I’m a theater nerd. I always have been and I always will be. I love sitting in a darkened theater and letting songs and dances wash over me. I love buying the album after the show and learning every word. I did it as a kid and I still do it today. I remember being about 5 years old and knowing every word to The Sound of Music. Then it was Grease, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and countless others. As I was writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, I tried to inhabit the mind of my 16 year old, theater nerd protagonist. I went back to the music that I listened to when I was her age. Of course there was Footloose, but also Rent and Wicked and Ragtime and then Spring Awakening, which was only a few years ago but would have been my obsession if it had opened when I was in high school. What struck me is that I still know every word to all of those shows. Like, without missing a beat I can sing the entire show. I remember being in high school and instead of paying attention and taking notes in class I would quiz myself on how far I could get writing down the lyrics in Rent. I think the furthest I got was to One Song Glory (song 7 on the CD, obviously). I don’t have that capacity for memorization anymore. A few years ago I really liked the musical Hair and I tried to learn it as I listened to it. I just couldn’t get it. There is something about being a teenager that lets you just absorb your favorite music like a sponge (and apparently it just becomes imprinted on your brain forever!).
As I was listening to these old Broadway cast recordings, I tried to really think about what the draw is for teenagers when they see or hear these shows. With Wicked it was really easy. That show is about an outcast who is tormented by the popular girl but ends up sort of coming out on top. The music is beautiful and hilarious and really speaks to a kid’s desire to fit in and be normal. Putting myself in the position of a teenage girl listening to that show really helped me to start to find my character.
Listening to Rent it was a lot harder to not feel like I was just me 16 years ago. I remember when Rent was on Broadway so clearly. I remember begging my parents to let me see it even though I was only 13 (I had just had my bat mitzvah). They finally let me go with my grandparents. Thankfully at 13 I knew I loved the show and the music and was dying to see it, but I didn’t quiet get the awkwardness of watching it while seated next to my grandmother. There wasn’t much in Rent that I could personally relate to, but the whole idea of them being kind of like an island of misfit toys was appealing. I loved the taboo of Angel and I was absolutely dying to play Mimi or Maureen. All of the characters had so much freedom and love for each other. I saw the show about 6 times while it was open and experienced something new each time (I even saw it a couple of times with Jeremy Kushnier!). I’m actually still listening to Rent right now, pretty much on a constant loop all week. So if you see me on the train or walking around the city and you walk right next to me, you’ll hear me singing.
On Facebook the other day I asked if it was weird that I still know all the lyrics from Rent. I also asked my a cappella group last night what they thought. The overwhelming response was “no.” It is not weird that I still know the words. Apparently, theater nerds of literally all ages know all the words. It has stuck with so many people and continues to have an impact. I remember when I first learned the show and I went to theater camp and everyone knew the words. It was like, if you didn’t know the words you didn’t belong there (not like at school where knowing the words meant that I didn’t belong there). I loved feeling a part of something with that show, and I think it is so cool that this community of theater nerds still exists and still includes Rent. It really inspires me to keep working on my novel and allow my character to find her place in theater, like I did.
Broadway, in other places: I ::Heart:: Times Square