I’m still pinching myself, but I’m really trying to accept the fact that my husband and I actually bought tickets to see our first-ever Broadway show this fall. As soon as we heard about Hugh Jackman and the revival of The Music Man, we knew we wanted to see it. And in a few months, we actually will.
The Music Man holds such a special place in my heart, as it does for so many people, for so many reasons. For me, it was the first show I ever performed in. It was at the Engle Lane Theatre in Streator, Illinois–an unassuming little theater built out of an old red barn. It was 1981. I was ten years old. I remember hearing about the show because the director had reached out to school band teachers for his River City Boys Band, though they renamed it the River City Youth Band so that girls could be in it too.
I can’t remember if I had ever even seen a live musical by then, although my grandparents took me to many community theater shows throughout my childhood. But my mom dutifully drove me to so many rehearsals, both at the theater and at the director’s house across town. I seem to remember her getting annoyed at how long I was at those rehearsals; we would get called in for the crowd scenes we were a part of, but ended up sitting around a lot as the director worked on lines or blocking with the lead actors. How he ever expected dozens of young kids to sit still and be quiet when it wasn’t our turn to do things, I’ll never know. But we did. For the most part, anyway.
In fact, over 40 years later, I can still recite practically the entire opening number with the salesmen on the train, because of all the times we’d rehearse the transition into “Iowa Stubborn”. And we rehearsed the full company song “Trouble” so many times that I can still sing almost all of Harold Hill’s part from memory. Oh, I might get some of the phrases in the wrong order. But also, I might not. And this is a song I learned from repetition well before I knew what knickerbockers were, or corn cribs, but I knew that being shocked over the word “swell” was hilarious. Watch your phraseology, indeed!
At the cast party after the show wrapped, our Harold Hill (his name was Chris, I remember) gave all us kids these little business-card-sized Hug Coupons. They reminded me of something you’d buy at a Hallmark store; they were freaking adorable. I still have mine, not because I didn’t redeem it for a hug from anyone, but because none of us wanted to part with our treasured mementos. Instead, we all ran around the cast party that afternoon like lunatics, showing each other our coupons (proof!) before hugging each other and then running off to do it again. Wholesome show, wholesome memories.
Surprisingly, what I remember most about The Music Man isn’t the experience of being on stage (but I sure remember the stage fright!). What I remember most is falling in love with the process, knowing I was literally peeking behind the curtain and seeing how it all came together. The weeks of practice, the mistakes, the laughter, the exhaustion–all of it. And I wanted to do it again, and again, and again. Years later, while teaching high school chorus in a little town in downstate Illinois, I took my own students on the journey to River City. It wasn’t the same as the first time–though what ever could be?–but it was still wonderful.
And just a few short months from now, I get to experience the show the one way I never have–on Broadway. I’m really trying to stifle the urge to lean in to the ” ’til there was Hugh” that’s bouncing around in my head, but I’m clearly losing that battle. I struggle sometimes accepting movie stars in stage shows, probably because I forget that many of them started on stage. Sure, I’ve seen all the X-Men movies, and the Van Helsing movie (regrettably), but the role I loved Hugh Jackman in best was The Prestige. I remember learning that he’d done quite a lot of stage work while I was waiting for the movie version of Les Misérables to come out, but even so, I was unprepared for just how much I enjoyed that entire movie. So thankfully, I know that Harold Hill is in good hands. As if there were ever any doubt.
Now if I can just keep myself from crying out of nostalgia. Or singing along.