Musicals helped shape my entire romantic history, from the very first overture to the climatic wedding number. Cue the orchestra!
It all started very early. My parents loved musicals, taking us to Annie at a young age, rallying around the Grease movie experience, and obsessing their way through the Evita years. Don’t get me started on the reign of Andrew Lloyd Weber, which I now whole-heartedly regret. But, the sounds of some musical always seemed to fill the house, making my mom insist, “Isn’t it wonderful!” I had to agree as a child, partially because she was the family chef. However, seeing the performances live sealed my love of musicals. The marriage of lyrics and music, of characters and dance – it grabbed your emotions, made you laugh, and projected you out the door at the end, singing the whole ride home with nothing but hope for happy endings forever and ever. La, la, la, laaaaa!
Real life romance turned out to be a whole different monster. I always feared girls, ever since the cute brown-haired girl smiled at me during the summer pops concert at Old Orchard Mall. I didn’t have the confidence to even speak words, much less form them into sentences. I remember asking one of my classmates to go steady on the bus in 6th grade. It took a very long bus ride to get up the nerve to ask her, and it wasn’t until she was stepping out the door, that I finally compelled my body to tumble down the aisle to stop her, leaving my blood pressure in the back seat. Result: The very first of many girls who would forever like me only as a friend.
Even though I dressed like Superman in 2nd Grade for Halloween (complete with black hair), it was clear that I would continue to watch over the neighborhood as an infamous non-hero. Is it a blob? Is it a goofball? No, it’s Superawkward! My lack of confidence paralyzed me into a borderline creepy state of being – a real weirdo – even without the tights.
In high school I descended deeper into shyness. Instead of talking, it was better to just stare for hours at girls. That’s why school musicals were perfect. Because as a musician in the pit orchestra, I was required to sit for many hours, playing the music over and over while they rehearsed on stage. I could set my sights on a particular crush, and then I could stare all rehearsal long. After all, we were just watching the show. Unfortunately, my pit band mates soon figured out the target of my stares, and immediately stoked the flames of my terror by shouting out her name in public, exposing my identity, and setting me up for certain confrontation with this girl. Instant mortification for my alter-ego Superawkward. The biggest flaw of non-heroes lies in the fact that their super power is also their Kryptonite.
INTERMEZZO – Go get a snack. Or read your playbill.
I know that everyone lives through similar moments where they struggle to navigate through their hormonal changes and confusion of emotions. Eventually, most push through and triumph just like in the movies. Not me, at least not until many years later. Besides, I was much more comfortable in high school enjoying the magic on stage. I could lose myself in the story of Eliza Doolittle falling for Henry Higgins. I could escape into the escapades of Little Mary Sunshine and Captain Ranger Jim. I didn’t need to confront my fears because I could remain in the safety of song and dance.
I never was able to actually date anyone in high school (outside of one pseudo-lunch date to McDonald’s, where I used gift certificates – ugh!) Luckily, my friend Laurel enjoyed playing matchmaker. We were in a jazz singing group together (yes, we actually did “jazz hands”), and she had an ideal match in her mind. It took some maneuvering, but after hanging out as a large group during senior year, I finally managed to go on my first date with the girl. We went to see Cats. It worked, because we dated for over a year - my first real girlfriend. Unfortunately, college gave me the confidence that had eluded me – the kind of confidence often called “over”-confidence. As a result of my too-cool-for-school mindset, we broke up. Honestly, I was a jerk about it. So, in true poetic justice, no one wanted to date me in college.
Musicals continued to shadow my romantic life once I started dating. I went to many musicals, but the relationships never seemed to work out. For example:
Les Miserables – My date wanted to avoid commitment. I found out later she was dating someone else the whole time.
Goodnight Saigon – My date later wound up in a mental hospital.
Phantom of the Opera – My date broke off our engagement the previous week, but I didn’t accept it until after I took her to see this musical.
I was starting to think that maybe musicals were not the answer. Not only had all my relationships failed, but my deposit on the reception hall was non-refundable! I fell into depression. This was the part of the musical where all seemed lost. Little did I know, that at that very moment, my friend Laurel was watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, along with her sister and her sister’s roommate (who hated musicals, but went anyway). Laurel’s matchmaking Spidey-senses were tingling that night, so she decided to set me up with this roommate named Jackie.
Who was this mysterious Jackie? She grew up five minutes from my parents. She walked down my street to get to work. How had I never met her? I like to think that maybe we crossed paths at some point. Maybe we saw each other before the timing was right. Perhaps she went to a concert at Old Orchard and smiled at a little red headed boy. Regardless, this amazing young lady accepted my date requests, and it wasn’t long before we attended our own musical together – Guys and Dolls – a very romantic evening that set the tone for a life-long romance. Cue the wedding finale with big the song and dance number! Jackie accepted me as my weirdo self, even when I wore tights as my new alter-ego Mr. Foodlife. But, that’s a story for another day.