes. Here’s the secret to my success in raising partially tone-deaf musical aficionados.
- Don’t shy away from full-blown performances in the car. On a long drive a few years back we happened to be listening to Into the Woods and my seven-year-old became obsessed with the rhythm of the opening sequence. “Into the woods! Into the woods!” reverberated around our house for days until I realized that he was certainly old enough to watch the movie. We watched it in two sittings, and watching him watching the movie was an amazing experience. He loved the story, the theatricality, the over-the-top characters and portrayals. These days Hadestown is our driving musical of choice and you can regularly hear “Lo-ow, keep your head, keep your head low” being sung by one or all of my children.
- See as many live shows as possible. While this has been on hiatus for the past 18 months, it is definitely something that has influenced their willingness to try new things. Certainly, I’m not going to shell out Broadway bucks for my Broadway babies to experience the wonder that is live theater, but our community in Maine has a pretty excellent high school musical crowd and plenty of local theaters. Thus far we have taken in Once Upon a Mattress, Shrek the Musical, Annie, and Newsies. We left them out of the trip to see Avenue Q. The last pre-pandemic show we took in was Elf: The Musical and it became a fast favorite.
- Meet the actors. When seeing local live shows, there is always one character that stands out to my kids, and more often than not the actors will linger in the hallways visiting with relatives who came to see the show. Proximity to this person who they have just watched save the newspaper industry, or rescue the princess, just feeds their growing love of live theater. And it’s not as if adults don’t do it too. When I say we waited to meet Lea Salonga after a performance of Miss Saigon in Manchester, England, I don’t quite capture the long wait, followed by waiting some more, followed by what could be called an accosting of the actress herself! Heaven help us if my friend ever meets Idina Menzel.
- Incorporate some show tunes into your nighttime routine. Generally, my kids will get a story or five and a song to put them to bed. “Edelweiss” and “Feed the Birds” have long been in our repertoire, but you could easily work in a re-worked “I Dreamed a Dream” or “Music of the Night”. I will occasionally throw in “It’s Quiet Uptown,” but they aren’t as keen on this.
- Make up your own songs. My husband is a veritable Randy Newman, making up songs about the most pedestrian things in our lives, and our children have followed suit. Family favorites are “We’re Going to the Carnival,” “Put a Lid on It, Baby,” and “There’s a Happy Little Baby.” Our household is one break out number from going on tour on a daily basis.
- Read, read, read. The more you immerse your kids into created worlds, the more they will seek them out in any form. Encouraging a healthy love of story and re-telling will accomplish half the task of instilling a love of musical theater.
I will never forgive the pandemic for many things. Many things. But one of the things lamented most by my now twelve-year-old is that the pandemic shut the school down two weeks before he was to take to the stage as Prince Eric in an elementary school production of The Little Mermaid. I have lamented over this too. Watching his class rehearse this was amazing—the costume changes, the little talents taking flight, the way the teachers nurtured the gifts of actors and stagehands alike. He is now in his second year of middle school and has no desire to audition for anything. I can’t help but wonder what we lost by his not getting to pursue that passion when it was at its peak. He may return to it, of course, he’s 12, not 82, but right now he is erring more towards the board game club than the school musical. That’s okay too, but I so wanted to see him on stage while his friends sang “Kiss the Girl” around him.
Someday, I will give my kids the experience of a big Broadway show. We will walk the great white way together, and they will sit in an old theater as the lights dim and the music begins to play. But for now, we will sing and listen and watch and bring Broadway right here to our little house in Maine.