There’s a hole in my soul where “The Sound of Music” is supposed to go. I’ve never seen it. It doesn’t bother me. It’s not like I’ve lost a limb or anything. I just lack something that seems to unite the whole of the rest of the world.
Why am I telling you this? Our household watched the musical “Annie” yesterday. Twice. I couldn’t walk past my wife without her twirling around and singing things at me about what a hard knock life it is. Our dog was renamed Sandy, and the four-year-old lurked behind doors, jazz-hands at the ready, waiting to leap out and hit me with her favourite (and indeed only) line; “You’re never fully dressed without a smile!” I tried to take refuge with my son, but he sideswiped me by singing me Australian PSA songs about rail safety. It was a long day.
We grew up, for the first part of our childhood, without television. It did me far more good than harm. It turned me into a reader, and I’m one of the few members of my generation who knows what a radio play is. But I did miss out on large chunks of popular culture. I had to bite my tongue and wait for the storm to pass each morning as my friends breathlessly relived the previous day’s episode of “Knight Rider” or “Airwolf”. And I missed most of the musicals.
I’ve never seen “Mary Poppins”, or “Cabaret”, or “My fair Lady”. I haven’t even seen “The Wizard of Oz”. This robs me of a whole lot of cultural references, and means that I don’t have a well-rounded education. I can’t tell you how little this bothers me. As I said, I missed most of the musicals. Not all.
When we were younger, my parents got hold of “West Side Story”. They came home breathless with excitement and plugged it into our newly acquired TV. This, they told us, was going to be hardcore. A gritty tale of the mean streets. There would be gang-fights. Knives would be brandished. It would be cool!
It wasn’t. It was odd. I can forgive a movie for being a little dated; times change. What I battle to get my head around is the absolute battering the fourth wall takes in a musical. I know I’m supposed to be transported by the joy of song, and caught up in the campy fun of it all, but my brain just can’t adjust. Two gangs stalk up to each other in a darkened alleyway, all bravado and threat. Hands drop to switchblades. Trouble. This could be a pivotal moment in the story. Someone might get hurt.
Then everyone leaps into a Bollywood dance formation and sings a little ditty about how super it is to be a Jet. WTF? These guys aren’t scary gangsters. They should be wearing pastel jerseys and singing in a barbershop quartet at the local youth centre. They might as well have stopped the movie, turned to the audience and said “Just give us a minute here, please. The script says we need to do a little formation dancing and sing a song about how much we love our gang. Don’t worry. We fully intend to go back to being menacing as soon as we’re done.”
We glanced over at our parents, but they refused to make eye contact. I rather suspect that time had clouded the true nature of “West Side Story” for them, and they too were thinking “WTF?” They weren’t cured though. Not quite. A few months later they made us watch “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, which turned out to be a movie about how seven enormous, bearded gingers built a barn through the medium of dance before breaking it down and seducing seven young women using the magic of Stockholm syndrome. That did the trick. They never showed us a musical again.
And I thank them for it. But now I find myself ill prepared. My wife smells blood in the water. I catch her staring at me at odd moments, a malicious grin on her face. She’s plotting. It’ll be “Mary Poppins” this weekend, I guarantee it. Then “South Pacific”. And before you know it, the suburbs will be alive with the “Sound of Music”.