Mamma Mia, here I go again…

I am so excited because tonight I am seeing Mamma Mia! for the third time!  It’s playing at Wolf Trap and I’m going with my best friend and two other amazing friends.  I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard.  In light of this event, I thought I would write about my love for musical theater and how I got involved.  Enjoy the show…

If anyone has known me for 2 weeks or more, they know that I LOVE MUSICALS.  For as long as I can remember (before that actually) I have been in love with musical theater.  According to my mom, I could sing all the songs from Annie when I was 3 years old.  Somehow we had The Wiz and The Sound of Music on the same VHS tape growing up.  I distinctly remember going to see My Fair Lady at my town’s high school when I was about 7 or 8 and getting goosebumps when the orchestra played “People Will Say We’re in Love” during the overture.

Before I was in high school (the magical threshold where you could actually be in a musical) I would become obsessed with whatever musical my town’s high school was doing.  My older siblings were heavily involved with the shows every year and my dad was the conductor of the orchestra, so I was always immersed in whatever the show was, leading up to and during every spring semester.  The two musicals I remember loving the most were The Music Man and Into the Woods.  I don’t know how many times I watched those movies (I can hear my family saying in unison “too many!”)

Yep, that's me at 15

When I got to high school, the time swirling around auditions was so intense for me.  I made the greatest enemies in high school during musical season.  And I will admit that it was mostly my fault.  I was pretty obnoxious and snobby about it all.  But throw that aside and the musicals were so much fun.  Through my four years I played every ‘role’ you could really.  Freshman year – small part.  Sophomore year – lead.  Junior year – chorus.  Senior year – accompanist.  By my senior year piano had really taken over my life, since I was gearing up to study it in college.  I had realized that I preferred (and was much better at) playing for musicals than being in them.  I had more fun playing in the pit under the stage, than singing and dancing on the stage.

Enter my freshman year of college, I think it was January, the beginning of my second semester – where I got the most amazing opportunity.  I met Dr. Ellison, one of the theater professors at BG, at a Cedar Point audition that was being held on campus.  I didn’t get the Cedar Point gig, but I got something way better.  Dr. Ellison called me a couple months after the audition and asked if I would like to accompany for some of the musical theater productions that the theater department does.  I was so excited!  I ended up being the rehearsal accompanist for four shows that BGSU did.  I was able to be in the pit for three of them.  I HAD SO MUCH FUN.  It was a lot of time, and a lot of drama, but so worth it.  I would have three hour rehearsal 3-4 days a week on top of a full class schedule, involvement with a Christian ministry, and practicing (which I never did enough of).

One of my most favorite musical theater experiences was during the opener of Children of Eden.  No one gets to hear the full orchestra until right before the run of the show, and the opening song of that show is really driving and energetic.  There’s only so much a girl can plunk out of a piano to make it sound like an orchestra!  That opening night, there was a section of that first song where the drums had this amazing rhythm going and everyone else was playing so hard and everyone on stage was singing, and I got this amazing high.  At that moment there was nothing more exhilarating and magical than being a part of that moment.

Even more fun, I was able to be an accompanist at the Huron Theater Playhouse for two seasons.  What a great summer college job.  In a nutshell, I lived and breathed theater for 2 months in a bubble with 50 other crazy theater people.  We worked 6 1/2 days a week and pulled off three musicals and two plays in 8 weeks of intense rehearsal.  Rehearsal all day and a show every night.  I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard or been entertained so much as I did those two seasons.  (I’ve also never suffered from so much insecurity and lack of faith, but that’s for another post.)  So many great memories and great music!

The Wiz Orchestra 2007

Since living in DC, I’ve done a handful of shows, although kind of by necessity promoting myself to being musical director instead of just accompanist.  (For the record: I prefer just being the accompanist.  Not as much pressure!)  The most extensive show I did was a run of The Wiz.  To this day I don’t know how I pulled it all off.  Thanks to craigslist, I got the gig, and pulled together an orchestra mostly of people I had never met (my guitar player and pit singers were great friends!).  Thanks to Finale, I was able to transcribe an entire song for the orchestra, one that was only in the movie but the director wanted in the show.  It was the most stressful rehearsal process, but we pulled it off, and it was a success!

It’s been over a year since I’ve worked in any capacity with a musical.  I miss it, a lot.  Someone asked me once, if I could do anything in the world with my time, money being no object, what would I do?  Without blinking I said, “Play piano, for a show.”  What I love most about being a part of a musical is the collaboration.  I love the process from start to finish – from initial production meetings and auditions (I love auditions) to the final curtain and cast party.  I love working with the director and musical director.  I love building relationships with people in the cast.  I love helping that one singer finally get that harmony line that they’ve been working on for so long.  I love love love playing in the pit with the orchestra.

I love musical theater.  I’m glad it’s around. 🙂

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