I have lately come to the conclusion that not only do we all need a happy place these days but that having such a space where one can escape the traumas and miseries of day to day life is a moral imperative.
For some, it is the kitchen. My mom tends to retreat to baking and cooking when she is stressed. For others, it is the banality of television. Others find solace in books or in the warmth of a silly romantic comedy. Last night, most in Toronto dove deeply into our communal love of sports and our time-honoured tradition of consoling our losing selves in order to escape the horrors of this past week.
While I love all of those stated above, my true happy place is in the audience of a darkened theatre witnessing the magic of the musical. I can't always adequately express how a Broadway musical, even a mediocre one, makes me feel. There is a synergy that develops between me and the performers on that stage. I live and die by every motion of the choreography. I visibly tense in my seat as they hit the highest of notes, praying right along with them, that tonight won't be the night the voice might crack. I sweat right along with them as I marvel at the creative genius that brought 1940s Paris or 1980s London or 1770s New York into my 21st-century Canadian psyche. This is me in a musical theatre and to his credit, The Husband has not only indulged this very expensive passion, he has accompanied me to every single performance and has become an aficionado as well. So, when I suggested last minute tickets to see the soon to be leaving An American in Paris now playing here in Toronto, he was an enthusiastic yes. (I do adore this man!)
We invited Twin Son and His Better Half to join us for the evening. It was a celebration for him and we wanted to do something special to mark the occasion of his entering into a new decade. Because of the lateness in purchasing the tickets, we had to separate into different sections of the theatre. The Husband and I were in the centre orchestra and our friends further back. We got to our seats quite close to the curtain call and as a result, I really didn't have time to peruse my program, as is my usual custom. There was also a lot of buzz in the theatre about game scores and the like that further distracted me from noticing my surroundings.
The first act of the show was breathtaking. For anybody familiar with the movie, there are subtle changes to both the song list and the structure of the story that translates beautifully to the stage. The sets and lighting are a visual masterpiece and the choreography would make Gene Kelly plotz. I was so entranced that I forgot about the playoff games happening in another world. As we rose in our seats at intermission to go meet our friends, I excused myself to the woman sitting beside me and happened to notice that she was alone at the theatre. She was absorbed in reading her program so I didn't engage with her other than to ask her pardon so that we might pass.
We returned to our seats for the second act in time to hear the Entr'acte. My seat companion was still reading and didn't pay much attention to us at all. The curtain rose and the players on stage were already into their dialogue when the lady beside me suddenly leaned over, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "That's my son."
Stunned, I asked her which young man on stage was hers.
She replied with tears of pride filling her eyes, "The one playing Adam, the piano player."
I was dumbfounded. "He's amazing", I whispered back. "You should be very proud." (He really was amazing. This wasn't just polite chitchat. I take my musical theatre very seriously and I am an extremely tough, some would say difficult, audience.)
She just smiled with a radiance that only a parent can understand and then she totally blew me away when she pointed again and said with equal pride and joy, "And that's my daughter-in-law." Her daughter-in-law was at that moment dancing and singing up a storm in the role of Milo, the Nina Foch role in the movie.
I quickly turned to my program to discover that Adam and Milo are indeed spouses off-stage. How could I have missed that? Damn you, Maple Leafs! The entire viewing of this show suddenly took on a different lens. I wasn't just watching a magnificent performance onstage, I was seeing it through the eyes of a thrilled parent who had obviously been through so much with her children. I saw her gasp with delight, applaud wildly after their solos, shed more than a few tears, and was the first person to leap to her feet when they came out for their bows. I have been in the audience as my kids performed in amateur productions and know very well the knots of anxiety and the intense emotions. This woman must have had that experience tenfold.
As the lights in the theatre came up, I asked her if this was her first time seeing the show. She laughed and said no, of course not. She saw them several times on Broadway (I can't even imagine!!) and has since followed the travelling company to several cities. She told me that her son is the youngest of four boys and that they lost his father when he was just thirteen. She made him a promise then that if he ever made it as an actor, she would be in the centre of the theatre for all of his shows. She said that it is the greatest joy in her life to travel from city to city and watch him and his wife perform. I asked her if she would please tell them that her seatmates absolutely loved the show and that we were entranced by their performances. She just smiled, shook my hand, thanked me, and headed off to meet her children.
We here in Toronto have had a difficult week. There has been more than a few tears shed in light of the tragedy that befell the city this week. There isn't a person here who doesn't require some measure of healing. I knew that going to the theatre would be a salve on my battered soul. That's what happy places are supposed to do. Having this special seatmate share it with me, well...it just elevated it to another level.
Yes...there is still joy in this place.