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Henry, Gladys, and Ted

When it comes to musical theater, the idea that a person would suddenly break out into song and dance is something that we in the audience have come to accept. Musical theater was born out of the belief that when characters reached a certain emotional peak, the only way to express that level of emotion is through song. As Hans Christian Andersen put it, “Where words fail, music speaks.” 

In TV and Film, music is often used to suggest an emotion to the audience, whether it’s an intense car chase, a will-they/won’t-they couple finally kissing for the first time, or the profound sadness of a loved one dying, musical underscoring helps the audience understand the moment on a deeper level.

Even before we could easily carry our music library in our pockets and purses, music quickly became the guides that point us back to the hashmarks of our lives. Hearing certain songs conjure up very specific memories for many of us, they remind us of summers at the lake, campfires, school dances, holidays, friendships, falling in love, and broken hearts. Music can be a time machine that takes us back to days gone by. 

The music in The Soul of Gershwin takes us back to the early 20th century, but also to a time when Broadway music as played on the radio, and Jazz Standards were recorded by many different singers, decade after decade. So, songs that were written for Broadway in the 1920s were still being sung and heard in the pop culture of the 1960s. 

Which brings us to Henry, Gladys, and Ted.

Henry is the subject of a short video that went viral several years ago. It was a rough cut of a segment from a documentary entitled Alive Inside. In the video, Henry is described as, “inert, maybe depressed, unresponsive, and almost unalive.” That is, of course, until one of his caregivers puts a pair of headphones on him and presses play on the attached iPod. 

Check out a trailer for the 2014 documentary, Alive Inside, featuring Henry.

Gladys is virtually non-verbal after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had survived a stroke. In another video that went viral a few years ago, a Jewish woman, Naomi Fell, sings Christian songs to Gladys and the video shows a breakthrough moment when Gladys begins to sing with Naomi

Ted is a man in the UK that was made famous with his rendition of Quando Quando Quando recorded by his son, Simon, while in the car on their way to the store. Ted was a professional singer in his earlier life, and was known as The Songaminute Man because of his voluminous knowledge of the music of his era. After his memory began deteriorating due to Alzheimer’s, he was having difficulty recognizing his own family members. But since he and Simon began making videos for his YouTube channel, The Songaminute Man, Ted is ‘back in the room’ according to his Facebook page. He even scored a record deal, and is crowd funding an album of standards he once sang as he toured around. 

I’m sure many of those in the audience at The Soul of Gershwin are there because of their love of Gershwin’s music. Some might even say that it takes them back to a time they remember fondly. And whether it takes us back to another time, or brings us back from the interiors of our mind, no one can deny the power that music has. It is our time machine, a healing balm, and the dewey decimal system of our emotional library. And while we hope you experience all the warm fuzzies of days gone by, we hope that Gershwin’s music also holds up a mirror and shows you who you used to be.

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil
Eric Sumangil

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil has been one of the most often mispronounced names in the Twin Cities theater community for the last 15 years. He's currently in Macbeth playing the roles of Banquo and Siward, and recently was in Park Square's co-production with Mu Performing Arts in Flower Drum Song He also played John Jones in Park Square's The Realistic Jonses. and appeared in the Mu Performing Arts production of tot: The Untold Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan at Park Square in 2016.

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