Reading and traveling are two passions that I share with my seven-year-old daughter. Books, pamphlets, maps, magazines, newspapers, menus. Traveling a half-hour to the museum or across the ocean with our backpacks. My work as an elementary school Reading Specialist has naturally evolved into how I travel and read as a parent. Book recommendations will be given. Dialogue about learning to read and how to encourage the habits of lifelong readers is welcome.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reading Old Fashioned Musicals

I grew up in a house where the sound of music often meant Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music." I had the lyrics down cold from hearing the album played over and over, and from banging out the tunes - scaled down to a beginner's level - on the piano. The first musical I saw on Broadway (and also the last for many years to follow) was "The Sound of Music." When I heard the children on stage singing "Do Re Mi," I took it as a cue that I, too, was to join in and proceeded to march down the balcony aisle, singing. So caught up was I, and so was I caught by an usher, who led me back to my seat.

So, as an homage to that kind of enthusiasm and deep connection, I was determined that Sylvia would get to experience this style of music - not once in her childhood - but at least as an annual treat on her birthday, and maybe some times in between. We
started at age five when she was completely smitten with "The Lion King." The year after, "Beauty and the Beast." And last summer, "Mary Poppins" in London. Over this past weekend, we got to see two musicals, off the Broadway track, that add texture to the musical viewing experience in very different ways.

"The Sound of Music," performed by the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the end of its US tour, made an appearance in New Jersey at NJPAC a couple of weeks ago before finishing up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We missed it in NJ, but were able to get tickets in New York.
Note: It is really worthwhile to get on the NJPAC mailing list - their family programming often includes first-class international touring companies en route to Manhattan. We have seen marvelous performances there including my all time favorite puppet theater - The Mermaid Puppet Theater of Nova Scotia. OK - favorite till now.

The Salzburg Marionette Theater has been around for close to 100 years. I had the feeling of being part of a truly extraordinary artistic moment when I watched "The Sound of Music." At times, I forgot I was viewing puppets, at times, I was acutely aware that only puppets could perform so magically and convey the deeper meanings of the story. Thrilling. Since I've seen not only the original Broadway production, but the movie when it first came out - possibly at Radio City Music Hall, if I'm remembering correctly - and the video countless times, it was an utterly pleasant surprise that I could get more meaning out of this old shoe. From the opening moments of the show, when Maria rises up on the stage in a full-skirted iridescent green mountain, to the sound of wooden feet on the stage, to the giant Mother Superior, actually a real person, to the absolute wonder at the end of the show, when the curtain above the stage pulls aside to reveal the shoulder-to-shoulder puppeteers - breathtaking. During intermission we read over the program and see a long list of names 'playing' the characters, and also wonder at how they keep track of the hundreds of puppets and get them in place in time - because we realize - unlike in a regular show - there are no costume changes... Amazing.

Sunday, we met up with our friends Joyce, Jim, and their young daughter Anna at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, to see, "Meet Me In St. Louis." I had purchased the tickets beforehand - the cheapest seats - and so I was not surprised as we climbed up the stairs to the top of the balcony. In fact, the only empty row was the last. But our tickets were in the row in front of that one. And there were people sitting in our seats. Odd. Did they issue the same tickets twice? The usher called the house manager, who looked at our stubs and said, "these were for yesterday." Uh oh. Deja vu. When I was in high school, I managed to secure a ticket to the original production of "Hair" on Broadway. The ticket cost $7.50, not a lot, but not a little to me. The only problem was going to be that I had to cut school to go. Which I did. However, when I got to the box office and presented my ticket, I found out it was for the previous week. I missed the show. Was this going to be the story of my life?

Fast forward to grown-up life and the Paper Mill Playhouse, a very nice, respectable theater, if on shaky ground financially - and a sympathetic house manager, who let us occupy the last row. The girls sit together, sharing a pair of binoculars. The adults dig on the fancy sets and costumes, the lilting voices carrying songs such as, "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The heat rises in the theater and the story of youthful romance on a slightly bumpy path at the turn of the last century provides a soft pillow. The girls both liked "The Banjo Song," probably the most inventively choreographed. It's a play for 'entertainment' - and later, as we hear them riding wild animals in Sylvia's room, one that doesn't disrupt the flow.

Recommended Reading For Broadway Babies:
  • "Getting to Know You!: Rodgers and Hammerstein Favorites," illustrated by Rosemary Wells. You are probably familiar with her illustration style from over 50 books she has written and illustrated, including those that feature the bunny Max. I jumped to order to order this one when it came out a few years ago - it includes the music so you can play along, but just the combination of the lyrics and her illustrations are music on the page. I've never seen another book like it.
  • "Pamela's First Musical" by Wendy Wasserstein (Author), and Andrew Jackness (Illustrator)
  • "How Does the Show Go On: An Introduction to the Theatre" by Thomas Schumacher and Jeff Kurtti


Painter of Blue said...

I admire your commitment to exposing Sylvia to the good things in life! I have to get out more... I actually love Meet me in St. Louis. It was one of those movies that was on once a year when I was a kid. There is nothing complicated, nothing dark. Just about as different from my life as could be!

deedee said...

Both these trips sound so magical, such a time out from the insanity of the pre holiday season. Sylvia is close to being a more experienced theater-goes than I am at 61! What a great thing to do with a kid (and for oneself - not to mention with friends). Having grown up in New York City, I've always been somewhat ashamed at how little advantage I've taken in my life of theatrical offerings. Whenever I do get myself in gear I vow to "so this more often".I imagine Sylvia won't have this problem when she grows up - it will be such a natural part of life to go to the theater, museums, musical performances. I love having the book references at the end - something to keep the spirit going at home.

daddio said...

OK, full disclosure here: I am old enough to remember 78's and record changers (a 78 held just a bit of music, so you would stack up a whole "album" full and they would drop one by one--when you were done with the first half, you turned the whole stack over and let the changer do it's magic on the balance of the album. A big favorite was my parent's copy of The Mikado, and when I found that they owned a book with the full librettos of all the G&S shows, I was hooked! There is much to be said for reading those operettas/musicals.

One thing I love about G&S is that it is interesting and humorous to a young person, but with layers that are differently appreciated with more knowledge, allowing them to be heard repeatedly with new insight and enjoyment. Even someone of Sylvia's age will enjoy Pirates of Penzance or HMS Pinafore.