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Break(ing) Out in Song - Spontaneous Musicals that Brighten Anyone's Day!
Introduction and Roots
As a fan of musical theater, musical productions - from your local elementary school production to some stage show in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom - never fail to amaze and dazzle me. Well, those magical moments relived theatrically don't happen everyday, especially in somewhere as dull and tedious as your local big-box discount store. When people who appear to be, well, just normal commoners in street clothing (tees, dress pants, shorts, etc.), capriciously display in song, acting and dance something worthy of a West End production, people go clueless and marvel at something as rare as a lottery win. After seeing that performance, the magic leaves people wanting costume and glitz in that number, providing that mundane clothes were the costumes of the miniature matinee.
To me, that defines the growing genre of musical theater, spontaneous musicals.
There are so many examples of the genre, from Disneyland's marriage proposal tableau that mirrors its live shows in promotion for its Summer Nightastic to Improv Everywhere's napkin-petitioning scenario of Food Court Musical, but that raised one question: what initiated this virally theatrical trend? I think one of the roots of the histrionic flash-mobbing originates from the commercials when people randomly combust into a blaze of song and dance. Examples include DirecTV's promotion for its NFL Sunday Ticket sports package (sung to "I've Got A Golden Ticket from the 1972 cinematic adaption of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), the Florida Department of Health's anti-tobacco propaganda spot Focus on the Positive (in association with Truth), and Ad Council's (in association with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Health and Human Services) hospital patient involvement public service announcement (a la Hair) Questions are the Answer. I sometimes trace the spontaneous musical's roots to contradances when people hear the music and just dance to it, especially the sardana of Catalan Spain. Although I have been overseas once, in Caribbean cruises and one trip in the Philippines in the wintry, red-and-green Pasko season, I am reminded of the circle dance whenever I watch a dance-based flashmob - when Catalan locals hear the rustic, brassy sound of a cobla, they gather in a circle, put their baggage in the middle of the ring, and dance.
Also, youth involvement in the arts, particularly theater and performing, is another root of the spontaneous musicals. Even though budget cuts continue to raze programs pertaining to the arts in our school districts, live performances (not caring if there's taped music) inspire youth to perform on stage. I have been involved in theater, well, rarely, and I can fondly remember being in a panto of Hansel and Gretel as a former pupil in Forum School in Waldwick, NJ, as a gingerbread girl. Whatever origins have conceived the fickle public art displays of Broadway-style razzmatazz, spontaneous musicals leave people in awe.
Break Out in Song's Website
Initiating A Public Theatrical Attraction
As an assistant producer to a few Broadway productions, Ryan Mackey harnessed the power of musical theater by looking for some inspirations. Before he manifested his dream, more than 200 dancers partook in a techno rave in the Grand Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium, with jazz hands to "Do-Re-Mi" from the musical that this publicity stunt promoted, The Sound of Music. (Actually, it promoted a reality television series, Finding Maria.) Mackey, I believed, looked to other pieces of inspiration, like the aforementioned Food Court Musical. He has a childhood of loving the musical aspect of thespian art - he loved musicals since the age of seven (I loved them since I was even younger!) and want to inspire youth and adults alike. With the help of choreographers, directors, and a musical director/arranger in Daniel Lincoln, he casted talented young people by open call audition and birthed this histrionic spectacle - Break Out in Song.
Many viewers on YouTube came to see the musical theater improvisation group's offerings once he launched it, and the first few videos broke the ennui and dullness of public places where they are not places to stage a musical.
I have watched the film adaption of the musical Oliver a long time ago, and this memory resurfaced when I see it performed, not on stage by orphan kids in middle-class Victorian-era garb, but in the middle of Times Square with New Yorkers in street clothing. The spectacle happened when a fight breaks out and that girl erupts into this Lionel Bart hit to mediate. This peer resolution became a chipper musical number that makes many a Broadway theatergoer more than happy. If something along the lines of that hit or the musical's other number, "I'd Do Anything," happens here in Tampa, I'd be amazed!
On one field trip, my third-grade (or second grade, apologies for the fuzzy memory) class went to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York. I rekindled the memory as I watched the people in modern-day-serf clothing (as opposed to the nautical sailor's wear and those boy shorts paired with naval uniforms) sing and tap-dance to the theme song of its titular musical. I'm also reminded of one episode of Howard Goodall's 20th Century Greats that profiles the musical's writer, Cole Porter. Because of all the tap dancing and that tune, I not only remember that Sesame Street skit when Oscar the Grouch sang this, but that one dance recital (my first I've performed in) that has that song, with girls about my age in those fuchsia-colored, sequined dancewear strutting their stuff on stage in a high school auditorium. While watching that clip, I wish that I and my class would have taken a field trip there and saw this stunning production in person, and that clip brings great memories.
