Stories Set to Music

This month’s blog was written last minute, so I apologize for its potential lack of coherence. I’ve been a bit under the weather lately (nothing COVID related, fortunately) and my energy has been super low. Still, there were a few highlights this week, including turning in my proofs for my upcoming release, Broken Reign, as well as finally being able to watch the film version of Hamilton.

When I’m not feeling well, I turn to comfort movies. For me, that means musicals. I was raised on musicals. The Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Hello Dolly! were staples in my house growing up. During Christmas time, you’ll be sure to find Meet Me in St. Louis playing in my parent’s living room. When I’m couch-ridden, I put on Judy Garland’s A Star is Born.

My love of musicals isn’t limited to films. I adore the theater. When I had my first real adulting job, I saved my money for one thing: show tickets. Practical? Not really. Utterly enjoyable? Absolutely. The first live musical I ever saw was Beauty and the Beast when I was maybe ten years old. I will never forget seeing the transformation of the Beast into the prince. My young self was in awe of the stage magic. How did they do that? It was unbelievable. Thus sparked my love for live musicals.

There’s something special about a story set to music. While reading a book offers that warm, fuzzy feeling of escape into a different world from the comfort of home, the theater has those same sensations of escapism, but on a heightened platform. It’s hard for me to put words to it, but there’s something about that moment when the lights in a theater dim and the curtain rises.

I’m not certain who said “Art holds a mirror up to society,” but that is what I think about when I go see a show, watch a movie, or read a book. While sitting in a theater at a show, I’m taken on an emotional journey with hundreds of other people and thrown face-to-face with a piece of art that, whether wrapped in cotton-candy costumes or displaying gritty bites of reality, is a mirror reflecting back at us. And while everyone in that theater is witnessing the same story unfold on stage, the takeaways can be different. Even though we’re all looking into that mirror, the image is distilled through our individual lens, filtered through bias, ideals, and experiences. While this may seem divisive, I think it’s actually a unifying element of storytelling. While we can be exposed to the same world in a performance or story, the subjective nature of our interpretations can spark essential conversations. Those differing perspectives are essential in educating ourselves about what we just experienced in that story. There are three potential occurrences: we witness what the mirror holds; we see through our personal lens; and – through a little bit of effort – we learn about what others saw at the same time.

Sort of like the debate about what Eliza’s gasp means in Hamilton. People interpret it differently, and that’s what’s so great. It sparks conversation. The way you and I read the same book or see the same show differs; and that’s what’s so wonderful about the arts, and story-telling in general. We all have our own stories we’ve lived which serve as the lens through which we view other stories. It’s never exactly the same experience. It’s up to us, however, to keep our minds open to those stories that differ from our own.

Well, this blog turned into a love letter to musicals, or as one character in the musical The Prom noted, a place where “people dance in unison and no one wonders why.” I think I’ll go put on Dreamgirls. Stay well out there, y’all.

5 comments

  1. Agreed! I always liked the idea of living in a world where a huge chorus would be on hand to underscore the significance of my important moments. My favourites are Guys and Dolls and West Side Story.

    And of course staged productions add an extra layer of interpretation, because each new production can put a different slant on a piece.

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    • West Side Story! That’s a great one. Now that I’m really thinking about it, I’m not sure if I’ve seen Guys and Dolls in its entirety. Guess I’ve got another one to add to my list!

      Great point about stage productions there. Actors always seem to be discovering new aspects of their characters and the story they’re telling. Then throw in different actors playing the same role over time…like you said, there’s always potential for a “different slant.” 🙂

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  2. Im with you on all the musicals.
    Saw Wicked two years ago at Orpheum theater in SFO
    Incredible.
    I really want to see Dear Even Hansen or The Heathers but I think I missed those.
    Guys and Dolls was the musical love starter for me…not counting Wizard of Oz or Sound of Music. That whole “got the horse right here” song stuck in my head for all of 2nd or 3rd grade. I’m thankful my teacher had patience.

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