Column, Living the Dream

Awkward Halloweens and the musicals that inspired them

By Merisa Sherman

I adjusted the mask on my face for like the 15th time that day. The hard plastic kept scratching my face and I knew, I just knew, that I would have a big mark for, like, the next few weeks. My dad and I had cut a mask so it worked perfectly for my costume, but note to self : we needed to sand any masks the next time.

We were all lined up inside out classroom, ghouls and sprites and all kinds of spooky characters that one would traditionally see at an elementary school Halloween costume parade. I think this was third grade, so Marjorie was definitely She-Ra and Camille was Jem. Standing here in my non-traditional costume, I kept thinking to myself that I should have been one of the Misfits, the “evil” band that competes with Jem but wore these super awesome green and black punk girl outfits. I wasn’t really into causing mischief, but I wanted to be one of those rocker chicks so badly.

Yeah, but that’s not the costume that I had chosen. I wasn’t cool like that at all. And I was definitely not a character from any of the trendy horror films of the day. I wasn’t Mike Meyers from Halloween or wearing Jason’s hockey mask.

In fact, I still haven’t seen either one of those movies. I saw a scary movie once and couldn’t sleep for weeks so I never watched one again. In fact, I hated Halloween growing up. The stress of picking out a costume always traumatized me. Not because I didn’t like getting dressed up and acting out a totally new character but because I always picked something awkward and nerdy that oftentimes the only people that understood my costume were, you guessed it, the grownups. And my little sister, of course. Because at that time, we were complete and utter besties. We did everything together, including Halloween costumes. In fact, she still won’t forgive me (or my mother) for making her be Sandy to my Annie and letting me walk her around on a crocheted leash, dressed as a dog. I wanted to be Annie so badly and she was still little. (I want to be clear that she absolutely loved it at the time!)

By now maybe you are wondering what my costume was. I found the mask in my mom’s storage boxes when we were moving her a few years ago — the plastic just as hard and rigid. The cape was in the box, too, the red “velvet” lining still looking fresh as the week that I wore it, way back in 1988 — the year that Phantom of the Opera came out. That’s right, 10-year-old me went to Halloween as the Phantom and my 7-year-old sister wore a lace wedding dress and a ridiculous brown curly wig as Christine.

Because omigod, did we love the “Phantom of the Opera.” I believe this was the year that we got microphones (real adult ones, not Barbie pink Fisher Price) and we would sing “Phantom” over and over and over again on the striped living room rug. I even learned one of the songs on our baby grand piano so that I could make my sister “Sing! Sing for me!” and generally turn our formal living room into a performance studio, with the crystal shaking in the credenza.

We were elementary school aged musical junkies, even though we’d only seen a handful of plays. As I got older, I forced my love of theater down, embarrassed at the mountains of lyrics that I knew from obscure musicals, from Broadway to Disney. I never participated in high school or college — my singing voice has been preserved for ski songs and random little homemade ditties.

But randomly the other night, I ended up at a house late night with some girlfriends, a bottle of Jameson and shouts of “Alexa, play Red & Black!” I’m pretty sure I surprised those girls, who are actual musicians and singers, because I even surprised myself. We sang musicals at the top of our lungs for almost three hours nonstop and my voice was hoarse for days. We danced, we sang and we swung our arms about in glorious rapture. I’m pretty sure I messed up the lyrics to “Modern Major General,” but I got most of them which is pretty impressive for suppressing something that was such an integral part of my life for almost 25 years.

Musicals are magical. They teach us to live our lives with fullness, whether happy or sad, and bring a grace and beauty to tragedy. Next time you’re walking through the woods, sitting in a hospital room or skiing down your favorite trail, trying singing to yourself — or even better, out loud at the top of your lungs. Your worries will fly away and your heart will be full, because after all: the sun will come out tomorrow!

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