Finding the Muse in Musical Theater

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From the moment my eight-year-old eyes were blown open by the technicolor roller skating wonder of “Starlight Express,” I knew the seeds of a lifelong love affair were planted. Buzzing with anticipation, I sat next to my best friend in a section—specifically carved out by the theater—which allowed the actors to skate directly next to and around us for the entirety of the play. It was a powerfully immersive experience, and Jamie and I were quick to relive the magic by donning our official, matching show t-shirts when we got home that night. I have a picture of us (somewhere…in an album/in a box/in an attic), sitting on a pull-out bed with beaming smiles and overstimulated brains.

I was fortunate to grow up an hour north of Manhattan, so trips to the city frequently included a play, and for me, the word “play” meant “musical.” I took the scenic route through all the requisite classics, before honing in on the few shows that spoke to my soul. There were fan favorites (“Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Les Miserables”). Then, there were a few shots in the dark that missed their targets (“Contact,” “Xanadu,” and “Mamma Mia”). But when I realized that I intensely identified with inventive instrumentation, unorthodox orchestration, and slightly darker themes and subject matter, I vowed never to return to the world of “Guys & Dolls.” Instead, I dove headfirst into “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Spring Awakening,” “American Idiot,” “Next to Normal,” and a show that spawned over a decade of obsession…”RENT.”

It’s difficult to describe exactly what it is about this art form that speaks so audibly to a part of me that normally lies dormant and waiting, but when the perfect chord progression collides with soaring vocals, I’m left a puddle of my former solid state. It’s in the genes and it’s in the blood, and there was a time I would have given my left arm for Pascal’s pipes.

But now I am the happy victim of the the single most brilliant and addictive piece of musical theater ever produced. I can say, without hesitation that this is not only the best show ever written, it may be the strongest lyrical album ever created. Obviously, I’m talking about “Hamilton.”

Now that I’m in LA, I generally have to wait for casts to land on the left coast, and with the unimaginable fervor surrounding this phenomenon, I’ll be waiting more than a while to see a stage production. But the soundtrack has been on a constant, repetitive loop, and I’m uncovering another morsel of genius with every listen.

I’m floored by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I’m thrilled that audiences and critics have embraced the fact that Broadway needed to be painted with a fresh coat.

We were just waiting for the ideal hand to grab the brush.

Adolescence Interrupted

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Isolated Incidents

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“To thine own self be true.” -William Shakespeare

Framing an existence through the filter of personal perception is a simple task for an introvert. We walk through the world as observers, internally commenting on the people and events that paint the landscape of our journeys. At times, we question the motivations of the masses and shake our heads at the absurdity of society’s accepted rituals, wondering how we could be so far from average.

This self-imposed exile can both comfort and corrode, but the impetus to peel away the security blanket is often the needle in a hay silo. Our feet aren’t shaped to walk on the same path as yours, so we, quite literally, are late to arrive at the party.

My only respite from the streaming onslaught of thoughts, analyses, and a babbling internal dialogue is the studied focus on a bouncing yellow tennis ball or the two-hour “braincation” achieved by sitting in a theater, staring at a screen or stage depicting someone else’s adventures.

Like everything else, the chasm between chatty party guy and weirdo on the wall has widened with age. I have a hard time remembering the high fives and toothy grins, the eagerness to meet someone new, or the desire to play any role other than whatever feels authentic in the moment. I’m far too occupied swinging on the monkey bars of my own intellectual jungle gym to take a break and explore the rest of the playground.

Maybe this changes. Maybe not. I have lived a life of streaks and patterns, so I never rule out the possibility of 180s. But being a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by friends and familiarity, is a bizarre phenomenon.

Adolescence Interrupted