Monday, October 20, 2014

Double Standards: The Musical

My younger daughter, the Drama Queen -- and I call her that not only because she feels ALL THE FEELINGS so deeply but also because she loves to perform on the actual stage, preferably with an English accent -- just turned 10, which is the birthday of the iPod Touch in our house. So on the big day, her dad and I brought her to the mall and into the Apple Store, where we were three out of three people not there to try bending an iPhone 6+. Ten minutes later we were on our way home with her new favorite gadget.  Sorry Kindle.
The Drama Queen: "At the Ballet"

Since then it's been all showtunes all the time for her.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

However, I did pause a moment when she came downstairs the other day singing, "Dance: 10, Looks: 3" from A Chorus Line. For those of you who aren't intimately familiar with the lyrics, "Dance: 10, Looks: 3" is more commonly known as "T!ts and A$$."

I looked around furtively and decided to hide my Mom of the Year tiara before someone from the committee could come take it away.

Nick says I have a terrible double standard when it comes to musical theatre. Mature themes that would give me pause on television, in popular music, or at the movies are all fair game when presented in musicals. Or movies based on musicals.  Case in point: On Christmas Day 2013 we sat with our then third and sixth graders and watched Fantine be molested in a coffin... and then sing about it.

It's amazing how clearly you can detect your spouse's raised eyebrows and pointed look in a darkened theater.

Of course, that was nothing compared to the discomfort that oozed from his pores when we took the girls to see the national tour of Pippin a few weeks ago and watched the protagonist learn the hard way that a whole lot of meaningless sex is not the answer to a fulfilling life. And when I say the hard way, I mean trapped in a cage with two women, a man, and a whip. Yep, this with two girls who still say "ICK!" aloud when they see kissing on TV.

In my defense, I find it much easier to have the hard conversations with kids when the subject of said conversation is set to a Tony-winning tune. For example:
  • "Lovely Ladies" from Les Miz gave me the vehicle to explain prostitution and the lack of options for countless women who are turned out on the street, not only in the 19th century but also present day.
  • "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen" from A Chorus Line helped me explain wet dreams to two girls without brothers. It's like the Judy Blume of musical numbers.
  • "As Long as He Needs Me" from Oliver has come in handy lately with the subject of domestic violence and the NFL. I've used it as a cautionary tale to explain the difference between a man who says he loves you and a man who acts like he loves you. The DQ and I agree that this song, along with the final 4 lines of "It's a Fine Life," are some of the most tragic lyrics in all of theater. (For contrast, see "Suddenly, Seymour" from Little Shop of Horrors.)
  • "Everything Else" from Next to Normal is a particular favorite of my older daughter, because she loves catching me listening to music with profanity. But I love it for giving me the opportunity to talk to my type-A, horse-obsessed overachiever about what it means to find balance in life, to explain that pursuing a passion is good if it creates a healthy outlet for your emotions but not if you use it to ignore and suppress the pain and problems that come with adolescence. Where was Next to Normal when I was a teen?
  • Pippin: IMHO, suitable for children
  • And the finale of Pippin is a great reminder that no matter what they try in life or where they go to find themselves, my kids can always come back to our family. We may not be glamorous or famous or even extraordinary, but we love them and will be there to hold their hands.
I believe wholeheartedly that these lessons can begin for the youngest of kids with the most innocent of musicals. In Enchanted, Amy Adams reminds us all that a long walk (or run or skip or dance) through Central Park is a great way to put things in perspective. (Of course, we children of the 70s already knew that from Godspell. I dare you to watch the "Prepare Ye" scene from the 1973 movie and not think of it every time you see Bethesda Fountain… or the "Friends" opening credits.)

And how many of today's kids will one day read about fractal theory in physics class and automatically hear Elsa sing "Let It Go" in their minds?

So, please forgive me when you hear the Drama Queen burst out with a few lyrics NSFW. I feel I must continue to embrace my inner Gleek, for she's got a lot to teach my daughters along the way. Of course, it doesn't always have to be be profound and pedagogic. Sometimes it's just fun to have a good old-fashioned sing-along, and musicals are also splendid for those improvised silly moments.  Our current favorite, also from A Chorus Line, is "Nothing." When else in life do you get to be an ice cream cone?

…frozen fractals all around!