Thursday, March 03, 2005

Ruby Slipper Odyssey

I love Hollywood musicals.

I was eight years old when I saw my first – “The Wizard of Oz.” It came to our local movie theatre that summer and then I watched it on television every year around Easter time. I nibbled on chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks, eyes wide with horror as the Wicked Witch of the West sent her flying monkeys to the Haunted Forest.

I learned all the songs from the movie and I’d sing anytime, anyplace . . . at the school playground (“Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”) . . . in the car on family trips (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) . . . making mud pies in my Easy Bake Oven (“If I Only Had a Brain”).

As I matured, I got into the harder stuff – “Singing in the Rain,” “Summer Stock,” “South Pacific.” I watched these “oldies” on the Late Late Late Show, munching popcorn and sipping Nestles Quick.

It was 1969 . . . Vietnam . . . protest marches . . . Woodstock . . . and I was a clueless 12-year-old. My friends in junior high were into Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Doors. Not me. I daydreamed about tap dancing with Gene Kelly on a shiny mahogany desk to the tune of “Moses Supposes His Toeses are Roses.”

Later on I discovered “West Side Story,” “Anything Goes” and “Cabaret.” I saved up my allowance and bought the record albums of my favorite shows, elbowing my way passed the blue-haired ladies and the men in plaid suits with Clark Gable mustaches in the “Showtunes” section. I karaoke-ed to “My Fair Lady” before there was such a thing as karaoke. It was my secret vice. While other teens were smoking pot, I was getting high on “The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly on the Plain.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” made its debut in the early 1970s and every girl in my high school was swooning over Ted Neely. The fact that he was Jesus didn’t seem to matter. For the first time in my life, I was on the same “musical” page as my peers. Everybody loved the “Jesus” movie. For the next three years without fail, our high school talent show featured a girl singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” The song was so popular the marching band played it during halftime at football games.

In the 1980s, I was a young mother with two impressionable children who were exposed to the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and MC Hammer. As a responsible parent, it was my duty to provide an antidote to this poison. So I began an intensive, systematic method of de-programming. My offspring would listen to the best in musical entertainment. They would learn the most sophisticated, high-brow songs of the musical theatre. My efforts paid off. I’ll never forget the day I found them prancing around the house singing “There’s Nothin’ Like a Dame.” I was a proud Mama.

The brainwashing . . . I mean the “lessons”. . . continued throughout their childhood. We sang in the car on our way to Little League practice. We sang in the kitchen as we baked chocolate chip cookies. We sang in the back yard as we played fetch with the dog. When the kids got familiar with the movies, I’d quiz them:

Me: In what movie did Gene Kelly play a sailor on shore leave?

Luke: “On the Town”!

Me: Right! Who played Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls”?

Jennifer: Frank Sinatra!

Me: Right! You kids are on a roll! What song did Fred Astaire sing when he wore the red socks?

Luke: “Steppin’ Out With My Baby!”

Me: From what movie?

Jennifer: “Easter Parade”!

Me: Excellent! Come on, let’s go to Blockbuster and get “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I want to teach you the “What’s the Buzz?” number!

Fast-forward to 2005. My 24-year-old son called me on his cell the other day. We were discussing books, blogs and the situation in Iraq. I was quite pleased the way he worked the phrase “I’m Just a Fella With an Umbrella” into our conversation.

I choose to believe this unexpected utterance was inspired by his adoration of that romantic duet with Judy Garland and Peter Lawford in “Easter Parade” . . . and not the fact that he lives in Seattle.

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