I have a complicated history with musical theater. When I was a kid I hated them. I mean, if The Phantom of the Opera came on the radio I’d sing along. I’m not some stupid idiot. But you guys I was just not into it. I felt left out enough as it was when I was a kid. The thought that everyone else knew the words and dance steps to the big number and was just waiting for it to happen? Dooming me to sit quietly and watch as the joys of youth flashed by me like through the lightning-fast snapshots of the windows of a passing bullet train? Filled with smiling faces that pause their revelry just long enough to laugh at me? Yeah, no thanks.
But I remember very clearly one day when I had to see Man of La Mancha on a date and at some point, they were up there singing and dancing and I thought to myself, “I am completely on board with this. He’s singing, they’re singing, everyone is down? Yeah. OK. I am also down. This is the only way I should ever consume entertainment again.”
I realized, though, that maybe I needed to be a little careful about this musical theater thing. I come from a pretty conservative town. So I might have snuck around a little. Look, I’m not proud. There was a gap between my bed and the wall and it was filled with tapes. Secret tapes. It would be late at night. I’m a teenage boy, and I’d get bored. You guys know. You listen upstairs, make sure there’s no sound of footsteps, and you think, “sure. I’ll listen a little. I’m not going to be up all night with this. I have this under control.”
Next thing you know the sun comes up and you’re sobbing while singing “On My Own” along with Eponine and the trees are bare and everywhere the streets are full of strangers.
It started out really innocent. You know, your Sounds of Music, your Les Miz, your Phantom, what-have-you. But then I got into the hard stuff. Through my early twenties I had a real bad Sondheim habit. I think I knew that I hit rock bottom when I was freebasing Gilbert and Sullivan in the back alley behind some community theater in Albuquerque. Pirate costume consisting partially of a wide open woman’s blouse and heavy mascara. I was one eye patch away from full drag, is what I’m saying. And let’s be honest. The patch was a little lacy.
Good news, though, everyone. I’ve gotten it under control. I wear a patch now. It just bleeds a tiny bit of the melody from “Any Dream Will Do” right into my bloodstream. It’s the Donny Osmond version. Nothing too potent, guys. It keeps me on a pretty steady buzz without pushing me way over the edge. Just enough to walk around like a human being.
It’s been long enough that I’m starting to trust myself with a little taste now and then.
I trick myself sometimes. I’ll watch a Disney princess movie and talk myself into thinking I’m just watching a kid’s show with my girls. I start out thinking “hey, that’s a funny snowman” and then an hour and a half has passed and I’m singing to paintings. This wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t a terrible singer and only wanted to sing the soprano parts.
My princess was always Belle, by the way. I guess I like them smart, brunette, and fairly tolerant of kidnapping. She’s like all the hygiene issues and snootiness of a french girl but without the cute accent.
That new one, though, Elsa? Now we’re talking. Hot hair, a bit of an icy personality, and a complete lack of interest in men. That’s literally every girl I pursued in high school. Here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure if she just got to know the REAL me, you know? Then she’ll see what a nice guy I am. Because if there’s something a beautiful woman needs it’s for someone to be nice to her for a change. Maybe if I rescued her? Oh, she doesn’t need rescuing and never will? Even better. There’s nothing that tickles a nerd’s fancy more than a woman who will never ever be able to return that affection.
We just want to be terrified all of the time. That’s a secret about nerds, by the way. They pursue the unattainable. Why do you think they love comic book and video game girls so much? The problem is if they, you know, attained? What the heck do they do then? They have no idea what to do with that. “She might know that I don’t know how to kiss if I have to kiss her. Like, what do I do with my hands? Do they go straight to the chest or do I start with the butt? Better just to watch Xena some more because she’s totally into guys and not that blonde lady.”
We figure it out, ladies, eventually. It’s not as bad as in the sitcoms. Just don’t be our first girlfriend. Or second or third. It’s ironic, but we’re the real heartbreakers. And it’s because we have literally no idea what we’re doing. I have great sympathy for the nice girl who gives the man-child his first girlfriend experience. We just need more practice than the average guy. Hopefully it’s a consolation to you that he never forgets the first girl who beats him at Super Smash Brothers. He just, you know, can’t take it.
So I sing along with my Elsa. I belt it out. I think at some point I realized that if someone sees me sing along to the Frozen song and think maybe I’m less of a man, but that’s fine I guess. I mean look at all this. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of “man” here to lose. At some point, you can’t be less of nothing, right?
And yeah, I’m aware that I only get so many mentions of Newsies in regular conversation before people start looking at me a little suspicious. So I try to compensate. “Hey,” I say to my bros, “There are some pretty hot women in these musicals. And guys, they dance and stuff. You know, hot ladies dancing. That’s something bros like to watch, right?”
But then I always mess up,
“And you should see the dresses! They are gorgeous!”
Then they look at me funny and say “Who are you and why are you calling us your ‘bros’?” And then I dance away. But no one joins in because only I know the steps.