The Musical Life

Sometimes he wished life were a movie. But not just any movie. From the first time he fell in love with musicals, he’d wished that, at any moment, he or someone around him would break into song. Not the most coordinated person, he nonetheless wished equally that he or those around him would break into a dance number at any second.

Whether it was the song, or the dance, or both, he would, at odd times, almost hold his breath in anticipation of it about to happen. Holding his breath in for so long, that sometimes he felt faint, waiting and waiting, for something that never materialized. The clock would begin ticking again. No song, no dance. The mood was gone as quickly as it had come.

The music, of course, the lyrics as well, would come to him, to them, fully formed, completely arranged and orchestrated, and all the dancing would miraculously be choreographed, the routines memorized, as though DNA encoded.

Whenever he expressed his love for musicals, he would often be met with derisive comments about how phony they were. “Nobody just starts singing like that in real life,” or “Nobody just starts dancing like that in real life,” were common condemnations, off-hand dismissals.

And then it happened. This morning after walking. He’d done his daily mileage, then stopped for a cup of Starbucks coffee in Macy’s at the Diamond Head end of Ala Moana Shopping Center. While he waited for them to do a pour-over, he looked out the wall of windows at the people out for their Sunday shopping adventures.

Listening to a random order of songs on his phone, the sequence of “Tonight,” from West Side Story began playing, the place in the movie just before the rumble. The Jets are singing their “Tonight,” the Sharks are singing their “Tonight,” Anita is singing her “Tonight,” Maria is singing her “Tonight,” and Tony is singing his “Tonight.” It’s an impressive five-part performance, presented in dramatic split-screen which had to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate its breathless climax, its dramatic explosiveness.

Leaning his head against the cool glass, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that a group of what looked like half a dozen very angry local guys came dancing into his field of vision from the left. As they moved in, he saw a local woman coming out of the food court, her mouth wide open in breathless song. She was followed closely by a local guy, open-mouthed as well, singing and waltzing around the side of her, seeming to try to get her to dance with him.

Just as he had slid in front of her, impeding her way, and as they were both reaching their full-throated duet, the apparent head of the gang of locals grabbed the lead male from behind. Everyone was singing at this point, although because he was inside Starbucks he couldn’t exactly hear them, which was a shame.

In his earphones, the whole quintet was moving toward the climax, and the people, the chorus, outside the window began dancing too, moving out of the way, off to the sides of the fracas, all of them open-mouthed in song as well.

The gang, the girl, and the two rumbling guys were surrounded by this chorus crowd now, and the gang leader and male lead swinging away at each other. The female lead backed off to join with the chorus crowd, and the fight was in full swing.

As the song moved to the climactic finish, the police suddenly converged from both sides of the window, and all the activity became a huge dance of people grabbing people and being wrestled to the ground, lots of open mouths ringing out their final lyrics.

“For Chris!” The barista called out his name. He turned and went to the counter to pick up his order.

“Are you seeing this?” he asked enthusiastically, pointing back over his shoulder toward the glass windows.

“Seeing what?” asked the young local woman in her green apron, the fluorescent lights reflecting on her glasses.

“That,” he said, turning and pointing out the window.

He stopped. Looking from one end of the store windows to the other, all he could see were random shoppers walking about on their Sunday acquisition missions.

“The people shopping, you mean?” asked the young woman.

He thought about trying to describe what he’d just witnessed, but stopped himself. Walking out the door, he stepped to the side, out of the foot traffic flow, and scanned the entire area. Had he been dreaming. He was so sure he’d seen a local production of West Side Story happening right before his eyes.

But there were no principal young woman and young man, no adversarial gang leader, no gang secondaries. The chorus remained, although they were no longer singing or dancing. Just moving along, doing their life-as-normal Sunday Ala Moana Shopping Center thing.

“Excuse me,” the young barista came out the door. You forgot your phone.”

She handed it to him. He thanked her. Struck by her face, he thought she looked about the perfect age to play Maria, if life were a musical.

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