Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Music Matters - Kinky Boots and If/Then.

     I found myself crying today. Why? Because… music.

     Music evokes emotion. It can make us feel excited and “dancey. Pharell’s Happy comes to mind – images of myself swerving and bouncing the car along a country road near our home, my kids jamming and woo-hooing in the back seat.
     Music can make us somber or relaxed. Celtic Treasure or Sandy Meldrum’s piano music chills me down and evens me out. Music digs memories from our pockets and places us at events from our past. Sometimes we smile at the nostalgia. Sometimes we quickly change the station.
     Today, iTunes released the album from the musical If/Then. I happened to order the album about five minutes after the closing scene of the Broadway show, while I was standing in line to exit the theater. At that moment, I wanted to re-experience every song right away. Unfortunately I had to wait until today, but the album was so worth the week and a half wait.
     While I was driving my daughter to the orthodontist, I got the Amazon message that If/Then was available for listening. Immediately I plugged my phone into the sound system, and we fell right into the voices of Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp. They sing about the choices we make, the big ones and the seemingly insignificant, how we experience certain adventures and tragedies by following the paths we choose, how we can only imagine what futures may have been awaiting us along the paths we opted out of. They sing about how we are all connected – the idea that the random person you flip the bird at for cutting you off in traffic today may well turn up three days from now as the doctor who’s operating on your child. 
     The songs and the musical itself force us to ask – what if?
     What if I’d gone to the party that one friend invited me to instead of going to that bar where I met my husband?
      What if I’d studied abroad for that year instead of getting a head start in my career?
      What if I’d gotten on that plane?
       How might my life look different today?
       It’s such a simple idea, but the musical poignantly portrays a middle-aged woman and her life along two possible pathways. The audience gets to experience what would have happened to Elizabeth (Idina) if she’d made the other decision. In the end, my takeaway was this – where you end up is not as important as the love you share with others and the lessons you learn along the path of your choices. None of life’s roads are without bumps, valleys, and high points, and If/Then spoke to that.
      The music from If/Then is laden with emotion, with the angst, fear, and giddiness of choosing to leap into a new circumstance. Whether a relationship, a job, or even parenthood, every choice births a new set of possibilities that never would have been if…
      Then, my daughter and I listened to the music from Kinky Boots. I couldn’t “dance the car,” as my kids like to call it, because we were on the highway, but we were bouncing and arm swaying and singing at the tops of our lungs.  Where the music from If/Then makes me feel thoughtful, Kinky Boots just makes me want to dance.
      That’s not to say Kinky Boots doesn’t hit some serious issues over the head with the sledgehammer that is a fitting symbol for Billy Porter’s crazy amazing voice. Because it does. It tackles transgender issues with humor and wit and drags even the most conservative among us to our feet until we are standing and dancing and clapping for a crew of talented men who just happened to be dancing in some very bright, very high heels.
      Kinky Boots’s message – be who you want to be – is told through the story of Charlie, a young man who inherits his late father’s failing shoe factory and Simon, a cross dresser who goes by the name of Lola. Together, the two learn and teach others how to accept people for who they are, follow dreams, and persevere.
      Before we left for New York, when I told my husband we were going to see Kinky Boots, he looked at me like I had three heads. Why on earth, he wondered, would we want to see a show about a guy who wears big red high-heeled boots?  
      “This just doesn’t sound very interesting at all,” he said, rolling his eyes and poo-pooing my show choice.
     A week later, he knows every word to the show’s hit song, The Sex is in the Heel, and sings along with the windows open in the car.
      Because of the music.
      It snagged him right away.
      The music makes us feel alive. It stirs us up and slips us into the shoes of the characters we watched on stage.
       I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I’ll never find my husband wanting to stroll around in a pair of high-heeled red boots.
       But, watching Kinky Boots helped us to understand what it might feel like to be unable to express ourselves. It made us wonder how we would react if our loved ones weren’t proud or even accepting of the people we turned out to be.
      The show made us feel something.
      And now, the music brings back that emotion.
      Oh, how I love Broadway.
      To the directors and writers and to everyone involved in the making of these two crowd pleasers – If/Then and Kinky Boots - Bravo! I couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried.
      And, a word of advice to anyone going to Times Square any time soon – see Kinky Boots. See If/Then. I’ll know you leaped into the choice if I see your car dancing next to mine.