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Musical Pairs

Wade discovers that his life-long love

of musicals isn’t compatible with his partner’s aversion to them, but wonders if his tune can be changed.

The first musical I remember watching was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. My mother sat down with me and some Jiffy Pop, and — in a matter of moments — this chubby, gay little boy from the Ozarks was transported to a more magical world. It made me want to dance while raising a barn (though both tasks would have been relatively impossible considering I was, at the time, roughly shaped like a Rubik’s Cube).

More than anything, Seven Brides — along with West Side Story, Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! — taught me that it was okay to express myself creatively and that escaping into a fantasy world, where love and happiness were just a song and dance away, was a way to survive.

Personally, however, I was not gifted in the song and dance department. God knows, I tried. But I realized it was not for me when I was cast in a production of The Pirates of Penzance (solely because they “needed boys”). I ended up giving a performance that even a kind critic might describe as a nightmarish attempt to simultaneously channel Johnny Depp, Johnny Cash and Johnny Weir. But even if I wasn’t meant to be in them, I never stopped adoring the magic of musicals.

I was under the impression that most people felt a similar appreciation until college, when I held a showing of Yentl for my fraternity and was nearly blackballed. But I chalked that up to the tastes of straight men. However, when I met my partner Gary, I was excited to share my love of musicals with the love of my life; so I surprised him with tickets to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. As we drove to the theater, Gary began to seem more and more visibly uncomfortable. Seconds before the show was about to start, Gary leaned over and confessed: “I hate musicals,” he whispered in my ear.

I actually screamed.

“Shh!” he said. “I just don’t understand why they have to sing everything. Why can’t they say it? It’s weird.”

“It’s a fantasy!” I protested, standing for emphasis. But the show was starting; so I sat back down, stewing, wondering how the man I loved could feel this way. As I watched the show, I tried to see it from Gary’s point of view, actively asking myself, “Is this stupid?” But before long, the lights had come back up, and I was applauding wildly with the rest of the audience — still a confirmed musical theater junkie. I asked Gary if the show had changed his opinion. “I kinda nodded off,” he said. I briefly considered killing him — imagining myself acquitted by a judge (played by Alan Cumming) and a jury (of gang members from West Side Story).

But, as I thought about it, I realized that Gary and I were both, in our own ways, hybrid gays. Gary hated musicals but he loved gardening and do-it-yourself home improvements. I liked musicals, but I also loved sports. Yes, it hurt that he couldn’t share something that I loved, but couples have survived worse. Flash forward to 2002, when the film version of Chicago, with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger, was hitting theaters. One weekend afternoon, I walked into the kitchen and said, “I know you hate musicals, but I have to see Chicago. So I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Can I come with you?” Gary asked.

“You can’t ruin this for me,” I said.

“I won’t,” he said. “I promise.”

Nevertheless, I sat with my fists clenched through opening of the movie, tensely waiting for Gary to start rolling his eyes or snoring. But I noticed, as Catherine rocked “All That Jazz,” Gary’s foot began to tap. Next, he began snapping his fingers. Finally, a miracle occurred: jazz hands. Gary actually flashed jazz hands as the song climaxed.

“I loved it!” he exclaimed, bouncing up and down as we left the theatre. Seeing an opening, I bought the soundtrack, and we played it endlessly. For the next step in Gary’s musical rehabilitation, I rented Moulin Rouge. It put Gary to sleep.

“But it was brilliant!” I insisted.

“It was weird,” he said. “And boring.”

So it seems that — when it comes to musicals — Gary and I are, for the most part, destined not to see eye-to-eye. But at least we’ll always have Chicago.

Wade Rouse

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