Six years ago, I stood in line on a cold January afternoon in Manhattan. I was waiting for the doors of the theater to open and I was full of anticipation. It was my first visit to Broadway! And I wasn’t disappointed: the show (Hairspray) was vibrant, energetic, and so much more than what I had anticipated. It was truly something you can only experience in New York.
Needless to say, I’m not the first to see a Broadway production. Nor is Hairspray the first show to make it to the Big Time. In fact, one of the longest-running shows of all time, Hello, Dolly! opened its doors 50 years ago this week.
Written by David Merrick, the original Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway on January 16, 1964 with Carol Channing starring as Dolly Levi. Over the years, the play has been honored with ten Tony Awards, including “Best Musical,” a record that the play held for 35 years. Hit songs from the musical include “Hello, Dolly”, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes, and “Before the Parade Passes By” and I’d be willing to bet that a number of you reading this blog can hum those tunes.
Truly a valuable and beloved part of American culture, the original production ran more than 2,800 performances over six years. Hello, Dolly! played internationally as well with runs in England, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Cuba and tours in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Every Song Brings a Memory
The main appeal of Broadway musicals is that they offer a strong story line that is embellished with a wide variety of songs. Attending one of these musical productions provides both the fun of the occasion, but also the lifetime memory of a particular song. Recalling that favorite song brings back the emotional connection to the whole experience.
The tradition of portraying a story line through song exists in every culture. Some of history’s greatest works of literature, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, began as oral chants. And ballads and epics told by song are nothing more than lyrical oral history.
Last year at RootsTech, there was a lot of attention paid to the importance of preserving oral tradition through storytelling. I agree and I’ve begun recording my parents’ stories. But I didn’t consider my daughter. Recently, when I was recording some of my parents’ stories on Saving Memories Forever, my daughter surprised me by grabbing my smartphone and then recording the story of her day. You can be sure that her story (along with my parents’ stories) has been uploaded and shared on the Saving Memories Forever system. While their stories may not be ballads or hit songs from a famous Broadway musical, they are all music to my ears.
Music for Everyone
Of course, not every musical has the endurance or success of Hello! Dolly. It does seem however, that musical shows depict every facet of our culture, from the wild decadence of the 20s seen in Chicago and Cabaret to the slang and mood of the 50s and 60s portrayed in Hairspray and Grease. Some productions such as Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King create new worlds of eerie beautiful night music and the beat of African drums. No matter your preference, you can almost certainly find a musical show that will deliver a particular message, sing a memorable tune, and delight you for a lifetime.
That memorable day for me was back in 2008 when my husband and I had the pleasure of seeing Hairspray on Broadway. I have to admit it; my husband was not quite as excited as I was. I had grown up seeing small town productions and music of this nature had always been a part of my life (I can still sing along to almost the entire length of Oklahoma!) My husband agreed to attend.
Hours later, when we walked out of the theater, a grin covered his face. To this day, we still love to talk about the show. We have promised each other to make that return trip, only this time, we will have the pleasure of sharing the tradition with our daughter. I cannot wait to see the sparkle in her eyes as it reflects the lights of Broadway.
Genealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper.