Brothers and sisters, guess where I was Monday night?
A showtunes sing-a-long. And if you’re going to read on in the hopes of an ironic sneer at the process, forget it! I love showtunes, and I love singing with people. It’s the closest thing in my life right now to organized religion: everybody engaged, with common knowledge and enthusiasm. Okay, we’re not seeking moral guidance, and for sure the carolers aren’t wrestling with the problematics of the song “Mame” (“The whole plantation’s hummin?” And really, people still do this show?). Still, I love singing with people, especially songs from musicals, which I’ve listened to all my life.
I did walk into Signature Theatre, who was hosting this month, with trepidation. I’d
thought it was going to be songbook-style, but when I came in late (since I can never manage to reach any DC destination without getting lost), only one person was singing, in a very jazzy cabaret. Uh-oh. Would this be amateur piano karaoke? I like to sing, but I”m nothing to make people listen to, and I definitely wasn’t going to belt out “Maria” for a crowd of strangers. I started to wonder if I’d driven extra on Glebe Road for nothing.
However, when I reached the friend who worked there, she assured me that the event was, in fact, sing-a-long style; the lounge lizard was just doing a little publicity for an upcoming Signature show. Phew. I happily abandoned myself to the 50-page songbook and crooning crowd. Singing! Belting! With others and a piano! The piano player was totally into it, adding little flourishes that you hear on the soundtrack but have to add in on your own when you a capella in your car. I’m in my 30s and was definitely below the median age, but I was touched by the cluster of men in their 60s, letting others use the songbooks and signaling to the piano player to pause as they looked up the words to “Impossible Dream” and “Tomorrow” on their iPads. They were straight-seeming, too, which surprised and charmed me. People had come out of their demographic for the night, and I gave my gamest alto along with them.
Not without moments of self-consciousness, of course. We ventured into the late 20th century with “525,600 minutes” from “Rent,” and one young redhead in too short of a shirt-dress got WAY more into it than I thought was seemly, doing little kicky dances and flirting cutely with her friend across the circle. Or–even worse–the crowd requested “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables and then proceeded to belt it out from memory, since it wasn’t in the songbook.
There was an unwritten rule to loving musical theatre, I decided. It was perfectly fine to know the words to “I’m Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No,” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Those songs were just in the vernacular. Your parents sang from those shows, or you were in a production of one of them at camp. But to know the words to any song other than the major ballads of “Les Miserables” was just shameful. People shouldn’t admit to that sort of malarkey. Or maybe I didn’t want to be there when they did.
Just as I was feeling the need for a bathroom escape, though, two new, young women sauntered through in impressively tailored coats. The one with glossy curls caught my eye and intoned, “The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France!” I couldn’t help but laugh. There was a little irony in the night after all. Or at least, just enough.
Now, pardon me while I play a game of Spider solitaire so I can pay attention to the words to “Impossible Dream.” That’s a good song, yo!