In times of need, we all have our vice. Mine? Its musicals.
I was in a right old funk last Sunday. I was getting no further in my gruelling quest to become ‘a grown up’ and the self-doubt had just piled up until I found myself miserably traipsing down to Waitrose for a comforting bottle of Gavi. (I’m trying to be an adult, Blossom Hill is no longer on the cards.) With the house to myself and a glass of vino collapso in hand, I flung on the telly and typed in ‘The - Sound - of - Music’, turning to the only therapy I know: musicals. After all, no one had a harder time growing up and finding themselves than Fräulein Maria.
There is little in this world as far from reality as the common musical - perhaps that is why they are where I seek refuge. In musicals, everything is so wonderfully twee. Each moment is carefully composed and choreographed, and one song has the power to ameliorate all misfortune. Musicals are a dreamlike place, an augmented reality in which even the most horrendous circumstance can be solved with excessive buoyancy and a supporting cast. I mean, never in real life would a woman lose the love of her life to her best friend, and after a brief tantrum think, ‘To hell with it! I’ll just marry Wild Bill Hickok instead!’ Yet, in musical-land, Calamity Jane did just that, and she even shared her wedding with said best friend and ex-love-of-life, the blissfully ignorant four disappearing into the sunset while the orchestra plays a reprise of ‘Secret Love’. Had it been real life, I reckon old Calam’ would’ve taken to Instagram a la Rob Kardashian, to expose the good-for-nothin’ coyotes, before she disappeared into the sunset ALONE, because she’s a feminist and she won’t settle for second best. (Although I must say I’d take Wild Bill over Danny any day.)
I’ll admit, a lot of musicals are complete nonsense. And yet, I swear by them. The first man I ever fell in love with was Danny Zuko. I was five, and he was a fictional character with an Australian girlfriend - but it was real. My mother tells a hilarious account of the day I took my own Grandpa by the collar, cocked one hip and shouted, “Tell me about it, stud!” Oh, the naivety! This would be the first in a long line of scenarios where I have confused musical theatre with reality, its just that back then it was cute. Now, though desperately trying to prove myself as an adult, I still find it hard not to allude to a musical number in times of woe. Boyfriend pissed you off? Perform ‘The Cell Block Tango’. Can’t pay your rent? Sit on the window sill and lament ‘Tomorrow’. After all, what did Fantine do once she’d sold herself to a horny sailor and had her teeth wrenched from her skull? That’s right, she sang about it.
In fact, I reckon I could fully blame musicals for my evident inability to grow up. Having learned all life lessons thus far from the warbling protagonists of the silver screen, now, the days in which I should really be diligently applying for proper jobs and paying off my student loan are largely spent performing renditions of ‘Good Morning, Baltimore!’ in the mirror. Turns out, knowing all the words to ‘Why Can’t the English’ - no matter how erudite you sound - will not gain you a career. And yet, I can’t bear to give them up - musicals have kept me sane (or insane, depends how you look at it). As I grow older, the veneer of a perfect world is becoming as thin as Velma Kelly’s laddered stocking, and real life is not as innocent and full of promise as it once seemed. But musicals, no matter how fictitious, reassure me that I’m not the only one who deals with hardship through optimism, hope and impromptu sing-song.
When I didn’t fit in at high school, I was Elphaba, full of wonder and magic - my peers just couldn’t see it yet; as an au pair, I became Mary Poppins, and all tasks were approached gleefully with a cheery disposition and a spoonful of sugar; when I worked in a seedy London bar, I performed after hours as the murderous jazz babe Roxie Hart; and when we found out we had rats in the garden, I didn't care. I simply became Tracy Turnblad and started belting out, "the rats on the street, all dance around my feet, they seem to say, 'Titi, it's up to you!'" At present, as I navigate my twenties, I’m the callow Maria Von Trapp, leaving the shelter of the convent (youth) to face the unknown (adulthood). If I don’t have confidence in myself, the least I can do is have confidence in sunshine, rain and the fact that spring will come again. You see, I’ve always, at some point or another, been able to relate to the heroines of musicals. They are to me what Desert Island Discs is to Dolly Alderton: they make me feel less alone. They are my role models, and in my darkest moments, though they may seem a world away, the messages of encouragement hidden in their songs are the only thing that fills me with the fervent belief that things will be ok.
Something tells me that in order be an adult, I must give up the musicals. I mean, do you know any other adults who’ve been politely asked to leave Earl’s Court tube station after a frantic performance of ‘Its a Hard Knock Life’, in which they whipped a man’s scarf from his neck to use as a ‘cleaning cloth’? No..um..nor do I…. Its just that if I lose musicals, I’ll lose part of myself - and its the one part of me that I will protect as fiercely as Holden Caulfield wished to protect the children in the rye. Musicals are the epitome of my youth, my naivety and my positive outlook - and I’m determined not to let life ‘kill the dream I dreamed’, like it did Fantine. So I’ll end this piece with a fitting lyric from ‘Bye, Bye, Birdie’: