Ali Sousa, New York City
The 1953 performance of “Carousel,” one of a Starlight Opera series at an outdoor venue in San Diego’s magnificent Balboa Park, hit me like a thunderbolt. I went with my mother and her best friend at the end of summer when I was 11. It was a rare treat for me — my mother didn’t drive, and my family did not spend money on movies, much less these kinds of shows. As a feminist, I struggle seriously with the line that someone can “hit you — hit you hard — and not hurt at all.” Yet I console myself that the role of women has changed considerably, and the music still soars.
Daryl Ann Glenney, Berryville, Va.
I was 9 years old when my best friend played “Do You Hear The People Sing?” for me on her record player. I was immediately hooked. I had no idea what a prostitute was or why Javert spent his whole life pursuing Valjean. But I knew that after school, with snacks in hand, I could march out to my backyard and shout-sing “Les Miz” at the top of my lungs and feel proud and strong.
Alysson Caine, Queens, N.Y.
‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
At first, I only knew the music from the scratched vinyl my parents bought at a library sale and blared on the Radio Shack record player in the kitchen. A few years later, my family purchased a VCR, and I finally saw the 1973 film. My brother and I acted it out with our stuffed animals — Kermit was always Jesus.
Josh Flynn, Kokomo, Ind.
Christmas break, 1965. College buddies and I were traveling from Providence to New York City and had heard of a little show down in Greenwich Village — at that time (in our minds, at least) a fabled, bohemian and seductively exotic part of town. We wrangled up $4.50 apiece, fumbled our way to snow-covered Sullivan Street, and meandered into “The Fantasticks.”
It was then (and is now) beautifully constructed and intimate, with a gorgeous score, and it’s both genuinely funny and unabashedly romantic. At college age, I saw myself in the callow young hero, Matt; in my 20s, fancied myself the dashing El Gallo; in my 40s, identified with the barely coping dads; and these days I’m a dead ringer for Henry, the befuddled old actor.
Charlie Fontana, Washington, D.C.
I saw a community theater production in my hometown, Lynnfield, Mass., and it changed the game for me. I thought “Tomorrow” was the most magical thing I’d ever seen. The girl playing Annie slid across the floor with such confidence, ease and hope. And there was a REAL dog!
Paige McNamara, New York City
I grew up in China, so there wasn’t and still isn’t a culture of musicals. Came across stuff like “Cats” or “Phantom,” but besides finding the music lovely, I didn’t have much feeling about it. That changed after I saw the PBS recording of the 2006 revival of Sondheim’s “Company” with Raúl Esparza. That production blew me out of my mind. I realized that music in theater doesn’t have to do a “narrative” job, but can exist as a kind of comment and have a space of its own.