It’s always about the music. My heart and soul lies in musical theater, Sondheim will forever be the most brilliant composer and lyricist of all time, Les Miserables will always bring me to tears as soon as the overture begins, and theatre will continue to be amplified by the musical choices made by it’s directors. Last year I saw War Horse at Lincoln Center and what struck me the most was the use of music throughout the production. Maybe this is because I pretty much have a constant soundtrack to life running through my head at any given moment, continuously singing melodies to myself, suppressing the urge to belt them out at the top of my lungs. My rendition of ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses” remains one of the shining moments of my 10-year-old life, but this remains safely locked away in the deep recesses of my parents storage, where no one will ever ever see it.
I think NPH sang it best at the Tony’s.
But in all seriousness the choice to include or exclude music can be a tricky one for a straight play. Is it appropriate? Does it enhance the story? Will it lessen the authenticity of the play by using a ‘gimmick’ like music? I’ll admit that sometimes music is an inappropriate choice, it can lead the audience to a specific emotion rather than letting them get there on their own. But I think, more often than not, it is the right choice. It creates an internal connection with a person, whether they realize it in that moment or not. There’s a reason the human species created music in the first place, a reason that everyone listens to music in some form or another. It might not all be your cup of tea, but I would venture to guess that every single person has at least 1 favorite song. It’s why movies have soundtracks, why we whistle while we work (well maybe we don’t all whistle) but you get my point. So why am I rambling on and on about music in theatre?
Well, last night I had the pleasure of seeing Black Watch (in full this time) at The Shakespeare Theatre Company. I knew what I was getting myself into from the preview I was invited to a few weeks ago. I’ve been out of town a lot recently, dancing my little feet off on wedding reception dance floors, and didn’t know whether I was going to get a chance to see it before it closed. But I did, and can I just say that STC’s $18 under 35 ticket discount is AMAZING. As a person who currently works 3 part-time jobs in order to continue this dreamlife of living in our nation’s Capitol, sometimes my tight purse strings can get in the way my theatre going plans. But I was able to snag a ticket to Thursday night’s show, which also just happened to be #STCnight. As I settled in for the 2 hour, no intermission production, I was anticipating how many times I would go flying out of my seat due to ‘loud noises’ cautioned on the signage outside the theater ( I tend to startle quite easily), and how I would nonchalantly play it off as intentional to the 2 strangers sitting on either side of me. I wondered how much of the play would be set in the field, and how much would be brought back to the pool hall. I knew I would probably tear up, just a little, as I often do when faced with anything regarding war and soldiers, I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that what would resonate most in this production would be music, sung by these soldiers, these boys; or rather I wasn’t expecting much music as all.
It seems like such a small thing, two soldiers singing a tune that I’ve never heard before. It sounds traditional, but I can’t be sure. Standing above us, across and diagonal from each other, their harmonies meeting in the middle, and washing over the theater. The Golden Thread that they spoke about earlier on, seems to make its connection here. This song must be old, a piece of the past, a tradition that connects the soldiers of the Black Watch regiment to their predecessors and now with their comrades. This was what connected me to Black Watch, the moment when all the pieces sort of fell into place. That goose-bumpy feeling. ‘Twa Recruiting Sergeants’ And rest assured, this is about to be on repeat on the good ‘ol iPhone, though I doubt any recording will do it the justice that this production did.
So here I sit, typing away, attempting to express what it is that I love about the theatre as best I can. And what it boils down to this. Sometimes I think we’ve lost our sense of wonder in the world, our sense of simple joy. Everything is so serious, we don’t sing enough, we don’t dance enough, we don’t enjoy enough. I don’t really wish that the world were a constant barrage of people singing and dancing in the streets (well actually I kind of do) but whenever I am sitting in that dark theater, and someone starts singing…out loud…I’m reminded that even at its saddest, music lifts. When that music is intertwined with the real life (ok sometimes make believe) stories on stage, something truly great happens. It’s why I love theatre. Plain and simple.