Anyone who knows me even a little bit will know I love theatre. From plays to monologues to Shakespeare (be still my beating heart, how I adore Shakespearean plays), to the greatest of all my theatrical loves, Musicals, I am an ardent admirer of the performing arts.
I think my parents are to blame for my great love of musicals. I grew up on the films of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Watching old movies as much as I did, it was hard to escape the music, the dancing and the show stopping performances. I remember the first time I saw Singin’ In The Rain – I instantly fell in love with Gene Kelly, splashing around in the pouring rain with more joy than I had ever seen. I stayed up late at night to watch Xanadu with my parents, and then to watch Grease, mesmorised by how these musicals made me feel.
So, it wasn’t long before I found myself wanting to see these things on stage.
We were never really in a position to buy tickets to the theatre when I was growing up, so my first experiences of stage musicals happened at home, watching recorded live performances of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Both performances were filmed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and so suddenly, the theatre took on a level of decadence and grandeur that I had never really associated with it before. I loved these musicals, but they started to feel beyond reach – and it wasn’t long before the whole idea of Theatre soon followed.
Until, that is, until I saw my first musical on stage – Wicked.
Wicked was the first musical that really took us all by storm. It was pure fluke that I got to go see it as part of a school excursion. I went in to see it knowing pretty much nothing about it and walked out laughing and crying and with my heart full to bursting with joy. I had never felt so full as I did then, and for months my friends and I sang Wicked lyrics back and forth.
Since then, I have seen ten musicals on stage, and many more on screen, with an ever growing wish list of musicals I want to see live. My sisters are constantly telling me to stop singing/rapping the lyrics to Hamilton and In The Heights, and are completely horrified when I switch to Rocky Horror or Hedwig and The Angry Inch. To be fair, I was definitely never made to be a singer, or for that matter, a booty shaking Broadway star. Secretly, I think my Mum is proud of me for loving something as much as I love theatre, even if she frowns at my horrific vocals.
I know that Theatre has a history of being notoriously inaccessible, both for audiences and performers alike. It is an industry, though very openly inclusive off-stage and as a community, often shuts out fantastic talent for very little reason at all than their physical appearance, and it is horribly expensive for audiences to access. I am lucky that I have been able to see as many shows as I have as a result of gifts at Christmas and the occasional birthday from my grandparents. But as shows like Hamilton have shown us, theatre doesn’t have to be exclusive – it can open itself up to us through diverse casting choices and rocking cast albums. Musical soundtracks have been the door for many into an amazing relationship with theatre, but they also do so much more – they allow us to escape into that theatrical world whenever we need to.
Theatre, particularly Musical Theatre, is as much about escapism as it is about the joy and magic that envelopes the audience. Sitting in the theatre for two or three hours and being entirely mesmerized by a story that is performed with so much love is a wonderful way to combat your skepticism. Even if you can see through all the stage tricks and performance, you cannot help but appreciate all the work and love that has been put into a single show. You cannot help but be thankful for all the effort that has gone into it, all the talent and imagination. And the more people who become immersed in this world, the more diverse work that will be borne from it.
As much as I know I will never be Sutton Foster or Lea Salonga, or even one of those dazzling Schuyler Sisters, I know I will always sing terribly off-key to Musical Soundtracks and Cast Albums as long as I live – because to me, Musical Theatre is the gift that keeps on giving.
© Hayley New 2016