How Musicals Defined My Personal Style

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Angela Lansbury in Mame (1966)
Growing up, my dream job was to be a Broadway star. The dream evolved from an incessant amount of Broadway Kids  I sang along with in the carpool line, a natural feeling of comfort up on a stage, and mostly from listening to old Broadway records in my grandparents' den. Now, at age twenty, there is nothing so comforting as hearing some of my favorite show tunes. It's like bumping into an old friend unexpectedly; memories of the good times we shared, evocative melodies, big dreams, glittery costumes, and happily-ever-afters all flood back. It's not shocking at all that Broadway is so attractive to a dreamer with the problem of a runaway imagination. Musicals seem more natural than real life: sometimes there is no better way to express what you're feeling than with music. I often wish I could broke out into synchronized song and dance whenever I felt like it. TBH, I do this quite often, if only in the very depths of my imagination.

On this happy Tuesday in Athens, I turned up the volume on my Broadway Spotify playlist (aptly named "Nostalgia") and I have categorized below a number of favorite Broadway memories and their influence on my personal style.

1. Mame

"The fellow you ought to be is three-dimensional, soaking up life down to your toes." 
Angela Lansbury starred as the original Auntie Mame when it premiered at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City on May 24, 1966. The quintessential bohemian, Mame lives her life on the edge and, pardon my French, basically gives zero shits. When her brother's son is unexpectedly entrusted to her care, she takes him in as her own, but rather than filling the role of a conventional parent, she teaches her nephew the value of living life to its fullest.

My earliest memory of Mame comes from my grandmother's record collection. She had the Original Broadway Cast Recording in vinyl and a record player to play it on. I loved the scratchy quality of the music pouring out of the speakers and the powerhouse that is Angela Lansbury. Since that original listening-to, "It's Today," one of the first numbers in which we meet Mame herself, has become a style-motto for me. "Hallelujah, it's today!!!!!!!!!" exclaims the chorus as the melody crescendos and my heart does a flip. I attempt to wake up each morning and live my life to the tune of those very words. There are infinite excuses to make each day the most fabulous day of your life, with or without champagne. Each day is "a time for making merry," so "tune the grand up / call the cops out / tune the band up / pull the stops out." Life is a party, or rather, each minute of everyday is the opportunity to celebrate just plain old being alive, so why waste anytime being unhappy? Mame, a strong female character, epitomizes confidence and kindness and a trueness to self that is undeniably infectious. Personal style-wise, she taught me to appreciate how thinking of life as celebration can change the way you present yourself to the world.

2. Hello Dolly!

"Put on your Sunday clothes, there's lots of world out there."
Much like Mame, Hello Dolly! features a vivacious female lead; this time she's a matchmaker who has other plans up her sleeves when she sets up a client with a young hat maker from New York City. Coincidentally she also matches her client's (Mr. Horace Vandergelder) young employees with the same hat-maker and her friend. The entire cast appears on the social scene in the city and eventually Dolly's plan comes to fruition when Mr. Horace Vandergelder falls in love with her. The climax of the show is when Dolly reappears at a restaurant she used to frequent with her late husband in their glory days. She knows the entire staff, and they are all thrilled that Dolly has returned and rush to the bottom of the stairs when she appears to exclaim "Hello, Dolly!"

I believe my first encounter with Dolly was the Barbara Streisand version (directed by Gene Kelley of Singin' in the Rain fame) sometime in elementary or middle school. Prior to seeing the movie, mom used to tuck me in with bedtime stories, many of which were movie synopses. I loved the Hello, Dolly! story because of how convoluted the story became with Dolly's meddling, but how in the end everyone ends up with who they're meant to be with. After finally seeing the film, the music got stuck in my head and has never left. Dolly also conveys a sense of living life to its very fullest. I love the message from the song, "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," because of its proclamation of the importance of Big Dreams. Dolly is readying everyone to go to New York to find love ("no we won't come home until we fall in love"), and encourages everyone to dress up everyday of the week, even if it isn't Sunday, because with a sunny attitude and optimism and a sense of adventure (and of course, killer Sunday clothes), there will be "no blue Monday in your Sunday clothes." There is so much world out there, we may as well dress like we are ready to conquer it (I'm taking that as no more norts-and-shirts to class...).

3. Annie

"It's what you wear from ear to ear, and not from head to toe that matters."
This musical defined my childhood. The 1999 movie version with Audra McDonald and Victor Garber and Kathy Bates (and Kristen Chenoweth, lolz) was on constant repeat at my house and my childhood neighbors and my little sister and I used to act out scenes in our backyard. My parent's nickname for me is Annie. Miss Hannigan traipsed through my nightmares and whenever I had a bad day at school, I would just think, "tomorrow there will be sun." The perpetually sunny and optimistic orphan again taught me to look toward the bright side of life, no matter how dreary it can get.

You probably know the story, but if not, Annie is an orphan who runs away from the orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan and ends up spending Christmas with the New York millionaire Oliver Warbucks. Warbucks is stern at first, but the lovable Annie melts his heart and shows a life devoid of loneliness and full of optimism. Miss Hannigan tries to steal Annie back by claiming she is her real mother, but her schemes are discovered and Daddy Warbucks eventually adopts Annie, becoming her dad for real. The story is sweet and full of love and hope. My personal favorite scene is when the orphans sneak into Miss Hannigan's office to listen to the radio. The song "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" is another important part of my personal style motto. Something I admit I need to remind myself often of is the importance of a smile. The best way to convey that optimism you feel in your heart is physically: through a smile. I love the sentiment in that song. And I love the musical number even more.

There is something to be said about the power of music and its influences on our psyche. Musicals are an inherent part of my personal style because of that power. There is something uplifting about people who go around breaking into song and dance every now and then. I once watched an Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera, Cats) documentary where it was explained that to make a musical work, the emotion has to be sufficiently dramatic enough to warrant a character to break out into song. Even if we don't necessarily live life through coordinated and choreographed numbers, (complete with sparkly costumes and probably a parade of some sort), life can be grand and dramatic by the way we live our lives. So dance your shoes off, because IT'S TODAY!!!!!!!

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