Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen

I just finished reading Ethan Mordden's The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen... subtitled "The Last 25 Years of the Broadway Musical". (Yes, my reading tastes are eclectic. No, I won't be preaching on the evils of CATS anytime soon.)

Reading all the stories of these musicals is a blast. Seeing behind the scenes of flops like TITANIC - yes, there was a musical about the sinking of the Titanic, and no, the Celene Dion song wasn't in it - and hits like THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD - still hard to believe that an unfinished Dickens novel made for such a great musical theater experience - is delightful. I long to see PARADE (a dark musical about the murder of Mary Phagan & the lynching of an innocent man); I'm saddened that I didn't get to see the revival of BIG RIVER cast with mute, deaf & hearing impaired actors; I'm still miffed I've never had the opportunity to see DREAMGIRLS live.

See, I was a budding actor once upon a time. In high school, I was convinced that my lot in life was to go to college, get a theater degree, then go work for a repetory theater somewhere doing classic plays and musicals for small but very appreciative audiences. (When I felt called into the ministry during the summer right after high school, I promptly morphed that calling into a call to become a "Christian actor" and travel from church to church doing profoundly funny & deep theater.)

I even had a list of musical roles I really wanted to play:
  • Cornelius Hackel in HELLO, DOLLY (though I don't have the tenor voice to cover his songs and I'm not really the romantic leading man type... honestly, I've got Horace Vandergelder written all over me)
  • Sweeney Todd in SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (I so do not have the pipes to sing this one, but the music is hypnotic)
  • The Music Man in THE MUSIC MAN (which is a show I might actually be able to carry off now as a 40 year old... sigh, anyone want to give an out of work actor a chance?!) :-)
Thanks to my college roommate, Steve Stigler*, and his friend from high school, Chris (who I need to blame my yearly Oscar Birdbath on), I was exposed to the music of Stephen Sondheim. Over time, I fell in love with the stunning but dark beauty of FOLLIES, the near-opera horror of SWEENEY TODD, and the odd but compelling failure of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. (Mordden writes about all of these in his book.) My favorite Sondheim is still SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (more on that show & painting in a post to come).

With all of that, you'd think I'd seen a lot of musical theater - the answer, sadly, is quite different. I've never been to Broadway. (I've never been to New York. Heck, I've never been more Northeast than Richmond, VA!) The last professional stage musical I saw was WONDERFUL LIFE (a musical adaption of the classic film, "It's A Wonderful Life"). The only Sondheim shows I've seen live are A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and a cabaret show of Sondheim's greatest hits.

In other words, I've enjoyed all this theater from a distance - reading, listening, etc - but never truly experiencing the joy of live theater. Kind of sad, eh?

Frankly, this sounds a bit like the way we live our lives as followers of Christ: reading the Bible as a chore, listening to other people speak about their walk with God, singing along with songs we've grown to know & love so much that we don't think about the lyrics... but never truly experiencing the joy of a relationship with the God of the Universe through Jesus Christ.

Really sad, eh?

*I just googled Steve's name... and it looks like he's the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Caldwell, TX. Funny, both of us went into youth ministry and both came out as pastors. Imagine that...

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