Wednesday, July 18, 2012

View From the Pit

The first time I played for a musical I was a sophomore in college and I was in the second violin section. The musical was Guys and Dolls, and to this day I can recite most of that show's lyrics at the drop of a tophat.

When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky, 
You can bet that he's doin' it for some doll...

I'd seen the big movie musicals--The Sound of Music. Mary Poppins. I'd set my vinyl LPs of Broadway soundtracks to repeat until the tracks wore out--Music Man. Showboat. But I'd never actually seen a live, on-stage musical until I saw it from that cramped, hot, sub-stage hole known as the pit. 

It was magical. The experience combined the adrenaline rush of a performance with the guilty pleasure of Broadway music, and that's a heady mix.

Several summers ago Small Town began producing family musicals, a combination of fundraiser for a local theatre renovation and an opportunity to get kids involved in singing and dancing. That year the production was Seussical: The Musical, and they were desperate to find a piano player. The rest of the hometown musicians were really good and I was only willing semi-competent, but I had a great time and this morning I smiled when I heard the Cat in the Hat on my playlist:

When your life's going wrong, when the fates are unkind,
When you're limping along and get kicked from behind,
Tell yourself how lucky you are!

Then came Peter Pan. And Assassins. 

Musicals at Small College needed to be accompanied, and the late hours and repetition were a small price to pay for hearing great music sung by kids I know personally, and for the feeling that comes from being part of a team effort.

That's why, when the director of Small College's summer musical e-mailed me in panic a week ago because the second keyboard player had bailed, I said I'd be glad to join the Willy Wonka crew. Even though I knew how busy my week was shaping up to be (it turned out to be even busier than I had predicted) and even though I should have been using that time to dust or cook or water my tomatoes.

I'm so glad I did.

The second keyboard bench in the pit is the best seat in the house, perfect for watching my friend's granddaughter stomp in as an Oompa-Loompa, and Boy#3's pal nail the Grandpa George role. I was in exactly the right spot to marvel that the Candy Man's soft-shoe routine was really good, and to hear that actor's mom applauding her son with "That's my boy!" vigor.

Halfway through last week, as I was trying to juggle schedules and make everything come out even, Husband asked me about a logistical detail that had slipped my mind. I threw up my hands in defeat.

"I know! I should have told the Wonka folks I couldn't do it."

Now that it's over, I rescind that statement. Everything worked out, and I have another set of lyrics running through my mind.

I want the world, I want the whole world, 
I want to lock it all up in my pocket,
It's my bar of chocolate!

Wonderful earworms are just a bonus of the view from the pit.

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