It’s impossible to talk about Broadway musicals without sounding corny. So let’s acknowledge that and move on.
I’ve been obsessed with musicals for as long as I can remember. Why? Because on Broadway, the dreamers were the heroes. And they were not head-in-the-clouds dreamers, they were people who took action and changed everyone around them in the process. In a musical, you were lost without a dream.
I sometimes imagine my life playing out with a Broadway score behind it (admit it, you have too). And I wonder if I ever would have had the guts to quit my job and become a writer if Don Quixote hadn’t convinced me it was noble to believe in “The Impossible Dream.” I wonder how many risks I’ve taken because the song “Seasons of Love” constantly reminds me that our lives are made up of precious minutes that should never be wasted. As a good, little Catholic girl, when a nun, of all people, insisted we “Climb Every Mountain,” I knew God himself wanted us to reach for our highest aspirations. (I told you this was going to be corny).
In musicals, the rules were made to be broken, and that was often shown through the metaphor of dance. A Siamese king could waltz with a British school teacher, a stodgy old professor could spin with a flighty Cockney girl, a Polish boy could cross a gym to dance with a Puerto Rican beauty. Whether at a formal ball or a country hoedown, the people in musicals pushed the boundaries.
Even when a musical ended in heartbreak, the actors were played off stage by a soaring score that reminded us that, though they had lost it all, at least they’d had it in the first place.
While the adults around me filed out of the theater, saying things like, “Wasn’t that good? Wasn’t her dress lovely?” I was jabbering all the way to the car about all the things I was going to accomplish, the dreams I was going to pursue, the rules I was going to break.
You can call it all schmaltzy, and I won’t argue, but there’s still a part of me that rallies every time I hear a stirring Broadway tune, and what’s wrong with that? Those oh-so-clever songwriters knew that sometimes we humans just need to believe.