Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Confessions of a Teenaged Theatre Geek

When I was 14, I hated musicals.  I didn't know who Stephen Sondheim was.  Heck, I didn't even know who Andrew Lloyd Webber was, and I didn't understand what was causing this phenomenon around something called Les Miz. The only musicals I really liked as a kid were The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins. 

I have no excuse; I was a late bloomer.

Then fate intervened.

My English class was brought to the theatre auditorium to watch a "teaser" of my high school’s play.  A comedy called Play On by Rick Abbott (not the musical, that would come years later). I remember thinking two things, 1) I don't like theatre... theatre is dumb, and 2) but this is funny and everyone onstage looks like they are having a lot of fun.  

I had a difficult time reconciling those two things that afternoon.

But fate is fickle and it wasn't done with me, yet.

I was flipping through channels, since reruns weren’t doing it for me, and came across this bizarre show on KQED, or as I called it back then "Channel 9".

A girl was singing, not dancing, just singing.  And the story looked familiar… it looked like Little Red Riding Hood

The weirdest part was I was enjoying it.  This wasn't a movie musical, this was a real, actual musical (even if it was on TV) and I was enjoying it.  I sat transfixed. I watched the rest of Act 1 and all of Act 2 of American Playhouse’s Into the Woods.

It was the first time I'd ever seen a musical where the music actually seemed important to me. The music was mixed into the action. People didn't just stop and start to sing and dance. Yes they were singing, but most of the time it seemed like dialogue.

Maybe I had this musical stuff wrong. What was this all about? Who wrote this show?

Hadn't that Drama teacher said that they were going to need help on the next production? Maybe I should get involved.

And I did. I joined Drama Club at the end of my freshman year.  It wasn't a school big on musicals, in fact we only did one while I was there.  But it was an easy springboard from Drama Club to devouring musicals.  Starting of course with Stephen Sondheim, the man whom I thought had crafted the perfect (and for a time only good) musical.

It would take me a few more years to learn about Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, and the others.  I lived on the CastRec Listserv (an email group for people who liked Cast Recordings), spent most of my extra money on used cast recordings, and slowly realized that even Rodgers and Hammerstein and the other golden age musicals not only had a place in my collection, but were glorious.

Rodgers and Hammerstein weren’t "old hat," as I previously had believed.  They were the originators! The reason Sondheim was able to do what he did.  

But for me, it all started with Sondheim.  Sondheim brought me into musical theatre, a passion I have sustained ever since.  A passion that led me here to Moon!

And that's why I was so excited to find out that we were going to be producing a Sondheim show this season.  Since Sondheim is the composer that brought me to musicals and 18 years later, 42nd Street Moon; I believe that Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum will do the same for others.  Bring new audiences to fall in love with Musical theatre, and fall in love with Moon.  
If you have a friend that thought the way I did…  bring them to see Forum, I’ll bet Sondheim will transform their lives (maybe just a little) like he did mine!

Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum starring Megan Cavanagh, plays through Oct 24th at the Eureka Theatre.  For tickets call 415 255 8207, or avoid box office fees and buy online.


Beth Sharkey Flarida said...

Rick Abbot was my father. I'm happy to know you thought Play On was funny and he would be thrilled to know the impression he made on you. You are the reason he chose to write for the theater! He loved that he could go to the theater and watch the audience enjoy what he created.

Ken Levin said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Beth. Yes, I remember that play very well. I hope he instilled the same love for theatre in you!

Please, if you're ever up in San Francisco, join us for a production and say, "hi!"

Mike said...

Ken, my high school did Play On as well. I wasn't in it, but I had a friend in the cast so I went to see it. I honestly don't remember that much about the play except that it was hilarious, and it inspired me to audition for my school's next show, which was Oklahoma. And that started a process that has led me to where I am now, about to open in 42nd Street Moon's production of Forum.