Don't Rain on My Parade
Eat your heart out, Barbra Streisand.
Although I have not seen Funny Girl, this clip of people dancing in a Fosse-esque routine on the South Street Seaport is sure to bring a smile on everyone's face. Also, it's a piece worthy of a jazz dance choreography spectacle, but this one of a kind rendition trades those articles of clothing worthy of jazz dance competitions (or even those pre-World War I vaudeville costumes) and jazz shoes for street clothing and street shoes. Since I have many friends who write for musical theater, as well as old classmates of mine who are in dance for a while, over on social networking sites, I think it's worthy of a good sharing.
If My Friends Could See Me Now
Oh gosh, it's another hit from the Jazz Dance Top 40, this time from the musical Sweet Charity. There's the 1978 disco version, as well as that reworked version used to promote Carnival Cruise Lines in the late 1980's. In 2009, Break Out In Song pulled out all the stops by having regular-clothed youths dance around the Time Warner Center mall in feather boas and handbags. I did not watch the musical, but I'm reminded of a clip of some dance camp with tap-dancing children all wearing white T-shirts (no camisoles or tank tops, which come to mind when one visits a dance studio with a lenient dress code these days) tap-dancing to this song. If I were asked the eternal question "What could be done to make the performance better?" My response would be to integrate those kids, have everyone wear showy costumes and jazz shoes, and make this performance great. (The latter two requests could enhance most of the rest of the performances by Break Out In Song too, I believe.)
Song Requests and Final Remarks
Having watched all the Break Out In Song's public musical theater outbursts, I want to make a series, no, a barrage of suggestions of songs that have not been performed to the group, but I'm just narrowing it down to a few. First and foremost, I'd strongly suggest "Be Our Guest," and that showtune really means a lot to me for many reasons. As a born and bred Disneyphile, I have watched both versions of Disney's adaptation of Beauty and the Beast - the movie and the Broadway production in New York City (I watched it growing up in New Jersey only once). Also, it has that "bring it home" kickline part near the end that really makes the lyrics and rhythm jump out and dazzle me I can imagine the theatrical group on some venue in New York forming a beeline and doing a precision kick-dance to the late Howard Ashman's immortal lyrics:
Course By course,
One by one,
'Till you shout,
"Enough, I'm done,"
Then we'll sing you off to sleep as you digest.
"Be Our Guest" is absolutely the soundtrack song of my life, always influenced heavily by Disney and peppered with memories of Walt Disney World vacations and daycations.
Also, I'd suggest to them "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step in Time" from the Broadway musical adaptation of Disney's Mary Poppins, and it's not because I have seen the movie. Over on the internet, I have made several friends with musical theater writers, and by that request, I would give two of my friends, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, some credit as well as some friendship tokens when that happens.
Another Broadway hit worth considering performing is "Gimme Gimme (That Thing Called Love)" from Thoroughly Modern Millie, because in one Rising Star Cafe lunch break revue in Progress Village Middle Magnet School of the Arts in Tampa, one of my middle school pals did a jazz dance solo in, well, just class-approved dancewear dance to it, and that brought along a vivid memory as well as that suggestion. The same principle holds true with "Razzle Dazzle" from Chicago, because three of my pals did a jazz dance trio to it in the 2004 Florida State Fair (in costume) and the Rising Star Cafe (in regular dancewear).
For the Christmas (or holiday, if you observe something else) season, "We Need A Little Christmas" from Mame is a stellar song for a public performance, and I have remembered the numerous times when that song was performed at Walt Disney World and elsewhere. In my own head, I have a plethora of songs Break Out In Song should perform.
I would better the performances of Break Out In Song in terms of wardrobe (that's just a suggestion, really), but those shows by young people wanting to surprise the public can really paint a dull day, especially at the ennui-filled Walmart, in a series of carnival colors.
Just to Spark Suggestions for a BOIS Hit
Other Musical Theater Hubs by Me and Others
- Musical Theatre: Building Self Confidence
Can participating in a musical theatre build self confidence? As an amateur artist, I can definitely, absolutely, certainly say Yes!
- Unique Teaching Aids: Musical Theatre
It is a well known fact that art imitates life and that drama rarely confines itself to the inside of a theatre.