Sitting in the Chaska Herald office a few weeks ago, I was busy transcribing an interview and sipping coffee. My editor walked in with an envelope addressed to me.
Inside was an invitation to a Chanhassen Dinner Theatres performance of "The Music Man."
A musical, I thought. Great.
Despite my music background, I’ve never been riveted about the tune-ridden shows. I’ve played several band instruments since I can remember and continue to do so, and I always enjoyed participating in school musicals. I was even a dancer for more than a decade.
Yet while watching a musical, the singing seemed unnecessary and the dances struck me as cheesy. Something always seemed galling about turning everyday life into a choreographed number. I always viewed musicals a bit like soccer: incredibly fun to play, not as captivating to watch.
Historically, when an actor burst into song or dance I nearly always had a hard time appreciating it. But the number of times I’d seen professional musicals was embarrassingly slim. Here was an opportunity to change that.
So I swallowed my personal pride and went to do my job. I’d been assigned to review this performance, and review this performance I would.
The night of the show, I picked up my grandmother. We got in the car, wearing formal attire and chatting about how much she adored "The Music Man" and her fond memories of seeing the production in her youth.
In that moment I was grateful someone would fancy the show. At the very least, I’d enjoy a highly-rated meal, spend some quality time with Grandma, write about the aspects of the show I liked, and I could move on with other business.
A small cluster of newspaper employees sat together, awaiting the performance. Some of us ordered sirloin, others went for the salmon or vegetable lasagna. After some time, our licked-clean plates were cleared and we were greeted with a welcome from the emcee Jay Reilly, kicking off the show.
Here we go, I thought. Keep an open mind.
I surprised myself that night.
After the first scene, a smile was plastered on my face. I found myself laughing and enjoying the actors’ expressions, voices and complicated choreography.
My heart was tugged along and swept up with not just the beloved plot, but the allure actors brought to it. They owned their parts and throughout the show, song and dance seamlessly made its way into the scenes.
These numbers aren’t unnecessary, I thought. They’re ... enjoyable!
The variety was noteworthy: Young children acted in scenes along with older folks. Actors depicted emotions across the board. Sometimes the stage was filled with the cast, other times it featured just a body or two. Both times, the energy filled the room.
I looked over at my grandmother, who was tapping her toes and singing along to the words. Behind her was another table lit with smiles, and another after that. The stage expanded from in front of the audience to within it, priming us for a rip-roaring sense of engagement.
Every actor, from enchanting leads Michael Gruber and Ann Michels to the vivacious barbershop quartet, had my attention from the second they stepped on stage.
Every character seemed entertainingly tied together in some sort of cat’s cradle web. Relationships between the Iowa folk and out-of-towners were comic, heartwarming and dynamic.
Peggy O’Connell was always around the corner ready to make another flamboyant statement; Mazzy Jean Wagner was never seen without a full-of-life expression on her young face.
Twelve-year-old Hugo Mullaney had a lifetime of stage presence in him and I watched the brilliant ensemble with delight. Andy Kust directed the band, which stayed humbly hidden behind the vibrant set. The musicians sounded rich, polished, and worthy of a concert all to themselves.
Actors wore intricate costumes that told their own stories. I could go on about everyone involved.
My editor, who knew of my musical cynicism, turned to me at the end of the show.
“So do you still hate musicals?” he asked with a smile.
After seeing this stunning performance, how could you?
The following night I went to a middle school performance of "Aladdin Jr." — of my own accord this time. The old me would have begrudgingly gone, settling into my seat and focusing more on the 50 cent cookies than the show itself.
But that night, I quietly thanked Chanhassen Dinner Theatres for showing me how to enjoy such an event. I took in the lights, costumes, songs and choreography once again, savoring as many scenes and props as I could.
And on the way home, I maybe — just maybe — didn’t turn off the car radio when it started playing “All That Jazz” from "Chicago" the musical (you read that right).
In that moment, the glow of red stop lights lit my cheeks and from them emerged a smile.