Musicals are my dopamine

Posted January 30, 2017

Musicals are my dopamine

The thought of La La Land making a clean sweep at the Oscars makes my heart soar.

Musicals are a ‘marmite’ experience. You either love them or hate them. I’ve always loved them. But I have friends who would rather clean the bathroom than sit through two hours of all singing, all dancing purgatory. Where is their passion, where is their soul, I ask myself.

It wasn’t until I moved to London, in my twenties, that I got to experience musical theatre first hand. They simply didn’t do musicals in Ireland when I was growing up (unless you include a torturous off-key medley of tunes from Oklahoma, performed at the school concert). Musical theatre was something you had to go to ‘the big smoke’ to experience. 

I did, however, get to see some incredible plays. A Dublin staging of Equus is etched in my memory not least because I was seated behind a row of nuns. Even now, I’m still curious as to what they made of the the full frontal nudity. They were quiet as mice during that particular scene in the play. Mind you, so was was the entire audience.

Evita was my musical theatre baptism. At the time, I couldn’t afford a decent ticket. My seat was so far back and so high up that Eva Peron was but a tiny dot on the stage. Although I could barely see what was happening throughout the entire performance, I could hear it and more importantly I could feel it. From that moment I was hooked.  

Yet it was only when I watched the recent BBC4 series Sounds of Musicals, charting the history of the genre, that I realised how many classic West End musicals I have actually seen. There are a few I have missed out on - for some inexplicable reason I never got round to booking Cats, Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera - but I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen everything else! 

My best memories are of the times when I’ve introduced my family to musical theatre and they’ve loved it too. Like my youngest sister. She was nine years old when I took her to a performance of West Side Story. She’d never been inside a theatre before (a concern for me) and yet she was totally captivated. Afterwards she told me she would never have believed that a live stage performance could be “better than TV”. The look of enthrallment on her face still makes me smile even to this day. 

Another sister accompanied me on a trip to Miss Saigon. We both left the theatre teary eyed. On the tube journey back to my house, we talked about the show’s most spectacular scene - the evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon - which appeared to feature a real helicopter. How on earth did they do that?

My in-laws were in their sixties, when they saw a West End musical for the first time. They were staying with me on holiday and I had booked South Pacific, hoping it would be the highlight of their visit. It was and I feel so fortunate that I got to share it with them. They had loved the screen version, having seen it in the cinema when they were a young married couple. So they were familiar with the story and knew all the songs, Some Enchanted Evening being a firm favourite. Watching it unfold on stage, in front of their eyes was so much more thrilling. They talked about it for years afterwards. 

That’s the thing about musical theatre - it touches a chord (groan!). For a couple of hours you are swept away by the emotion of it all. You become a part of it. And when you step out on to the street after a particularly wonderful performance, you carry a little of the wonderment home with you. 

Image: La La Land

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