Parents who unwittingly lead young children into addiction often can pinpoint that horrible moment when they’ve hit rock bottom. My moment came Thursday when my 6-year-old daughter, home from 1st grade with a cold, sat on the sofa watching a DVD of the idiotic musical “Carousel.”
Sometime after the number “This Was a Real Nice Clambake,” my blank-faced child mumbled, “This is my favorite movie.” I froze and wondered aloud, “Oh God, what have I done?”
Like most addictions, my daughter’s dependence on musicals started innocently. Her mother and I swore we’d never let her touch the stuff; we were those “No TV” parents who preached total abstinence. But one Saturday night, looking for some innocent fun, we experimented with “The Sound of Music.” It was pleasant and provided a temporary euphoria. We figured we could quit anytime.
Trouble is, one musical is never enough. We tried switching to opera — a DVD of the Met’s “Magic Flute” fooled us into thinking we were exposing our child to culture — but in time we were lured to the charms of “Singing in the Rain.” It's a classic gateway musical. That intoxicating combination of snappy tunes and fancy choreography soon had us wanting more. Stores were happy to sell the stuff, and it was always available online or on street corners.
A DVD of the 1999 London stage revival of “Oklahoma” (highly preferable to the 1955 film — Hugh Jackman makes a far more charismatic Curly than Gordon MacRae) led to “Annie,” and then "Bye Bye Birdie," and later “The King and I.” Our child even saw “Mamma Mia” at the Winter Garden. We started to notice trouble: plots involving lust, fights, alcoholism, kissing, slave girls, even calf-roping. We tried to dilute the mixture, dialing back to “Mary Poppins” and “Beauty and the Beast,” kidding ourselves that Disney could provide a cure.
Extended family enabled us. One grandmother sent a Shirley Temple box set as a gift, while the other pushed her personal favorite: “Hans Christian Andersen” starring Danny Kaye. No one sensed trouble, but why would they? Older cousins were already past musicals and well into “Harry Potter” films. These kids seemed normal, totally functional. We popped “Meet Me in St. Louis” into the DVD player, and let the dice roll.
But there’s something about “Carousel” that made me realize I’d gone too far. Maybe it’s a wooden Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow, a pompous and violent carnival barker who somehow woos Julie (Shirley Jones) away from a promising career as a mill worker. Perhaps it’s that horrid “Real Nice Clambake” song, considered the worst tune in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. (Actual lyrics, describing the lobsters: We slit ’em down the back and peppered ’em good, and doused ’em in melted butter. Then we tore away the claws and cracked ’em with our teeth, cuz we weren’t in the mood to putter.) Maybe I just don’t like having to explain to a 6-year-old girl that it’s not OK for a husband to hit his wife, even if the wife says he really didn’t mean to do it.
Some claim “Carousel” is a classic, even mind-expanding. But how many of them have seen their own child under its influence, starring dull-eyed and slack-jawed while mumbling nonsense like “June is busting out all over”? To me, it’s a wakeup call.
But I'll have to intervene fast. My daughter's school drama club is putting on "The Music Man" this year. Once she's in the clutches of "76 Trombones," anything can happen.