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On a Personal Note: Estelle + the Stage

If I threw together some kind of performance resume, my experience pretty much peaked in elementary school. After participating in choir, dance classes, and school plays (I once played Mary and felt so nauseous the entire time, I held baby Jesus by his foot), I realized I just wasn’t that… good. I liked to read (and play softball!) for god’s sakes!

But it didn’t mean I didn’t appreciate other people who could sing and dance and entertain a crowd.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I am now a person who would rather spend money to see a play or a musical, than go to a concert or see a movie in the theaters. If you had asked me in high school if this would be true, I probably would have laughed in your face. I didn’t think I would be the girl who searches Spotify (not that that existed yet) for a Stephen Sondheim musical mentioned in a book just because I knew it would supplement my reading experience.

So while I will never be a Devan (an awesome singer, actress, and dancer), part of my enjoyment of The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding was seeing theater references in the text. Like Devan and her friends, I can be a bit of a theatre geek… even if I’m more of a bystander than a participator. For these characters, though, it seems like this part of them was apparent since birth. That wasn’t exactly the case for me, and I couldn’t help but remember how and why I started loving theatre so much.

I thought, who knows, maybe someone will feel the same way.

high school.

Even though I lived within 10 miles of New York City and Broadway’s big lights, I didn’t go to my first official Broadway show until a marching band trip was organized. Even so, it (Blast!) was less of a show with a story than a series of musical selections with awesome movement.

A few months later though, right after 9/11, my friends and I went to New York City to see Rent. (I know, I know. Of COURSE we saw Rent.) It was pretty much a life-changing moment, and an experience that will stay with me forever. You can’t sit next to someone’s mom and watch “Contact” on stage without remembering that forever.

This was about the time I started to obsess over Adam Pascal (who was mentioned in The Reece Malcolm List). He was an original cast remember in Rent (I didn’t get to see him in it) but before I went to college, I did have the opportunity to see him live and in person in Aida. (Later, I even dated someone who looks a whole lot like him… so strange.)

Despite the fact that my friends and I were still singing Rent songs until we threw our caps in the air… my theater bug really hit in…

college.

Part of it may be because I dated a guilty boyfriend who bought me VERY expensive seats to shows but more than likely it’s because I ditched math my first semester and took a Theatre 101 course. With the scariest yet most inspiring professor on the planet. I didn’t know anything. Anything. (I even got made fun of for taking notes.) This professor also introduced me to Stephen Sondheim for the first time and, funnily enough, my now-husband/then-rival assigned me to cover the fall musical Company for the campus newspaper.

Guys, Sondheim is tough and I legit had no idea what was happening.

In between semesters, though, my professor organized a 3-day trip in NYC where we would see five shows in 3 days and this… well, this pretty much changed my life. By this point, I was following Playbill.com like my life depended on it and my anticipation of seeing Wicked for the first time (with Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth) was built to such heights, I basically cried during the entire show.

A-mazing.

Estelle in her College Dorm

My sister visiting my dorm room my sophomore year. Check out the posters behind me.

When I had to switch schools after my sophomore year (my original college closed because it was in debt… sigh), I was like LET’S GO TO NEW YORK CITY and start learning about the foundations of theatre! But my school was too cool for that and only offered experimental theater classes… so I dropped those and tried to do my own thing. One of my favorite experiences was sitting all night with two of my friends from high school outside of the Rent theatre on its 10th anniversary. I interviewed people online and wrote an article about it for a journalism class.

(I also got zero sleep for class and took my sister to see another show for her birthday the following night. Insane.)

Also: major sadness. I did not like the Rent movie. It was really… a heartbreak.

post-college.

People think it’s dangerous to work in NYC. But probably for other reasons than I’m about to tell you. My poor little wallet. One of my best girlfriends and I would see shows probably twice a month. (She was crazier because she would drive up from South Jersey to accompany me.) But let me tell you: In the Heights (totally worth it) and paying a billion dollars to watch Adam Pascal sing “Maria” (from West Side Story).

I did wean myself off shows while I was planning a wedding and moving into a house (it was tough) and then fell back into it. I somehow managed to stay silent during a Stephen Sondheim talk last winter. I saw Once the Musical with Magan when she visited last March and loved it so much that I took my sister to see it a few days later. (I cried my eyes out both times.) My husband and I played lotto (where they pick out a few names before a certain time, and you pay cheaply for tickets) in the spring and saw Newsies (Jeremy Jordan! who is now on Smash) and Peter and the Starcatcher.

Fun fact: I take partial credit for discovering Jeremy Jordan because I got to see him at the dress rehearsal for the pre-Broadway tryout of Newsies in New Jersey and I kept saying “WHO IS THAT GUY?”. Swoon. (Then I bought tickets to see him in Bonnie and Clyde when I had zero interest in the show. Um, I fell in love with that show. Such amazing music and so underrated.)

A major highlight from last year was the tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre in NYC:

Estelle and James on Broadway

The closest I will ever get to a real Broadway stage.

One of the things I miss the most from my walks to work (now that I take a subway from Queens) is seeing the new marquees getting set up and watching them set up equipment in the theaters. And while I don’t miss much from our old stomping grounds, I do miss reviewing local shows around our neighborhood because, gee, in the depths of Long Island, there is some crazy talent waiting to be discovered and it was such a joy to see it happen.

I’m also too old to be obsessed with High School Musical, but I still am. (Another Reece reference.)

But to return to grown up land, my husband and I did use lyrics from “Being Alive” from that pesky show from early in my college career: Company. (This popped up in Reece too.)

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive

And just like all of that, theatre has somehow become a huge part of my life. And not because I have any aspiration of standing up on a stage. I love to be reeled into a show by someone’s voice or their moves. I love the stories that come to life, night after night, an audience never seeing the same performance twice. It’s art, alive and flourishing, and it inspires me so much.

You have no idea how at peace I felt reading The Reece Malcolm List, sipping some coffee, and playing a Sondheim musical in the background. It was true perfection.

Now before you leave me today, I did make a Spotify playlist featuring songs mentioned in The Reece Malcolm List, in addition to a few other bonus tracks I thought you might want to hear. (Don’t be scared to try this out… I tried to pick mostly mainstream tracks so those not used to listening to musicals might like it too.)

And for you other theatre nerds out there, here are a some other YA picks that might fit the bill:

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