Singing a song of angry men
Indeed, for a period of years I heard the people sing. I listened to the music of the night. I forgot regret, lest life be mine to miss.
I belong to a generation of musical fans that learned the lyrics before they learned the story, a phenomenon I’ve found to be pretty common among people of my age demographic who had ample access to CDs and, in our later teenage years, the Internet, but not much opportunity to get out see a stage show, save for the productions at our high schools.
Granted, most of the folks I know who got hung up on musicals were women and most of the men who did were, themselves, thespians and/or singers. I fall in neither category, but much like my love of The Indigo Girls and Dar Williams, I can identify the source to my enjoyment of musical theater—and particularly the songs there from--as my sister’s teenage fanship.
I first heard the soundtracks to Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables in late elementary school or early middle school. Armed with a rudimentary understanding of each of the stories, and hours upon hours of listening to the songs, I constructed my own understandings of the plots and characters. More than that, I felt every line and every bar of the emotionally unhinged musical stylings. I was the misunderstood and underappreciated Phantom of “Music of the Night” just as much as I was the subject of profound love in “All I Ask of You.” Gender lines be damned, I was the broken soul of Eponine in “A Little Fall of Rain.” And gosh darn it, to this day when I plug in the earbuds to go for a run, “One Day More” and “Do You Hear the People Sing” remain some of the most inspiring jams to kick me into gear.
I connected with these pieces out of a sense of angst identification. The lyrics are overwrought. The instrumentation monstrous. Everything is a big deal in the world of these musicals--joy enough to burst into song; love rich enough to provoke a serenade or duet; sorrow profound enough to the words to necessitate the swell of melancholy chords to convey the depths of the human experience at hand.
I’ve never seen a stage production of Les Mis, nor have I gotten around to Hugo’s original novel, or any of the existing film versions. And so, when I join the masses at the theater in the weeks ahead to see the new movie it will be my first exposure to the full story (such as it is adapted in this interpretation). I have little doubt I’ll love it, and suspect that I may even recover a bit of my younger self--better in touch with my emotional core, if a bit less articulate about expressing such things. I’m prepared to laugh and perhaps even shed a tear, as I hold back the urge to sing along in the dark of the theater.
Bonus Musical Inanity
I present to you, my top ten favorite songs from musicals.
-These are personal choices, so there’s really no room for debate unless you know me really well and know that I missed a song I would have wanted to have ranked. Feel free to weigh in with your own favorites in the comments.
-I arbitrarily elected not to include Muppet films. Otherwise, they would certainly have had a presence on the list. I did, however, factor in Joss Whedon musicals Once More With Feeling and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Several pieces from Sunnydale just missed the cut, and as you’ll see, only one from NPH and co. made it on.
10. “There Once Was A Man” from The Pajama Game
9."River of Dreams/Keeping the Faith/Only the Good Die Young" from Movin' Out
8. “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera
7. “A Little Fall of Rain” from Les Miserables
6. “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” from Rent
5. “Defying Gravity” from Wicked
4. “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You” from The Last Five Years
3. “My Eyes” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
2. “One Day More” from Les Miserables
1. “Finale B” from Rent