Yep. I’m that mom who took a not-quite-3-year-old to see a stage musical. And ya know what? It was a great experience!
Those who know me well have heard me sing along off-key to musicals in the car for years. They’ve listened to me geek out about shows I saw in New York or getting to meet my favorite actors or some genius gender-bent revival of a classic. I can nerd out about musicals all. day. long.
My love affair with the genre began earnestly in high school through my friendship with theatre kids, though growing up on a steady diet of animated Disney musicals and classic technicolor hits like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz likely contributed. I pretty much listened to nothing but musicals or covers of musicals in the DiscMan I velcroed to the dashboard of my Mercury Villager.
I might be rusty but I (used to) know every word to the entirety of the Rent original cast recording start to finish. The same is true for Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Shop of Horrors, and Wicked. A few years ago, a therapist had me make a playlist to combat anxiety, full of songs that make me feel strong and powerful and confident…. and it is 80% show tunes. If I listen to music by myself in the car, it’s either something that would be played in Zumba class… or something from a musical.
TL;DR? I love musicals.
I love musicals so much that I pretty much force everyone around me to also listen to musicals, whether they want to or not. Road trip playlists always include random show tunes, and (if they’ll let me) I am always down to listen to an entire cast recording album start to finish. I drag people with me to the theatre whenever I can, choosing shows I think they’d like. My dad has turned into such a theatre bug, that he took me to New York City during the holidays to see a bunch of shows! And recently, when asked what musicals he likes, my husband said, “I’ll pretty much see anything.”
Back in the early ’00s, I even managed to turn my 11-year-old brother onto the art form; one day, in high school, I caught him and one of his punk little friends singing around and dancing in his room to my copy of the 2002 Chicago musical soundtrack (one of the *finest* movie musical adaptations, period). “We both reached for the gun!” To this day, my brother will dance along to club music, sing along with Billy Joel, *and* belt every lyric of La Vie Bohemme from Rent.
My hope, now, is to turn my son into a fellow musical lover, or at the very least someone who appreciates and likes the art form. And I think we’re on a good trajectory: His current Disney obsession is Encanto, so we’ve all seen the movie multiple times and have had “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” stuck in our heads for weeks (WEEEEEEKKKSSSSS). He now sings along with the music, even when we’re just listening in the car.
When I pick Skyler up after work, I am often already listening to one of my musical playlists, and I don’t always change what I’m listening to when he’s in the car. I just make him suffer my singing. He sometimes asks for Encanto instead, but sometimes he doesn’t complain. The other day, when the new version of “Gaston” came on, from the 2017 Beauty and the Beast movie, Skyler said, “This is Frozen?!” He recognized Josh Gad’s (Olaf’s) voice! Later, when a song from another Josh Gad vehicle, Book of Mormon, came on, he declared that was also Frozen.
He’s already recognizing singers’ voices, and requesting his favorite songs from Encanto. So I think we’re on a good path. 🙂
But to solidify the deal, and to start his proper education, I bought tickets to his very first live theatrical experience! I knew this would be a risk — he’s not even 3 yet. But he has a good attention span; if we let him, he’d watch Encanto six times in a row. So he could surely handle a 50 minute live musical… right?
Of course, right.
The show: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus: The Musical. Based on a picture book of the same name by Mo Willems, the show tells the story of a Pigeon who never gets to do anything that he wants and a Bus Driver who is always on time and never fails her customers. But one day the bus breaks down, the Bus Driver’s customers are stressed about being late, and the Pigeon… takes control of the bus? To be honest, I can’t remember the details or even what happened because the show kinda sucked.
I thought I was buying tickets to a show designed FOR children, but it was more like a musical by a bunch of adults who have seen a a few musicals and thought, “Let’s take this picture book and extend a 15 minute story into 50 minutes and throw some costumes on stage. That’s enough!”
But they forgot they were making a show aimed specifically at children. There were no pyrotechnics, or flashy costume changes, or amazing sets or crazy puppets or dynamic video screens, or really anything visually stimulating. The sets were barebone and set halfway back on the stage, making it feel even further away and harder to see. The songs were forgettable, and with a cast of only 6 people, they never seemed to really command the space like you’d want a show for 4 year olds to do. It was just kinda boring.
So the fact that my not-quite-three son, who’d already had to wear a mask for 30 minutes before the show, sat quietly in his seat for ~20-25 minutes, while wearing a mask, watching this show, impressed me.
He started getting fidgety around 30 minutes, talking more and wanting to sit in my lap then a different seat then Dada’s lap then another seat then he wanted to go home then he wanted to go potty…. We took a potty break around 35 minutes, came back around 45 minutes, finished the show quietly in our seats, and he loved clapping at the finale. At the end, when we asked if he wanted to do it again, to see another show, he nodded and said, “Yeah!”
Suffice to say, I’m very pleased. He was SO well behaved during an unusual situation, and was much more engaged than I expected once I realized that the show was less than thrilling. Just imagine if it was like the Spongebob musical, an explosion of color and music on stage. He would certainly be more into it. I’m hoping he’ll be ready when Aladdin comes to town next May.
I’m just really proud of him, have enjoyed his recounting of the experience, and love that we got to share it together. This will be such a fun passion to share and explore together over the years, and I look forward to singing along off key right beside him.
What’s a passion of yours that you hope (or get!) to share with your children? How old were you when you saw your first stage musical? What musicals did you love as a kid? Do your kids enjoy musicals?