As a kid I borrowed original cast albums from the Buena Park Public Library. Repeatedly. Obsessively. I hadn’t seen these shows, didn’t know these singers, but these songs spoke directly to me, instilling in me an indelible belief that there was somewhere beyond my mundane existence, someone other than the unsophisticated, acne-ridden, pre-teen boy at odds with his environment. I listened and learned, and yearned.
“Most people live on a lonely island / Lost in the middle of a foggy sea / Most people long for another island / One where they know they will like to be / Bali Hai may call you / Any night, any day / In your heart, you’ll hear it call you / ‘Come away, come away’…”
“Out there / There’s a world outside of Yonkers / Way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby / There’s a slick town, Barnaby / Out there / Full of shine and full of sparkle / Close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby / Listen, Barnaby…” I was Barnaby, waiting for an urban adventure, not necessarily dinner and dancing at the Harmonia Gardens, but — well, why not? I often pretended I was someone else, “We got elegance / If you ain’t got elegance / You can never ever carry it off…”
I was The Girl in the Fantasticks: “I can see it / Shining somewhere / Bright lights somewhere invite me to come there / And learn / And I’m ready / I can hear it / Sirens singing / Inside my ear I hear them all singing / Come learn / Who knows, maybe / All the visions I can see / May be waiting just for me / To say: take me there, and / Make me see it /Make me feel it / I know it’s so / I know that it really may be / Let me learn…” Her monologue was mine: “I hug myself till my arms turn blue, then I close my eyes and cry and cry till the tears come down and I can taste them. I love to taste my tears. I am special. I am special! Please god, please, don’t let me be normal!”
I was Charity Hope Valentine dancing around and fervently believing “There’s gotta be something better than this / There’s gotta be something better to do /And when I find me something better to do / I’m gonna get up, I’m gonna get out / I’m gonna get up, get out and do it!” I wasn’t planning on becoming a taxi dancer, whatever that was, but I would — I promised myself — find a way out. And I knew that I would, knew that I would be able to look back: “If they could see me now, that little gang of mine / I’m eating fancy chow and drinking fancy wine / I’d like those stumble bums to see for a fact / The kind of top drawer, first rate chums I attract / All I can say is, “Wow-ee”, looka where I am / Tonight, I landed, pow, right in a pot of jam…”
I was Holly Golightly strumming her guitar on the fire escape and dreaming of “Moon river, wider than a mile / I’m crossing you in style someday / Oh, dream maker / You heartbreaker / Where ever you’re going I’m going your way…” I didn’t play guitar, have access to a fire escape, or dress in Givenchy, but I knew what she meant.
There were many others, of course: “Climb Every Mountain,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Wouldn’t it be Loverly”… (Does every musical have a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here number?) The requisite trope spoke to me loud and clear, motivating me to get an education, earn money, move to the city, fall in love, and — eventually — find myself. Was it because I was gay that I knew I didn’t fit in, wanted more? That might have been part of it. When I hear these songs now, all these decades later, I weep for that unhappy boy, as together we sing and dance all night…