The spring I turned 21, my aunt Tammy and her husband Tom were living in New Jersey, just a stone’s throw(ish) away from New York City. As an incredible birthday gift, I got to go visit them and do all kinds of amazing big city experiences including shopping, fancy restaurants, and my first-ever musical which just so happened to be on Broadway. We picked Aida as our show and even though I didn’t really know much about it going in, I absolutely fell in love with all aspects of it. I was already a semi-fan of Broadway with Rent being my most favorite soundtrack and that day sealed the deal for my appreciation of great lyrics, beautiful costumes, and storytelling through a combination of dance, song, word, and stage; ironically, during that performance of Aida, I knew I recognized the voice of the man playing Radames; turns out it was Adam Pascal, the man who originally played Roger in Rent! I couldn’t believe my luck to see him live on stage.
While I haven’t been able to catch RENT in person yet in the almost 20 years since my first live show, I have seen a number of musicals in the time since, including Wicked, Hamilton, and Waitress, all of which I love so dearly, for the music and the messages they carry, as well as the people and performers behind their creation like Idina Menzel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Sarah Bareilles. All three of those shows I saw with Ben and we enjoyed them in part because I learned an important lesson after my Aida experience: familiarize yourself with the music in advance!
Even though I can still see images in my brain of the stage and costumes from Aida, I remember being so confused because I didn’t know the score and storyline at all prior to attending. That made it hard to keep up with all the (literal) moving parts, and so even though I loved every second of it, I know I missed a lot, too.
Since then, I’ve applied my new rule of getting to know the music well prior to show night (or day) and that has served me very well. For Wicked, it was listening to the CDs in my car as I commuted to Palmer, NE and back each day for my first public school teaching job in 2008/2009. When we saw the musical that spring, I was very pregnant with the babe who turned out to be HD, (which perhaps explains his own love for music and good plot). For Hamilton and Waitress, it was listening through Spotify again and again to those lovely earworms and heart-tugging lyrics that both shows contain. And then it was iTunes, as HD and I pregamed for what would be his very first show (and my second viewing of) – Hamilton, his 13th Birthday Extraordinaire Experience, which is something we started planning in Spring 2020 during COVID lockdown.
The B.E.E. is a title of my own creation but a concept I stole from writer Jen Hatmaker, also a mom of five, who gave each of her kids an extra special birthday trip/experience when they turned 13. For us, that looks like picking an activity in a neighboring state and getting to go for a couple nights with the parent of their picking. This was a lovely idea to start brainstorming when we were so cooped up and frustrated during early COVID life and then, in a blink of an eye, it was time for Harrison to B.E.E. first (see what I did there? lol)!
We landed on Des Moines, IA for our destination because we weren’t sure anywhere in NE would host the tour this year and even though HD’s birthday is still a couple months away, we did this trip up in style with great seats, awesome food, and an excellent visit with friends in Omaha on the way home. My kids so rarely get to have solo time like this where they also get to call the shots which also makes this initial B.E.E. a win.
I hope this is just the first of many shows for my Music Man and that he remembers it with as much fondness as I do my first show. I certainly know he didn’t have any trouble understanding the lyrics or storyline because our favorite sparing game these days is to turn statements any person makes into Hamilton references. Case in point; the kid picked a mug for his merch purchase and later showed it to his dad, saying, “Raise a glass to freedom!” Love my almost teenager and his top-notch brain so much!